Any offensive line can boast of being tough. Any line can claim it has depth. The difference for this Ohio State unit is it now has video-verified documentation headed toward its Big Ten showdown with Wisconsin next Saturday.
A fourth different tackle this season started for the Buckeyes on Saturday night in the 52-3 romp at Northwestern. Nicholas Petit-Frere, a celebrated five-star prospect and the last player to commit to the 2018 Ohio State recruiting class, gained his first starting nod in place of a hurt Thayer Munford at left tackle.
“I think Nick stepped up,” Buckeyes coach Ryan Day said in a flash assessment right after the game. “Nick played well.”
But that’s right, a five-star had to wait his turn, after narrowly losing a bid for the No. 1 spot at right tackle in preseason in a pitched competition with Branden Bowen.
When Bowen couldn’t roll in the game at Nebraska a few weeks ago, Petit-Frere had to wait again as the coaches turned to proven backup Josh Alabi, who five days after making the flip from backing up Munford on the left side was named offensive player of the game following the thump of the Huskers.
This time, due to attrition, it was Petit-Frere’s turn. Munford suffered a lower leg twist in the win over Michigan State two weeks prior, and Alabi, who likely would have gotten the starting nod at Northwestern, found himself suddenly sidelined by an unspecified injury in the off week.
As Petit-Frere explained, he heard the call from line coach Greg Studrawa to flip over to the left side when the team regathered following the off week last Sunday. Five days later, he made his first collegiate start.
“It went well,” Petit-Frere said. “All the coaches kept telling me to keep working hard, there are going to be some bumps and bruises along the way, especially your first start and stuff like that.”
Was it flawless? No. In fact, midway through the first half Munford was sent into the game for several possessions, but Petit-Frere again started the second half.
“Coach Stud told me: ‘Don’t get dejected. we just want to get Thayer a few sets in just to get him a little warmed up as well,’” Petit-Frere said. “But for the most part, the coaches came up to me after halftime and after the game and [said]: ‘Nick, you did a really good job. We’re really proud of you.’
“I’m very thankful for them, and I’m thankful for them giving me the opportunity.”
It’s the Next Man Up motto the Buckeyes swear by, but on the offensive line, for the first time in at least in it seems like an eon, the next man up seems quite capable. Heck, even the next man after the next man took a turn. A major highlight was the way 6-foot-8, 360-pound freshman Dawand Jones crushed the Northwestern defensive line in opening the path for Master Teague for a 73-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
In summation, Petit-Frere represented the depth, Munford once again displayed the toughness that’s become a hallmark of this Ohio State unit in back-to-back shoving matches with the physical defensive lines of Michigan State and Northwestern, and Jones showed development is ongoing even as the season ensues.
“There was a lot going on there,” Day said of the left-tackle tango at Northwestern. “Thayer had a real nagging deal that we had to kind of decide in game.
“I thought he was gritty, and when we needed him in the game he came in and played – I think he played well. … I think it was the first play he was in there we hit the long run by J.K. [Dobbins]. That was gritty by him. He played, you know, hurt, and that just says a lot about him.”
And as he pointed out, Nicholas Petit-Frere stepped up to the first-start challenge.
“We did a good job with him in there,” Day said. ” … Then we even got Dawand in there at the end. So that goes to show the depth we have at the offensive line.”