In football, much like any other sport, injuries are part of the game.
For the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes (10-0, 8-0), Saturday was no exception, as at times had to play without their star quarterback and a stalwart offensive lineman during their 60-35 victory against Illinois (3-7, 0-6).
OSU redshirt-senior offensive lineman Jack Mewhort made his 35th consecutive start in the win, but was taken out after senior wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown hauled in an 11-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Braxton Miller, which gave the Buckeyes a 28-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Coach Urban Meyer said after after the game that the plan was to get Mewhort out of the game if OSU “could get up on (Illinois)” early to rest his right knee, which he hurt in practice earlier in the week.
“It’s devastating,” Meyer said, referring to when Mewhort, who he called OSU’s “best offensive player,” is not in the game. “It’s not that he’s a very good player, he’s the man. He’s the rally point, he’s the leader.”
The OSU coach compared playing without Mewhort to losing senior safety Christian Bryant, who broke his ankle late in OSU’s 31-24 win against Wisconsin Sept. 28.
“Not having him, it’s a little bit like C.B.,” Meyer said. “We’re still feeling the effects of having Christian Bryant out.”
OSU beat the Illini without two other starters in sophomore linebacker Joshua Perry and junior linebacker Curtis Grant. Grant is recovering from an ankle injury sustained in the Buckeyes’ 56-0 win over Purdue Nov. 2 and Perry slipped on ice in the middle of last week and hit his head. The Buckeyes also lost starting freshman defensive lineman Joey Bosa to a sprained neck in the third quarter Saturday and had to turn to backup redshirt-senior quarterback Kenny Guiton at one point when Miller came out following a hard hit.
“You’re playing with your third string middle linebacker … Your starting defensive end gets knocked out,” Meyer said. “We’re down 11 players for the year.”
The lone usual starter at linebacker, junior Ryan Shazier, said playing without Grant and Perry changed the game a little bit.
“It’s a little different because you’re so used to looking and just seeing one guy on the side of you or looking down and seeing that one guy there,” Shazier said. “But we practice with each other, we rotate all the time, so with those guys in I feel confident.”
The players Shazier was referring to were sophomores Camren Williams and Joe Burger, who filled in for Perry and Grant.
“We trust in Cam and Joe Burger just like Curtis and Josh,” Shazier said. “They just don’t have as much experience.”
The 35 points the Buckeyes gave up were the most so far in 2013, and although one touchdown was scored on a punt return in the second quarter, Shazier said that does not matter.
“I am not satisfied because I don’t want anybody to score any points on you, but 35 is way too much,” Shazier said. “Because if our offense wasn’t the offense that we are right now, this could have been a different situation, so we gave up too many points today.”
Mewhort re-entered the lineup in the third quarter, and on a day where high winds wreaked havoc on the passing game, helped pave the way for both senior running back Carlos Hyde and Miller on the ground. OSU finished with 441 yards rushing on the day, compared to 132 for the Fighting Illini.
“We went back to basics a little bit because the passing game wasn’t working as we thought,” Miller said. “We kind of get the ball out to Carlos or me, (and) we’ve got the best O-line in the Big Ten or country. Why not?”
Miller only managed to complete 13 of his 29 pass attempts for 150 yards and two touchdowns against Illinois. His 44.8 completion percentage was his lowest of the season.
The Buckeyes are scheduled to take on Indiana next Saturday in what will be their final home game of the season. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. at Ohio Stadium.