As expected, the biggest issue facing the Ohio State football team as head coach Urban Meyer stepped up to face the media Monday was how the Buckeyes plan to replace senior safety Christian Bryant.
Meyer – whose emotion boiled over in the postgame after No. 4 OSU’s win vs. No. 23 Wisconsin when discussing the loss of Bryant to a broken left ankle – said it will be up to the defensive coaching staff to figure out how to make things work. The staff met this morning and will meet again this afternoon as it tries to figure out how to replace the third-year starter, who has 22 tackles on the season while providing a vocal leadership role from the secondary.
“It’s complicated,” Meyer said. “Last year I would have probably put my hands all over that because I didn’t know (safeties coach) Everett Withers very well. … I gave my opinions but I have great confidence.”
The options include fifth-year senior Corey Brown – who cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs said is the most likely person at the moment to start Saturday at Northwestern – as well as nickel back Tyvis Powell and true freshman Vonn Bell, Meyer said.
Finding the right answer in that regard will be key as Ohio State continues its slate Saturday at No. 16 Northwestern in what might be the game of the week in college football. The Wildcats run a spread offense with a number of playmakers, but it sounds as though the Buckeyes are ready for the challenge.
“The best thing about 5 0 is a chance to go 6 0,” Meyer said. “Really difficult game coming up, back to back games against ranked teams. Other than Christian, we should be healthy. … It’s another night game. Game Day I hear is going to be there, and it will be a heck of an atmosphere so we look forward to this challenge.”
Outside of that, the head coach spotlighted the team’s champions for the game against Wisconsin. The co-offensive players of the week were wideout Philly Brown, who hauled in eight passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns, as well as offensive lineman Jack Mewhort. Other champions were wideouts Devin Smith and Evan Spencer as well as right guard Marcus Hall.
“We are getting several receivers grading out champions, and that's not just catching the ball, but they are very involved in the perimeter blocking of our run game,” Meyer said.
Defensively, Ryan Shazier was named the Buckeyes’ defensive player of the week, with Meyer noting, “He played his best game of the year and has really come on the last couple weeks playing for us.” He was joined as a champion by returning starting defensive linemen Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington as well as safety C.J. Barnett.
Meanwhile, Smith, one of the OSU gunners who helped the Buckeyes keep Wisconsin to just three punt return yards, was named the Buckeyes’ top special teamer.
In other recognition, quarterback Braxton Miller was named Big Ten offensive player of the week after throwing for four touchdowns vs. Wisconsin, joining fellow QB Kenny Guiton, who had won the award the last two weeks.
“I thought his preparation for the game was one of the best he's had,” Meyer said. “His practice was one of the best he's had as far as Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday, and I thought his accuracy on the deep ball was outstanding. … I thought he did well.”
Ohio State also boasted the Big Ten special teams player of the week in Cameron Johnston. The freshman punter was impressive vs. the Badgers, pinning Wisconsin inside the 20 on all six of his punts and booming a 55-yarder with more than four seconds of hangtime that left the Badgers with 90 yards to go and 1:29 left on their final drive. Meyer described Johnston’s punting to that point as a C-minus but praised his work vs. the Badgers.
Next up, Ohio State faces one of its toughest tasks of the season, a trip to Chicagoland to take the Wildcats this weekend. Northwestern is 4-0 this year, 14-3 the past two seasons and coming off a bye going into what many consider one of the biggest home games in program history.
Getting through the game with his team’s winning streak intact would be huge to Meyer, with the Buckeyes set to have an open week to rest and reset after the clash against the Wildcats.
“Some people say bye weeks don’t matter,” Meyer said. “You’ll never hear me say that. Bye weeks are very important. As a matter of fact, if I was scheduling, I would always try to put it against a team – you deal with injury and fatigue in the middle of the season, and then obviously back-to-back opponents (like this), especially when you’re playing against a team like Wisconsin, a physical game.
“We had to be very cautious on how we operated yesterday. We have to be very smart on how we do Tuesday and Wednesday. Today, I’m getting a feel for how our guys are as they’re going through the training room and getting treatment. It is what it is. It’s part of the season.”