very college football team wants to be practicing in December.
But, it’s not exactly the time of year when you want to overhaul your offensive line.
The Ohio Bobcats don’t have much choice. Ohio (8-4) was grateful to extend its season with an invitation to the Independence Bowl, but with the invite the Bobcats also had to get to work on revamping the offensive line.
Ohio lost three offensive line starters early in the first half of the regular-season finale, a loss at Kent State. Right tackle Ryan McGrath, right guard Eric Herman and left guard Vince Carlotta were season-long starters on the front, but none were able to make it to halftime against the Golden Flashes.
McGrath suffered a broken leg, and the junior will be fortunate if he’s able to take part in spring drills next April. Carlotta, a senior, will also not play in the bowl game after suffering a concussion.
Herman, who suffered a right elbow injury, is questionable for the bowl game but did resume some live practice activities this week.
The situation has left Ohio offensive line coach Keven Lightner trying to get several less experienced players ready to go in time for the bowl game on Dec. 28. Regardless, the Bobcats will run the same type of offense they have all season.
“Coach (Tim) Albin (offensive coordinator) isn’t going to call any different plays. The group that is out there is still going to be talented,” Lightner said. “They’re all still on scholarship. We expect them to play well.”
The biggest hole to fill may be at right tackle. McGrath had played well as a first-time starter this season. His replacement is expected to be third-year sophomore Bryce Dietz, who has found playing time hard to come by.
“He’s going to have to step up. He got his first real action against Kent, and did some good things in the run game,” Lightner said.
At left guard, junior Jon Lechner will be the starter and should settle in nicely. He filled in at both LG and LT throughout the regular season.
If Herman can’t go, or is slowed because of injury, then redshirt freshman Mike Lucas will step in. Also likely to help at both tackle spots will be redshirt freshman Mike McQueen.
McQueen and Lucas are projected to be starters in the future. But the Bobcats made need them now.
“They’re going to be stars in the future, but they have to be ready to go,” Lightner said. “Some of those guys will have to go a majority of the game.”
Ohio center Skyler Allen has played three solid seasons at the position, and usually with Carlotta and Herman flanking him at the guard spots. A senior, Allen doesn’t want to think about playing his last collegiate game without his fellow senior teammates.
“I’m really close with those two guys and they’re two of my best friends. To actually think about not playing our final game together is kind of heart breaking,” Allen said. “It would be definitely be rough.”
Allen will be essential for the offensive line in the bowl game. Louisiana-Monroe uses a 3-3-5 base defense, from which the Warhawks can utilize a wide variety of fronts and looks. It’s Allen’s job to make sure the line is squared away prior to the snap, whether redshirt freshmen or fifth-year seniors are lined up beside him.
“With Skyler at the center spot, who’s seen about everything, that really helps. He can really get everyone on the same page,” Lightner said.
Albin vowed Ohio won’t drastically change what it does regardless of the game-time makeup of the offensive line. The Bobcats are who they are at this point — a run-first team that excels when playing ahead of the down-and-distance situation.
“We’re a run-first team. They’re going to know that, and we’re not going to change,” Albin said. “Tempo wise, we’re not changing. We’re going to try to put our foot on the gas.