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October 3, 2013

Bracing for life without Bryant

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- If there's anyone who can empathize with Christian Bryant's season-ending injury, it's another veteran member of Ohio State's defensive backfield.

"Honestly, I didn't even enjoy the win," said senior safety C.J. Barnett.

Of course, he's referring to the 31-24 win against Wisconsin, which ended with Bryant breaking his ankle in the waning minutes of the game.

"That's the worst news," Barnett said. "Not only not being able to play with him, but he's done."

After all, he knows the feeling.

In 2010 Barnett -- then a redshirt freshman and relatively inexperienced starter for the Buckeyes -- suffered a knee injury against the Miami Hurricanes. Subsequent surgery to repair the damage sidelined him for the remainder of the season.

For him, though, there was a light at the end of the tunnel: he still had three more seasons left of football to play.

In Bryant's case -- barring a seemingly unexpected medical redshirt -- his career ended last Saturday.

"This is the one guy I thought was an incredible leader. He was very important to me personally, very important to our coaching staff," said Ohio State coach Urban Meyer Tuesday during the Big Ten coaches weekly teleconference.

"It's a sucker punch -- the worst part of the game."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the No. 4-ranked Buckeyes (5-0) using its senior safety and captain's untimely absence as a rallying call.

"That's a brother that we lost," said junior linebacker Curtis Grant. "It means a lot to this team. That hurt us last week. All we can go out and do is go out and win this game for him."

Such a task will come on the road against No. 16 Northwestern, which is playing in arguably its biggest contest in recent memory.

"Our job is to be prepared. It's going to be hostile. It's a big game for them but I've got news: it's a big game for us too," Meyer said. "There's two teams out there playing for a lot."

Without Bryant, the repercussions facing Ohio State seem to be two-fold.

In one sense, the Buckeyes are missing arguably one of its most-vocal leaders -- someone who Meyer said "wears his heart on his sleeve."

The effect can already be felt to various degrees during practice.

"(We're) missing his leadership, yelling out there," Grant said.

In another sense, Ohio State's defense finds itself without a key piece to a pass defense that's surrendered 666 yards and five touchdowns through the air in its two games against comparable competition (California and Wisconsin).

"There's no secret formula," Meyer said. "Someone's got to step up."

At least for now, that someone will be largely Corey Brown.

"Pitt Brown is going to be in his place and (redshirt freshman defensive back) Tyvis Powell and (freshman defensive back) Vonn Bell, those are the three people you're going to see start running around out there," he said.

It might be a bit of a transition, but Barnett said the potential drop off from Bryant to Brown is minimal.

"Honestly, (there) really isn't a difference," he said. "Like I said, Pitt has starting experience so there's no setback, he's ready to go."

Grant offered a similar sentiment.

"You know, it's just a bump in the road," he said. "We just got to round everybody back up together and just keep going."

That journey -- without Bryant -- continues Saturday at 8 p.m. at Ryan Field.



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