As Ohio State football settled into its halftime break against Iowa, it’s 18-game winning streak and national title hopes were under siege as the Buckeyes trailed, 17-10, and were being dominated on the defensive side of the ball.
The deficit was hardly an indictment on the play of Buckeyes receiver Corey “Philly” Brown, a winner of 36 games during his career in Scarlet and Gray and recipient of a 58-yard touchdown pass in the first half to keep Ohio State in the game.
Brown wasn’t content to rest on his personal laurels, however, and chose that halftime locker room scene to try to will his team to what would eventually be the 37th win of his Ohio State career and the 19th straight for his program in a 34-24 win against the Hawkeyes.
He had never addressed the team during halftime before, Brown said, but the moment demanded it from one of the Scarlet and Gray-clad players. Brown made sure he was the one to do job.
“You saw the first half. It looked bad,” Brown said. “My being the leader of the team, I walked up to Coach Meyer and asked him if I could say something to the team before we go out. He told me, ‘Yeah.’ I just told (the team) what we look like and what we needed to do … I challenged everyone.”
Players and fans alike should expect more of the same from Brown in games to come.
“We came in and you could kind of tell that the locker room was dead,” junior receiver Devin Smith recalled of the team’s collective mood during halftime of the Iowa game. “Nobody was saying nothing, everybody was looking at each other and right before we went out … Philly just stood up and said, ‘This is not how we play,’ and letting it pour out, really. He said, ‘This is not us. This is not how we play. We need to come out this half and show them what we’re about.’ ”
Some might say the veteran receiver had no business confronting his teammates on the defensive side of the ball, but he did. It paid off.
The defense allowed just seven points in the second half and freshman defensive back Tyvis Powell sealed the victory with a late interception. After the game, players said they appreciated Brown’s words. That appreciation also grew as Brown gave a second-half performance befitting of his halftime homily.
Brown threw a key block on a 14-yard touchdown reception by Smith to give Ohio State a 24-17 lead late in the third quarter. Iowa tied the game mere minutes on an 85-yard touchdown reception by tight end Jake Duzey, but Brown helped Ohio State retake the lead at 31-24 on its next drive. He threw two key blocks on running back Carlos Hyde’s memorable touchdown run in which he broke through tackles, staggered backward and eventually plunged into the end zone.
On his second block of the play, Brown helped pave Hyde’s path to the pylon by ear-holing an Iowa linebacker near the goal line.
“Once I (regained my balance), I turned back around and I see Philly Brown with an unbelievable block,” Hyde said.
Brown finished the game with three catches and tied for a team-high 72 receiving yards.
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said he’s been looking for a leader to replace Christian Bryant, who will miss at least the remainder of the regular season because of injury. But for Meyer, Brown was far from being a candidate to lead the team.
Meyer quipped on Wednesday that he wouldn’t have walked across the street for Brown in 2012, but was singing a different tune after the Iowa win. Meyer said that he found a serviceable replacement for Bryant in Brown.
“When you lose a Christian Bryant, I keep looking for that next guy and I found him, I think,” Meyer said. “It's No. 10, Philly Brown. (Brown’s an) emotional guy that's in that locker room and the kickoff team. He was outstanding.”
The show of emotion during halftime, and the performance to back up his talk, is no less than what teammates have come to expect from Brown during the 2013 campaign.
“Philly’s a 180-degree change from where he’s come and now he’s just a real vocal leader,” defensive tackle Joel Hale said after the game. “He leads in practices every day. He said (the defense has) got to step it up, and obviously there were other words exchanged, but he said to step it up and we responded.”
Should Penn State threaten Ohio State’s 20th consecutive win on Saturday at Ohio Stadium – it would also be win No. 38 of Brown’s career – you can bet Brown won’t hesitate to speak up again.
“People listen to me now,” Brown said. “In the past, I wouldn’t be able to say something to somebody that wasn’t in my position, but now — offense, defense, special teams — everybody listens to me. I know that I have the power of influence.”
The directives Brown put to his teammates during the halftime speech helped produced a win, so his teammates won't hesitate to abide by his instructions the next time around, too.