Sometimes the offensive line has a chef that cooks specifically for them.
That chef is also the starting quarterback.
“I offer to cook for them! I love my big men,” Greg Windham said. “They’re a big part of this team, they’re a big part of me and the running backs, they keep us untouched. I like to cook for them, give them treats, cookies, everything like that.”
He’s had good reason to be supportive of the big men up front — they’ve kept Windham and the running backs upright almost all season.
With five games in the books, the Bobcats line has given up just six sacks. That number is strong by itself, but even stronger considering in first four games Ohio only allowed two sacks.
Even with the setback against Miami, the Bobcats are currently ranked 26th in the FBS in sacks allowed, a loaded number considering there are teams ahead of them haven’t thrown the ball 100 times yet this season. Ohio has thrown the ball 184 times this season, 24th in the country. Of the teams ahead of them in that category, there’s only five with fewer sacks allowed.
It’s safe to say it’s been the line that has been one of the strongest units in the Mid-American Conference. But in typical offensive line style, line coach Dave Johnson deflected praise elsewhere.
“The quarterbacks, Greg and Quinton, have done great jobs avoiding sacks, pocket management,” he said. “Tremendous. Credit goes to the quarterbacks and how they manage the pocket, it’s made our jobs a whole lot easier. And the running backs have saved us several times, slipping off blocks, they’ve secured something.”
But perhaps the most remarkable thing about the five lineman has been their health. From left to right, it’s been the same all season: Joe Lowery, Josh Cooper, Jake Pruehs, Durrell Woods and Troy Watson.
The same starting five that took field against Texas State in the season opener, took the field against Miami last Saturday.
“I think it comes down to chemistry,” Pruehs said. “We’re all best friends, we all know how we all work with each other. It’s just doing the little things right, going as hard as you can every play. Whatever play they call, we’re gonna execute 110 percent.”
Through the first five games of the season, the running back position has been a revolving door. The one constant through all of that has been line.
“That’s the biggest thing, it comes down to who backs you up,” Pruehs said. “You’ve got to know whoever is the next guy up has got to be able to perform. I’m still preparing everybody for what’s to come.”
Having played nearly all of the team’s 416 plays this season together, there’s been a certain level of comfort that’s taken over the unit this season. As the only position group on the field to have that many people working together on the same job, chemistry is key.
“They learned to play with each other, they know the communication,” Johnson said. “There’s just a chemistry there that develops over time. The longer you have guys together, the better off it’s going to be. Health is a big issue, knock on wood we’ve been pretty good so far.”
And with the injuries at running back, the offensive line — already the most important unit on the field — has had to shoulder a greater load than before.
Six different running backs have taken snaps behind the line this season, but the team hasn’t missed a beat. They still average 200 yards per game on the ground even without starting running back A.J. Ouellette.
“Treating the guys stepping into the shoes of A.J. and Maleek (Irons) and Dorian (Brown), just treating them like they’re anybody else,” Watson said. “Business like usual. That gives them (the running backs) more confidence if they go ‘the guys aren’t fazed with me being around here.’ ”
That consistency on the line was helped by another motivating factor, however. After last season, the Bobcats lost three senior offensive lineman, two of whom went to NFL camps.
After the graduation of the three seniors, the offensive line was a huge question mark on the team. It was thought at the time that the running backs would have to cover for the offensive line.
That sentiment couldn’t have been more wrong.
“What pushed us together, was when everyone said we weren’t going to be what we were last year,” Cooper said. “This summer, we fought and fought every day to come out here on our own to work together and come together as a unit.”
With that, there’s been a brotherhood that’s overcome the linemen.
Some of the linemen live together, they play video games together and most importantly, they eat together — sometimes even Windham’s cookies.
“It’s been a really great experience with these guys, these guys are some of my best friends,” Watson said. “I feel like just helping the young guys along has been my favorite part, just helping along the young guys that have no idea what they’re doing. I think that’s been a memorable experience for me as a senior.”
They also have one more activity to bond over: coach Johnson’s film review.
Johnson looks at the game film, a terrifying prospect for any football player, and grades the players on three aspects of their game: assignment, technique and effort.
“Basically, with our technique wise, they’re scoring off of our SOC, Step of Champions,” Cooper said. “You can go get, as coach says, a frat boy to do your first step and your second step. As for effort, he wants us to keep pushing on every play, let us know we’re on somebody.”
The most important part is the effort grade, Johnson said.
“We reward guys on effort if they were the No. 1 effort, that’s the thing you shouldn’t have to coach,” he said. “That’s something that’s internal.”
And as this season has shown, that hasn’t been a problem.
With the middle of MAC play upcoming for the Bobcats, the line will take on greater importance as more players get injured or if bad weather impacts the games. For the linemen, the friends, it will be just business as usual.
“It’s nice to hear that they say they like being around each other, they’re around each other a lot,” Johnson said. “We stress that as a staff, we’re a family. We have each other's back. That’s kind of cool when they do that, these are relationships not only that they’ll have when they’re playing football. These are relationships they’ll have the rest of their lives.”
So when Windham throws a long pass to Sebastian Smith, or Brown breaks off a long touchdown run, remember it started with the big men up front.