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Can Ohio State’s offensive line hold Christian Barmore from affecting Justin Fields?

Christian Barmore (No. 58) of Alabama sacks Ian Book at Rose Bowl Game
Kevin Jairaj - USA TODAY Sports

Of the in-game matchups between Alabama and Ohio State, the battle in the trenches is the most important one.

For the Buckeyes, its defensive front will face a Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line in the Crimson Tide. As for Ohio State’s offensive unit, it will be at war against a pass rush for Alabama that is clicking at the right time. Although he is expected to be at quarterback for the Buckeyes next week, Justin Fields took a hard hit in the Allstate Sugar Bowl versus Clemson.

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He toughed it out and had the game of his life — 385 passing yards, six touchdowns — but is he able to duplicate the same performance on a Nick Saban-coached defense? This is a thought from media pundits and fans of Ohio State, especially with its recent national championship coming in 2014. Alabama saw Fields only one time in the 2018 SEC Championship Game, where he came off the bench for Georgia as a freshman to execute a fake punt. The play did not go according to plan, the Tide ended up getting a victory, and Fields would transfer to Ohio State.

Since then, the native Georgian and former five-star has blossomed into an incredible quarterback.

The 6-foot-3, 228-pounder had 51 touchdowns (41 passing, 10 rushing) to three interceptions in 2019.

Despite the Buckeyes playing just seven games — Coronavirus concerns — the talented junior has 1,906 passing yards, 316 rushing yards and 26 total scores (21 passing, five rushing) to six picks.

Regardless of how dynamic he is, Ohio State’s offensive line has encountered struggles in protecting Fields within the pocket.

He’s been sacked 20 times and in close matchups versus Indiana and Northwestern (Big Ten Championship), Fields was sacked a combined eight times and tossed five interceptions.

Most sacked QB’s in College Football Playoff

-Ian Book, Notre Dame – 25 (12 games)

-Justin Fields, Ohio State – 20 (seven games)

-Trevor Lawrence, Clemson – 15 (10 games)

-Mac Jones, Alabama – 11 (12 games)

Christian Barmore, a redshirt sophomore, is playing his best football on Alabama’s defensive front.

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Christian Barmore of Alabama celebrates a sack against Ian Book of Notre Dame

Jan 1, 2021; Arlington, TX, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Christian Barmore (58) reacts after his sack against Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Ian Book (12) during the second half in the Rose Bowl at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Since the Georgia game, he’s totaled six sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss, five quarterback pressures, three pass breakups and three forced fumbles.

Barmore and William Anderson (freshman) share the team lead and SEC lead for sacks with seven, while the Philadelphia (Pa.) native also has 7.5 tackles for loss and six quarterback hurries on the season. The 6-foot-5, 310-pounder was named first-team All-SEC for his efforts and according to Pro Football Focus, he pressured Ian Book of Notre Dame on 18.4 percent of his pass-rush snaps. Barmore’s output in this category is the highest by any player in the CFP this season.

On top of that, PFF has Barmore with the most quarterback pressures by a Power Five defensive tackle.

When he was asked about Barmore’s switch as a pass rusher, DJ Dale told reporters that his teammate has a special mindset.

“It’s not really a switch,” Dale said of Barmore. “That’s just him, whether it’s in practice or in the game. That’s just him. The only thing that can stop him is him. It is just how he carries himself. Even outside of here, he feels like he can’t be beat in anything, whether it’s football, basketball. That’s just him.”

Ohio State will have its hands full with No. 58 coming with bad intentions.

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Stephen M. Smith is the managing editor and senior writer for Touchdown Alabama Magazine.  You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @CoachingMSmith

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