Alex Mirabal should teach his own MasterClass on how to get an offensive line prepared for big games. What he and his unit did against Ohio State on Saturday was nothing short of spectacular in both pass protection and run blocking.
Let's start with what shows up in the stat sheet. Anthony Brown was not sacked. The Buckeyes had gone 23 straight home games with recording at least one sack - the last time they didn't have one in a home game was Sept. 16, 2017, against Army.
Brown didn't face much pressure, and neither did running backs CJ Verdell and Travis Dye. The Buckeyes only logged one tackle for loss while the Ducks picked up 269 rushing yards and 7.1 yards per carry. No one had rushed for that many yards against Ohio State since Maryland torched the Buckeyes for 339 yards (also 7.1 yards per carry) on Nov. 17, 2018.
No one has put up that many rushing yards in Columbus since Nov. 22, 2014, when Tevin Coleman and Indiana put up 281 yards on the ground.
What I'm saying is that what the Oregon Ducks offensive line did overall is special and unheard of. They did exactly what Ohio State does to its opponents - control the line of scrimmage, attack the defensive line with the run game, and protect the quarterback. And they did it as a massive underdog in a road game against the No. 3 team in the country while coming off of a game the previous weekend that had a lot of critics chirping about them.
Let's dive into just how impressive the performance from the boys up front was. The Ducks starting lineup up front consisted of George Moore, TJ Bass, Alex Forsyth, Ryan Walk, and Steven Jones. Ohio State owns one of the most fearsome defensive lines in the country with All-American Haskell Garrett, All-Big Ten selection Zach Harrison, and veterans Tyreke Smith and Taron Vincent.
From the first snap of the game, the Ducks offensive line was prepared to eliminate the Buckeyes' future NFL defensive linemen from controlling the line of scrimmage. Specifically on the first snap, Forsyth and Bass quickly double-teamed Garrett, who still manages to burst into the B-gap, but Bass affects his angle on Verdell just enough so that Garrett doesn't blow the play up for a loss. Forsyth clips Garrett and moves off of him to block linebacker Tommy Eichenberg and gets help from Cam McCormick for the key block on the 11-yard run.
If you noticed that on many of Oregon's touchdowns that the left side of the field was almost always open for business, this is a result of the successful execution of the offensive line, but a special shoutout is in order for Joe Moorhead's exceptional playcalling. The Ducks ran the ball up the middle at will against Fresno State, and the Buckeyes seemed ready for another serving of that playcalling on Saturday.
Instead, the Ducks ran outside the tackles a bunch, including on the first touchdown of the game. On that play, the Ducks lined up three receivers on the right and looked as if they would run the ball up the middle, to the right, or throw to the right side of the field.
Not a single soul on the Buckeyes appeared to know that a run to the outside to the left was coming as all of the linebackers approached the middle of the field and were wiped out of the play by DJ Johnson, and it was easy pickings for Verdell to the left side. It was so easy that Ryan Walk was his lead blocker and had no one to block on the way to the endzone.
The Ducks ran almost the exact same play on the second touchdown to take a 14-7 lead, only this time the Buckeyes defenders seemed to know a toss to the left was coming, but the offensive line and tight end Moliki Matavao cleaned up the field for Verdell to waltz his way into the endzone for the second time.
Oregon's wide receivers and tight ends deserve a lot of credit for the way they blocked as well. It wasn't just how effective the blocks were either; but also the effort and hustle. Take this example of Johnny Johnson III blocking down field for Verdell on a screen.
Another Duck that deserves a mountain of credit is Alex Forsyth, who earned the Pac-12 Offensive Lineman of the Week honor for his magnificent performance. Forsyth was essentially flawless against Ohio State, recording six knockdowns while not allowing a single sack, hurry, or pressure all day. He played all 75 snaps at center.
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For the record, he didn't allow a sack, hurry, or pressure against Fresno State either. NFL scouts: wake up.
Forsyth provided one of the key blocks (there were many) in Verdell's game-breaking 77-yard touchdown to make it a two-score game early in the second half. He dominated his matchup against Garrett at the point of attack, putting him in a straight jacket and driving him to the opposite side of the field.
You could highlight every lineman on this play and point out the incredible job they did on their respective assignments, but Garrett is the best run defender on the team, and he had no shot at getting the tackle.
Garrett was matched up a lot against Forsyth and was a non-factor in the game.
The Ducks continued to rotate offensive linemen into the game, including Dawson Jaramillo and Malaesala Aumavae-Laulu at the tackle spots. Mirabal's group is showing that no matter who you put on the field, you're going to get excellent production.
This performance by the Ducks' offensive line proves that the unit is just that, a UNIT. It is a well-oiled machine that doesn't get talked about enough, and it's led by Alex Mirabal and Mario Cristobal, who are among best developers of offensive linemen in the nation.
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