On a night dedicated to honoring the seniors on the No. 3-ranked Ohio State football team (11-0, 7-0), a junior linebacker was the center of attention.
Ryan Shazier built on his career-high 16-tackle game the week before against Illinois by tallying another career-high against Indiana Saturday, this time recording 20 tackles in a game in which OSU clinched the Big Ten Leaders Division Title and a spot in the Big Ten Championship game Dec. 7. It was the first time since former Buckeye linebacker AJ Hawk’s game against Wisconsin Oct. 9, 2004, that an OSU player had 20 tackles in a game.
After the game, Shazier said he wasn’t playing to have a big game, and just wanted to secure the victory against Indiana (4-7, 2-5).
“I felt like I had a pretty good day, but I was just going and doing what I had to do,” Shazier said. “I didn’t know it was 20 tackles till the end of the game — I was just trying to do my job.”
The five tackles for loss Shazier recorded, including a sack, ties a Buckeye record for tackles for a loss in a game, set by four players, most recently by John Simon Oct. 6, 2012, against Nebraska.
The big motivation for Shazier against Indiana — and for most of the season — was senior safety Christian Bryant, Shazier said.
“Lately, I’ve been playing for Christian. I feel like me and him are both out there together, so I’ve been playing for him,” Shazier said. “Today with the seniors (being honored), so I was playing for Christian and the seniors tonight to make sure they go out with a bang.”
Bryant went down near the end of a 31-24 win against Wisconsin Sept. 28 with a broken ankle, and has been forced to sit out every game since.
Defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell said a performance like Shazier’s isn’t something that can be coached.
“Players make plays. You’d like to say you coach them up to do those things, but the reality is players make plays and he did a great job,” Fickell said. “We go back and watch the film and see those things but down on the field, it’s hard to really see those things, see a lot of things. I had no idea … hearing some of the offensive coaches come and say, ‘Wow, man, he really, he really was all over the place.’ And somebody says what he has in tackles, and I’m oblivious to it at times but he’s a special kid and he brings a lot to us.”
Redshirt-junior cornerback Bradley Roby, who was honored as a senior Saturday after his decision to leave school early for the NFL, said he wasn’t surprised by Shazier having such a big game.
“That’s what we ask him to do, we put him in the middle of the field and tell him to play center field,” Roby said. “He is able to move around and he’s fast, I think he did a very good job. He had like 20 tackles or something like that, so any time that happens it’s perfect.”
Currently, Shazier is tied for second in the country with senior linebacker Shaquil Barrett of Colorado State with 20.5 tackles for loss and ranks 16th in total tackles with 109.
Coach Urban Meyer said Shazier is playing very well, and is using emotion to drive his play.
“He’s playing at a very high level. A very emotional guy … his heart is everything,” Meyer said. “He’s very, like I said, he wears his feelings on his sleeve and the players love him for it. And so do I. Very emotional player that plays that way on the field. Playing great right now, too.”
Senior running back Carlos Hyde, who became the first running back coached by Meyer to run for 1,000 yards in a season, said Shazier is just playing like he always does.
“He’s the best linebacker in the nation to me,” Hyde said. “And that’s how he plays every week, in and out. That’s how Shazier plays. I’m proud of him.”
Despite OSU allowing two late touchdowns, Indiana failed to reach its season average of 36.8 points per game.
Shazier said a big part of the defensive performance was the mentality of making sure the Hoosiers couldn’t find their way back into the game.
“We were just talking about ‘Don’t relax, don’t settle down because they have a wonderful offense,’” Shazier said. “They can get back into a game like (that). So we have to keep pushing the pedal.”
Next up, OSU is slated to take a trip to Ann Arbor, Mich., for The Game against Michigan Saturday at noon. The Buckeye defense will hope to shut down a Michigan (7-4, 3-4) offense that is scoring an average of 33.1 points per game this season.