Any doubt about how much it hurts the Ohio State football team to lose Christian Bryant to a broken left ankle was erased as head coach Urban Meyer’s hand slammed down to the wooden lectern in the postgame interview room.
It was minutes after the No. 4 Buckeyes ran their winning streak to 17 games with a 31-24 victory in Ohio Stadium against 23rd-ranked Wisconsin, but Meyer’s mind was clearly on losing the senior co-captain for what sounds like the rest of the season.
“We lost our captain,” Meyer said, punctuating his remarks at one point with an open-palmed slap of the lectern in frustration. “Christian Bryant has a broken ankle. Just tough news. That's the hardest part of this whole job is to see – I'm not sure everybody understands what goes into playing a football game, the training and work ethic and all that.
“My goodness. Just love that kid. I just want to ask you to keep Christian's family in your prayers, and that darn kid has done so much for our program, come so far. Incredible leadership skills. And he's going to be even more valuable outside of football. I love that guy. Doggone it. Hard part of the game, boy.”
Bryant, a third-year starter, will be missed for more than the 22 tackles and an interception he had racked up through the opening five games. His leadership among the eight game captains Ohio State named this year clearly stood out to Meyer, who finished his press conference with more thoughts on the Cleveland Glenville product.
“He's our leader,” Meyer said. “There's no doubt about he is one of our – if not the defense leader, one of them. And he's just devastated. So that's concern No. 1. Concern probably one, two and three is who is going to fill his spot, who is going to assume the leadership obligation, responsibility that he has, that he has shown. Incredible young man. Incredible. His parents should be very, very proud of that guy. I love that guy.”
The raw emotion of the moment transferred over to Ohio State’s players, including Bryant’s running mate at safety for the past three seasons, fellow senior C.J. Barnett.
“That’s huge,” Barnett said. “That’s my partner, man, and it’s kind of bittersweet. We got this win, but he went down. We’re going to have to pick it up for him, find a replacement, and his leadership is going to be missed. Our other leaders are going to have to carry some more weight.”
Bryant was injured as the Buckeyes made their last stand in the seven-point victory. Wisconsin took over down by a touchdown with 1:29 to play but quickly found itself in deep trouble with a third-and-17 as the clock ticked under a minute to play. Under pressure, quarterback Joel Stave flipped a quick pass to running back James White from his own end zone, and Bryant was injured among the players trying to make the play along the west sideline.
Now gone will be one of the most vocal Buckeyes, as Bryant has never been shy with both trash talk for opponents and encouraging words for his teammates.
“It’s real tough because he’s always a guy who’s chirping,” sophomore linebacker Joshua Perry said. “He’s in your ear. He provides a spark. He provides confidence. He’s always picking us up if we’re down. So you miss that, and his play is just so intense. He’s always hawking the ball, all that kind of stuff.”
“It hits home,” linebacker Curtis Grant added. “It hit really hard. I can’t really explain it. It has me down right now, but we have to bounce back and do it for him.”
With Bryant out, the Buckeyes now have some options. Fifth-year senior Corey Brown, who has been the team’s dime back this season and has 21 tackles, could slot into the regular rotation for the first time in his career. Sophomore Ron Tanner, who has six tackles and an interception, could also see increased time, while true freshman Vonn Bell (six tackles) might also be in the mix.
None, though, figure to provide the spark and impassioned play Bryant has become known for.
“We have great depth,” Banrett said. “I think him going down just gives another guy an opportunity to step up and make plays. We have Ron Tanner and Corey Brown back there. We don’t expect a drop-off, but it’s huge in the leadership part.”