A running back can hit the wrong hole, and nobody notices. A quarterback can miss an open receiver, and everybody shrugs. Hey, it happens all the time.
But botched plays by offensive tackles aren’t as easily overlooked because their mistakes often lead to disastrous results.
Ohio State’s Taylor Decker found that out during his starting debut in the season opener when he was beaten for a pair of sacks by Buffalo’s Khalil Mack. A sellout crowd at Ohio Stadium had no trouble figuring out Decker was at fault because he was standing helplessly in the backfield while Mack was draped over fallen quarterback Braxton Miller like a tarp.
But the sophomore from Vandalia had earned the right tackle job by mashing defensive linemen in preseason camp, and he was constantly reminded of that by his position coach, Ed Warinner, and his fellow offensive linemen. They didn’t lose confidence in Decker, and they made sure he didn’t lose confidence in himself.
“Coach Warinner kept his trust in me. My teammates picked me up. Because of that, I was able to improve,” Decker said.
“I knew that wasn’t me. It wasn’t how I had been playing and performing in camp prior to that game and the weeks leading into it. It was a tough pill to swallow, but I just had to bounce back and recover from it and play the way I can play.”
The 6-foot-7, 315-pound Decker has become a stalwart on the offensive line. After a win against Iowa last week, coach Urban Meyer said, “Taylor Decker is coming of age.”
His four comrades on the line are seniors with 109 starts between them, and the fun-loving group has treated the shaggy-haired Decker like a little brother.
“We’ve got all kinds of different personalities. There’s some goofballs on there,” Decker said. “Everybody is pretty humorous, but when it comes down to it, they all get the job done.
“Being able to have fun while we’re playing this game makes it so much better.”
In an interview on the Big Ten Network this week, left tackle Jack Mewhort heaped praise on Decker: “He’s getting better every week. He’s kind of growing up before our eyes, and it’s a cool thing to see. He holds his own over there — actually, he does better than that. He’s kind of a big puppy on his way to being a pitbull one day.”
Warinner pointed out that Buffalo’s Mack is a high on NFL draft boards. And the coach added that aside from a few plays, Decker’s opening-day showing wasn’t all that bad.
“He has great talent. He’s a young kid. He could easily be a redshirt freshman because we only played him a few snaps last year,” he said. “His progress has been good. He’s playing solid football for us and continues to get better with a big upside. He’s getting to where we need him for this Big Ten stretch.”
The Buckeyes are averaging 45 points (seventh in the nation), 279.6 rushing yards (11th nationally) and 493.1 total yards (20th). That’s a big jump from last season when their averages were 37.2, 242.2 and 423.8, respectively.
They’ve been so productive because they don’t have a weak link on the offensive line.
“I didn’t have any doubt that at some point (Decker) would turn the corner, and he did the next game,” Warinner said.
“A lot of that is just confidence. When you’re an offensive lineman, you see a lot of looks, and people throw a lot of things at us to try to get us out of rhythm. But now he’s confident. He feels good about himself, and so do we.”
“A” game needed: The Buckeyes are ranked 79th (out of 123 FBS teams) in pass defense, giving up 240.7 yards per game, and they’ll be facing the Big Ten’s passing leader today in Penn State freshman Christian Hackenberg.
Meyer believes they could get carved up like a Halloween pumpkin if they don’t apply some heat.
“Giving this guy time is a problem. … He’s a big, strong, strapping guy with a really good arm,” Meyer said.
Ready for anything: For the third straight game, the Buckeyes will be facing an opponent coming off a bye week. Their next game is at Purdue, which also has a week off before facing OSU.
“That’s life in the big city,” OSU defensive line coach Mike Vrabel said with a shrug. “I think you’ve got to understand, whether they have a bye week or not, you’re going to get a whole bunch of stuff. The stuff you’ve had trouble with is going to continue to show up until you stop it. The things you do well, they’re going to try to have answers for.”
Penn State (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) at Ohio State (7-0, 3-0), 8 p.m., ABC, 1410