When heat combines with the opening game of a college football season, player conditioning gets tested. That combination took its toll on the Ohio State football team in their season-opening win against Buffalo on Saturday.
Two key players for the Buckeyes — arguably their most important player in the game on each side of the ball — missed time in the game due to cramping.
Junior linebacker Ryan Shazier left the game and was eventually carted to the locker room in the second quarter, but returned to the game in the third. Junior quarterback Braxton Miller went down twice on the field with cramps in the third quarter, but returned to the field for the team’s first series in the fourth quarter.
Shazier said it was only the second time he had suffered cramps in his life.
“I really haven’t had trouble with cramps,” Shazier said. “Coach Mick (strength coach Micky Marotti) said I was probably just a little bit too hyped … it just drained my energy, but then the heat took over things and made me cramp up.”
For Miller, it was the second consecutive season that cramps got the best of him in the Buckeyes’ season opener. He called the situation a “repeat” of the Buckeyes’ season-opening win against Miami (Ohio) in 2012, a game in which Miller completed 14 of 24 passing attempts for 207 yards and two touchdowns, and also ran for 161 yards and a touchdown on 17 rushing attempts.
Having suffered from cramps last year, Miller said he “knew” that he would have to deal with a second cramp soon after he first went down on the field. After the second cramp, Miller said the trainers used “some type of cream” to help relieve the pain.
“I don’t know what type of cream it was … but it worked,” Miller said.
The official game temperature was recorded as 79 degrees, but according to Weather.com, the temperature reached a high of 87 degrees at 2:05 p.m. on Saturday.
OSU coach Urban Meyer described the temperature as a “hot mother,” but said the cramping was still a concern.
“I know our strength staff and training staff work hard on the hydration, and I’m not sure if Buffalo cramped. That’s the thing I keep asking myself,” Meyer said. “Of course we’re going to work on it and we’re concerned.”
Junior wide receiver Evan Spencer also had issues with cramps Saturday, Meyer said. Spencer left the game for the end of the second quarter, and limped back to the locker room after initially coming out to the field for the start of the second half. He eventually returned to the game in the fourth quarter.
Meyer only mentioned Shazier, Miller and Spencer when asked about cramps, although sophomore linebacker Joshua Perry also left the game in the third quarter with what also appeared to be cramps. An OSU athletics spokesman did not have an update on Perry’s injury following the game.
The cramps forced the Buckeyes to adjust. Freshman linebacker Trey Johnson took Shazier’s spot on the field. Redshirtsenior quarterback Kenny Guiton, who Meyer said played with a broken finger, came into the game for Miller.
Spencer’s injury allowed more playing time for the Buckeyes’ other top receivers: senior Corey “Philly” Brown, junior Devin Smith and redshirt senior Chris Fields, who is listed as an H-back on the team’s depth chart. Sophomore linebacker Camren Williams replaced Perry on the field when the team used three linebackers in their base defensive set.
Buffalo scored one of their two offensive touchdowns when Shazier was out of the game. Even though he was not on the field, Shazier said he felt responsible.
“When something happens on any side of the ball, I feel like it’s always my fault,” Shazier said. “When I was in here and I was hearing the sounds of the crowd, I can tell if they’re scoring … I feel like with me not out there, it hurts the team.”
Guiton threw just one pass in Miller’s place, but it was a 21-yard touchdown completion to Fields in the end zone. He also had one rushing attempt for 6 yards. (Guiton also scored twice on two-point conversions, one passing and rushing, but those plays were not because of injury).
Guiton said he knew coming into that game that he needed to be ready to play.
“Cramping is something you really can’t control and I knew I needed to be ready at any time, being as how much we run the QB and everything,” Guiton said.
In limited action, Shazier recorded 6.5 tackles (one for loss) and a pass breakup. Miller completed 15 of 22 passing attempts for 178 yards and two touchdowns, while he had a total of 77 yards on 17 rushing attempts. Spencer caught two passes for 16 yards, while Perry recorded two tackles.
Shazier admitted that the combination of heat and the first game was challenging, but said it was not an excuse for the cramps forcing him to miss time.
“The thing is, we practice for this all day, every day,” Shazier said. “Us cramping and everything, that’s not really acceptable. We’re supposed to be having our bodies ready for the game … I don’t feel like I hydrated enough. We just got to do a better job, we practice for this, that’s what camp is for, for situations like this.”
Redshirt sophomore safety Ron Tanner, who recorded an interception for the Buckeyes on Sunday, said he focused on staying hydrated given the heat.
“Drinking a bunch of Gatorade, Pedialyte and just doing what you can to stay hydrated to prevent cramps is important,” Tanner said.
Shazier said he expects the team to address the concern quickly.
“Next week, I doubt we’re going to have any cramping,” Shazier said.
The Buckeyes’ second game of the season is scheduled for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff versus San Diego State next Saturday at Ohio Stadium.