EVANSTON, Ill. — After losing senior safety Christian Bryant to a broken ankle on the second-to-last play of the game against Wisconsin Sept. 28, the Ohio State football team (6-0, 2-0) came out against Northwestern with a purpose.
“Do it for C.B.,” was the message junior linebacker Ryan Shazier had for the team, sophomore defensive end Noah Spence said.
“He always comes out real energetic, but tonight I felt like he was doing it for Christian,” Spence said of Shazier. “The whole defense was and I felt like that pretty much propelled the defense to do amazing things.”
Shazier, who switched his jersey from No. 10 to No. 2 in honor of Bryant, said it was hard playing without the Cleveland native.
“It was emotional for me like the first quarter because, me having his number on, that was critical,” Shazier said. “But he’s one of the main guys I talk to when I’m out there. He’s on my side and just not seeing him out there, it was tough.”
Without Bryant, the Buckeyes struggled to contain the Northwestern offense, giving up 437 total yards, including 343 through the air.
Shazier said it took some time to adjust to the way Northwestern runs its offense.
“Their tempo, their play calls, their players — they just have it all,” Shazier said. “Sometimes you just have to adjust and adapt and change it up. Some guys had to tighten up with what they were doing and we just keep going.”
Redshirt-junior cornerback Bradley Roby said the use of two quarterbacks by Northwestern, senior Kain Colter and redshirt-junior Trevor Siemian, was challenging for OSU to cover.
“It was very difficult, man,” Roby said. “They move them around a lot and they’re good athletes, Kain Colter’s a good athlete. Just keeping track of them and going back and forth with them is tough but we managed it.”
Coach Urban Meyer said the OSU offense “put the (Northwestern) defense in some bad positions,” but added that Northwestern played a great game.
“They’re well-coached, they don’t make mistakes and it’s all correct,” Meyer said. “They’ve got very, very good players, borderline great players at some positions and a scheme that’s hard to defend.”
Redshirt-senior safety Corey “Pitt” Brown started and played most of the game in place of Bryant, the second time he has done so after starting against Buffalo.
Bryant’s partner in the secondary, redshirt-senior safety C.J. Barnett, said Brown did a good job stepping in against a high-flying offense.
“We missed Christian, but we had Corey (‘Pitt’) Brown coming in there, another senior leader, a great player,” Barnett said. “When one guy goes down, another guy steps up and Corey did a great job.”
Roby agreed, Brown played well in Bryant’s place.
“It made us play together even more because when a guy like that goes down, you’ve got to rally together and everybody’s got to step up,” Roby said. “I think ‘Pitt’ Brown did a good job of stepping in for Christian and every win from here on is for him.”
Despite what Brown brings to the team, losing Bryant hurts, Roby said.
“(Bryant) has a certain vibe to him, a certain swagger to him that he adds to the defense,” Roby said. “So without him, we had to bring it with the guys that (were) in. So I feel like we did a good job stepping up and we’re only going to get better from here.”
At halftime, the Buckeyes trailed the Wildcats, 20-13, but Barnett said the players rallied together to pull off the comeback.
“That’s what we work for. We go through too much work to let one just go,” Barnett said. “No matter what the score is, we’re always in it, we’re always fighting. That’s pretty much all I can tell you, man — we just never give up and keep fighting.”
The team has a bye next week, which provides a chance to rest and recover from the stretch of six straight weeks with a game, Meyer said.
“We’re going to rest our guys … We’re going to go Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday off, and I told them we’re going to be one of the most rested teams in the history of college football,” Meyer said.
The Buckeyes are set to take to the field again Oct. 19 against Iowa at 3:30 p.m. in Columbus. The Hawkeyes (4-2, 1-1) average 29.7 points a game, almost 10 less than the Wildcats.