Embattled OSU line looks to make statement

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- At 6-foot-7 and 335 pounds, Steve Rehring is a big boy.

The Ohio State right guard can handle a little criticism.

"We take the blame," Rehring said of himself and his linemates. "If people want to blame us, that's fine. Whatever. We do some dirty things sometimes. People don't understand what we do down there."

Ohio State's front five has borne the brunt for the unit's struggles for most of the season. Despite returning four starting linemen, the Buckeyes finished 78th nationally in total offense (339.7 yards per game) and didn't truly find an identity until the closing stretch of the season.

The topsy-turvy season brought criticism from both outside and inside the locker room. Left tackle Alex Boone gave the line an 'F' for its performance in nonconference play. Rehring was a little more forgiving with his regular-season grade, giving the line a 'B' or 'B-minus.'

The group needs an A-plus performance Monday night against No. 3 Texas in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (Fox, 8 p.m. ET). Led by All-American Brian Orakpo, Texas leads the nation in sacks (3.7 sacks per game), while Ohio State is tied for 78th in sacks allowed (2.17 per game).

"We have a lot to prove," Boone said. "We've been up and down all year. We've been talking about that and how we need to get better."

Pass protection has been the biggest knock against the Buckeyes, who ranked no worse than 29th nationally in sacks allowed during the last three seasons.

"I don't think pass blocking all goes on the offensive line," Rehring said. "We take the blame for it, always. If you get beat, you get beat. That's on the offensive line. But sometimes, protection-wise, we're supposed to do this or that.

"As a collective group, we need to protect the quarterback."

Starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor is prone to holding the ball too long at times, and he'll need to have a quicker release against Texas, which boasts seven defenders with multiple sacks, led by Orakpo (10.5) and linebacker Sergio Kindle (9). Both Rehring and Ohio State tight end Rory Nicol likened Orakpo to former Buckeyes star Vernon Gholston, the hulking end who had 14 sacks last season.

"We need to do a good job schematically of trying to keep Texas true and contained to their schemes and not letting them just tee off, off the edges," Nicol said. "Staying out of third-and-long situations where they get in that 30 front, they put Orakpo and the other kid on the edge and they're coming. They're coming to get the quarterback."

Speed has become a sore subject for Big Ten teams in recent seasons, and the new spin on the debate is that the major differential can be found on the line of scrimmage, not with the skill players.

Rehring doesn't buy it.

"We've got great defensive lines in the Big Ten," Rehring said. "I would put our defensive line against anybody and run 40s, across the board. On the offensive line, it doesn't matter. As long as you have good technique and do what you do, you have quick feet, it doesn't matter how fast they are.

"As an offensive line, we're pretty quick guys, play with good technique and we go against a great defensive line every day in practice. So we'll see how it works out."