COLUMBUS, Ohio — The first half of the season is in the books, and “The Chase” is still right on schedule for Ohio State. But even with an undefeated record and what appears to be a pretty manageable slate of games coming up, the Buckeyes still have some areas to clean up if they’re going to be a factor in the national title race.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — As he struggled to find the words at the podium to sum up the loss of a captain, Urban Meyer instead resorted to one powerful gesture. The sound the hand of the Ohio State coach made as it smacked the hardwood echoed throughout the media room as Saturday night’s 31-24 win over Wisconsin spilled into Sunday.
And the ripple effect is likely to be similarly felt throughout the rest of the season for the Buckeyes. A defense that was already low on veterans and likely will be without one of its most respected captains for the rest of the season after Christian Bryant fractured his ankle and was immediately taken to the hospital for surgery.
“He’s our leader,” Meyer said. “There’s no doubt — if not the leader of the defense, one of them. And he’s just devastated.”
Meyer didn’t bother hiding the fact he was feeling the same way. And while he almost exclusively focused on Bryant’s intangibles and how much it hurt to watch a tireless worker lose the rest of his senior season, the next time Meyer talks about his fallen captain, he’ll have to address how the Buckeyes will replace his quantifiable production.
Bryant has finished no lower than third on the team in tackles over the last two seasons, has demonstrated an ability to come up with turnovers in critical moments and has coupled his deep knowledge of the Ohio State scheme with underrated athleticism to become one of the most consistent playmakers on the roster on either side of the ball. And while the Buckeyes are perhaps deeper in the secondary than they are at any other position group, there will certainly be a drop-off regardless of how they reshuffle their safeties.
Fellow senior safety Corey “Pittsburgh” Brown has thrived in his role as an extra defensive back when Ohio State has gone to its dime and seven-defensive back packages, and he’d actually made just one less tackle than Bryant this season going into the game on Saturday. He’s likely going to see his responsibilities expanded now into the base defense, and if the Buckeyes can get numbers comparable to what Brown has posted through five games, they might survive just fine.
But whether it’s Brown or perhaps true freshman Vonn Bell pressed into a bigger job, Bryant’s leadership, knowledge and bone-rattling hits aren’t likely going to be replaced. And Meyer surely knew that before punishing his podium.
“Just tough news,” Meyer said. “Incredible leadership skills, and he’s going to be even more valuable outside of football.”
Inside the game, the Buckeyes have no choice now but to move on with the next guy behind Bryant.