By Matt Natali
The scoreboard may have read 31-24 in Ohio State’s favor at the final whistle last week against Wisconsin, but not before the Buckeyes suffered a critical loss.
Three-year starter at safety and senior captain Christian Bryant suffered a broken ankle on Wisconsin’s last offensive series of the game. Bryant’s injury required immediate surgery and he will be sidelined for the remainder of the season.
Meyer was noticeably upset about the injury in the postgame press conference and described the loss of his team’s emotional leader as a “sucker punch” in Tuesday’s teleconference.
“This is the one guy I thought was an incredible leader,” he said. “He is very important to me personally and very important to our staff and team. It is a part of the game, players and coaches having to deal with an injury to a guy you have so much respect for.
“All I care about is his well being,” he added. “I spent time with him and we didn’t even talk about (the injury). We talked about other things like school and (his degree) and moving on.”
Bryant had tallied 22 tackles on the season and an interception against California. He has 171 tackles in his career with two interceptions, 23 pass breakups, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
Corey “Pittsburgh” Brown is the likely replacement for Bryant in the secondary, but Meyer also is in search of players to fill the big leadership shoes Bryant leaves behind. He mentioned linebacker Ryan Shazier and defensive tackles Michael Bennett as players with reputable leadership traits.
“(Shazier is) is a guy who is playing at a level the past couple of games where he has earned that respect and he’s more mature,” Meyer said. “(Bryant) was a vocal guy and wore it on his sleeve. I’m not sure how comfortable (Shazier) will be doing that but we will see here in the next few days.”
Shazier leads the Big Ten with 7.0 tackles for loss.
“(Bennett is) a guy that welcomes it and embraces it. Michael Bennett — his legend continues,” Meyer said. “Last year, he was just a no-name guy that we were kind of disappointed in. This year, he has become a very good leader. He has become a vocal leader, but his leadership all summer and in training camp was by his actions. He’s exceeded my expectations and he is performing like an all-Big Ten player.”