You can’t win big in football without a powerful front on offense or defense, and if you’re going to win it all, you need both.
Ohio State and Alabama fit those respective bills. The Crimson Tide feature an offensive line that won the Joe Moore Award as the nation’s best front five. The Buckeyes have a similarly talented offensive line as evidenced by their down-to-the-end contention for the Moore Award themselves.
Conversely, on the other side of the ball, Ohio State and Alabama are as known for their respective defensive lines as anything else. Both programs churn out NFL defensive linemen as if they were created on an assembly line.
Both teams and both sides of those teams know that they are about to face their stiffest tests of the season.
“Their front seven, just like most good teams, they’re strong, physical, they’re stout in the interior, they’ve got really good edge rushers on the edge, and their linebackers are super athletic, can go sideline to sideline,” said Alabama offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood. “They can hit you downhill. They’re a good group.”
Leatherwood is leading the way for a dynamic Crimson Tide passing attack. Quarterback Mac Jones is second in the nation with 4,036 yards passing and 36 touchdowns. Despite those elite numbers, Alabama is also known for running the ball with running back Najee Harris, who has rushed for 1,387 yards this year and over 3,700 yards in his four-year Alabama career.
Ohio State always sets out to stop the run first, but Harris knows the Crimson Tide plan to run the ball regardless of the opponent.
“Yeah, I think our offensive line is playing really well,” he said. “We have a game plan that’s set from our coaches and we follow that game plan. I feel like we have weapons everywhere. So I guess you could say that we can run the ball, but that’s not really what our focus is.
“Our focus is balance, I guess you could say. They have a really good run defense, so it’s not going to be easy. They have a really good pass defense, so it’s not going to be easy. So we just try to balance it as much as we can and try to look for weaknesses.”
Being balanced will make life in the trenches easier than the alternative, but Ohio State believes their defense has been tested by the best this season already.
“You know, it’s not anything different. We’ve seen it every single day in practice,” Buckeye linebacker Pete Werner said. “We like to compare our offensive line to their offensive line, so it’s going to be very similar. We butt heads with our offensive line, and I’m sure it was neck and neck with our offensive line and their offensive line [for the Joe Moore Award].
“I’d like to agree that they’re very similar. But that being said, we’ve got to keep going against our guys. We’ve seen it. We know what it’s like, so we’re ready to get after them. But I credit them. Very good offensive line, very disciplined, and very aggressive getting off the ball.”
This being the pinnacle of college football, each position group will be facing off against another top position group. No where is that more true than in the trenches, and it’s a matchup that everyone on the line of scrimmage gets ramped up for.
“It goes way through the roof,” Leatherwood said of the excitement of playing other top programs. “Not saying we aren’t excited for any game or any opponent we’re playing, but we’re just competitors. We love to compete, and we’re going to step up to the challenge and we’re going to see if they want to play football.”
It is likely that Ohio State will in fact want to play football on Monday and when they do line up against the Alabama Crimson Tide, there is no secret where this game will be decided.
“It’ll be won in the trenches, no doubt,” OSU defensive tackle Haskell Garrett said. “Games like this will be won up front. If you can’t move offensive and defensive lines then you have no chance at winning in my opinion.
“You know, offensive linemen and defensive linemen are unsung heroes, so we might not get the glamour or the flash, but it’s won up front. The better front is going to win this game.”