Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Wearing a number that made him a little hard to recognize, Ryan Shazier stood out at Beaver Stadium on Saturday against Penn State because of his play on the field.
Sporting the number “48” in honor of a high school friend who died last summer, Shazier, who normally wears No. 10, had perhaps the best game of his career Saturday against the Nittany Lions. The sophomore linebacker had seven tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and an interception returned for a touchdown in OSU’s 35-23 win against PSU in State College, Pa., Saturday night.
He was at his best at the beginning of the third quarter, a time when the Buckeyes needed him most.
With the game tied, 7-7, and neither team in control of momentum, Shazier took matters into his own hands during PSU’s opening drive on the second half. The sophomore sacked PSU senior quarterback Matt McGloin on a second-down play, putting the Nittany Lions in a third-and-long situation. On third down, Shazier intercepted McGloin’s pass across the middle, and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown, putting OSU up, 14-7.
“The offense ran the play just how we practiced it and I got the sack,” Shazier said. “And on third down, I didn’t have any work on my side, so I worked back toward the middle and he threw it right to the curl and I took it to the house. It felt amazing, almost like a dream, because I dropped so many picks this year.”
The Buckeyes would not relinquish the lead Shazier gave them, and the pick-six could not have come at a much bigger point in the game.
Saturday was not all smiles for Shazier – he had a missed assignment in the fourth quarter that resulted in a PSU touchdown and an earful from his coaches. The positives significantly outweighed the one negative, though.
OSU defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, who took quite a bit of criticism over the past few weeks because of his unit’s poor play, singled Shazier out after Saturday’s contest.
“At that point in the game, it was unbelievable,” Fickell said. “We needed momentum and you can never account for those kind of things. Those are the things that just break the back of the other team.”
OSU coach Urban Meyer had high praise for the sophomore linebacker as well. Shazier had a season-high 13 tackles last week against Purdue. On the season, he leads the Buckeyes with 85 tackles.
“I love Ryan,” Meyer said. “I think he’s playing his best football right now.”
Shazier’s big game helped propel OSU to a 9-0 record, but the sophomore linebacker said everything he did on Saturday was for Gary Curtis.
A former high school football team manager and friend of Shazier’s at Plantation High School in Florida, Curtis suffered from muscular dystrophy and died earlier this year. Shazier said Curtis was “like a brother to (him)” and that the two would play video games “a lot” when they attended high school together.
“(Curtis) always had number 48, no matter what year. No matter what, coaches always had a number for him,” Shazier said. “He died this summer, and he was really close to me, so I felt like wearing his number is really going to be an honor.”
He originally wanted to wear 48 for the Nebraska game on Oct. 6, but Shazier did not give the OSU staff proper notice for the change. He said he chose the PSU contest because of “how big a game it was.”
Throughout the game Saturday, Shazier said he had his friend in the back of his mind.
“I was thinking about him the whole game. I knew I had his number on and I felt like he was playing through me and he had my back,” Shazier said. “I felt that (it was) him playing out there today, not really me.”
Shazier stood out so much in the 48 jersey Saturday that he is considering making the number switch permanent.
“I just going to keep it rolling and we’ll find out next week,” Shazier said.
OSU (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten) is set to face Illinois (2-6, 0-4 Big Ten) Saturday at 3:30 p.m. The game will be televised by ESPN.