Though it’s now the final days of the season in January, and not the early anticipation of August, The Oregonian/OregonLive are doing two-a-days in the run-up to the College Football Playoff national championship between No. 2 Oregon and No. 4 Ohio State. Each day leading up to the Jan. 12 kickoff at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, we will preview two position matchups each day.

Today: Oregon offensive line vs. Ohio State defensive line.

Oregon couldn’t have asked for more from its beleaguered line entering its biggest game. With the exception of Tyler Johnstone, whose injured ACL in August knocked him out for the season, the Ducks’ blockers are as healthy as they’ve been all season given the return in the Rose Bowl of their last remaining question mark, All-American center Hroniss Grasu.

Grasu played well in the semifinal victory against Florida State, and said this week he felt natural playing for the first time since Nov. 8.

With its multitude of nicks and dings, Oregon’s line has become accustomed to being in the spotlight each week and that continues in Arlington, where it will be under scrutiny matching up in the season finale against arguably the Buckeyes’ best, most consistent defensive unit. And it’s been that way despite the Buckeyes losing projected starting end Noah Spence this summer to a season-long suspension for failing two drug tests.

Even without Spence, the Buckeyes’ line has made marked strides in the last half of the season largely thanks to another physical rusher off the edge: sophomore Joey Bosa. The 6-foot-5, 278-pound Bosa has played like a future NFL first-rounder in 2016, ranking fourth nationally with 13.5 sacks en route to becoming the Big Ten’s defensive player and lineman of the season. However, his aggressiveness can also be turned against him. Bosa has been known to gamble on his assignments because he feels he can make a bigger play by freelancing. But it is his hits, rather than his misses, that have made him one of the players to watch in this game. Below is a video of the last play of Ohio State’s overtime win against Penn State, in which Bosa hit a running back so hard it knocked over the Lions’ quarterback on fourth down.

“I think it’s pretty obvious our biggest challenge will be their speed and tempo,” Bosa said Tuesday. “We’ve been doing 16 seconds between plays and have had periods of hurry-ups. We’ve also been really be focusing on our conditioning this week. It’s been a tough two days.”

In the Buckeyes 4-3 scheme, Bosa mans one side, with 6-4, 295-pound junior Adolphus Washington — a high school classmate of Oregon receiver Dwayne Stanford — next to him at tackle. He’s joined at that spot inside by Michael Bennett, and flanked by the bookend Steve Miller. Last week in a playoff semifinal against Alabama, Miller had one of the game’s biggest highlights with a 41-yard interception return for a touchdown to give the Buckeyes (13-1) a 34-21 lead. Those four have combined for 83 starts and are a big reason why the Buckeyes led the Big Ten and ranked 10th nationally with 105 tackles for loss.

“I think it’s really something special that we get to go against these kinds of talents and these kinds of teams,” Bennett said. “For the past two games we’ve been able to shut them down.”

Up next: Ohio State’s offensive line vs. Oregon’s defensive line

Previously: UO receivers vs. OSU secondary; UO secondary vs. OSU receivers.

— Andrew Greif
[email protected]
503-221-8100; @andrewgreif

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