Buckeyes' D-line takes charge to lead

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

After USC's Mark Sanchez had his way in a 35-3 victory last September, Ohio State's defensive linemen convened and made a pact.

The Trojans had won the battle at the line of scrimmage, leaving the Buckeyes beaten and bruised. Senior defensive end/linebacker Curtis Terry did the talking.

"He was really, really honest and put it all on the line," Ohio State defensive tackle Doug Worthington recalled. "We just had a heart-to-heart, so to speak, and just tried to decide what we wanted to do and what we wanted to be for the rest of the season. We kind of turned it around."

Ohio State ended up finishing in the top 20 nationally in both rushing defense and scoring defense, and finished sixth nationally in points allowed (13.9 ypg). The Buckeyes held Penn State's powerful offense to season lows in both points and yards, and limited Texas to just 24 points and 54 rushing yards in the Fiesta Bowl.

The Scarlet and Gray might have fallen short of its goals in 2008, but to no fault of the defensive line.

Ohio State's front four is unquestionably the team's strength this fall, returning seven of its top eight players from last season. The group has combined for 78 career starts, led by Worthington (23) and defensive end Cameron Heyward (21).

The line has drawn comparisons to previous Buckeye fronts in 2002 and 2003, seasons that ended with a national title and a Fiesta Bowl victory.

"Playing with those guys the last few years, being in practices, just hanging with them off the field, has been a great experience for me," said Worthington, a co-captain this fall. "I just know when I'm on the field, and I've got Dex [Larimore] to my right and Thad [Gibson] to my left, that I'm comfortable with those guys.

"It's just a level of comfort when you have a guy you know is very productive and wants it as bad as you do."

Ohio State needs the front four to be at its peak in Saturday's rematch against No. 3 USC (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET). The Trojans no longer have Sanchez, but they're extremely talented on the offensive line and boast an endless supply of running backs, led by Joe McKnight and Stafon Johnson.

USC's line play impresses Tressel, who expects center Kristofer O'Dowd (knee) to be back Saturday.

"Lean, quick, don't make errors, very deep," Tressel said. "They're as good a unit collectively as you could ever face."

After being "outphysicaled" last year in L.A., Worthington and his linemates know what to expect.

"All the scouting reports have them as the No. 1 offensive line [in the country]," Worthington said. "They're athletic. Their body fat is not as much as some might be, cuts all over their arms. It's just just a great, physical bunch. They're just as fast as some D-linemen, so it creates a challenge we all look for.

"It's going to be fun going against them."

Ohio State's defensive front turned in a decent performance against Navy, holding the Mids to four yards a carry. Gibson continued his strong play from late last season with two tackles for loss and a forced fumble, while Todd Denlinger and Nathan Williams also recorded TFLs.

The defense's overall performance will have to be much better against USC, which, compared with Navy, is "night and day," Worthington said.

"A game like this is definitely won at the line of scrimmage," Worthington said. "We've got to show up and be productive as a defensive line, get off blocks and make some plays. We are one of the veteran groups on our team, so it's a lot of pressure on us, but we love it."