No greater stage for Grant

class="st_facebook_hcount" displayText="Share">
/">Follow Noon | Givler | Maks | Holleran | AndyMac
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Curtis Grant's biceps look like torpedos and his voice seems to bellow when he opens his mouth.

The Ohio State middle linebacker boats a rather imposing figure. He's 6-foot-3, just shy of 250 pounds and appears to often wear a somewhat sort of mad look on his face.

Perhaps that's what a middle linebacker is supposed to look like.

And Grant, who came to Columbus in 2011 as one the recruits in all of the nation, fits the part exceptionally well.

Playing it has not come as easy.

Grant finds himself still trying to live up to the lofty and perhaps even unfair expectations that often come with someone of his size and potential.

While the junior is fourth on the team with 18 tackles, Grant has walked a fine line between simply slow development and being a bust.

In his first two years, the often-maligned linebacker totaled just 10 tackles over the course of 18 games. He seemed step slow on the field and a step behind fellow linebacker Ryan Shazier, who burst onto the scene as one of the Buckeyes' top defenders in late 2011.

Now? Grant starts alongside Shazier and appears to have been a reliable enforcer over the middle. He seems noticeably more focused, more confident and more trustworthy if you ask his coaching staff.

To be fair, such observations have been made against undoubtedly inferior competition (Buffalo, San Diego State, California, Florida A&M) that preferred to play out in space and along the perimeter.

Grant's output has been respectable, but he likely hasn't been challenged yet either.

That'll most likely change in a couple of days.

With a primetime bout against Wisconsin Saturday, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said the stage for Grant to couldn't be any bigger.

"This is, without question, a defining moment in his career," he said.

After all, Badgers running backs senior James White and sophomore Melvin Gordon have combined for 1,066 yards and 10 touchdowns on 114 carries.

Naturally, that bruising attack will be aimed directly at Grant and the Buckeyes' linebacking corps.

"The first thing you think about Wisconsin is a powerhouse team -- big lineman and they're going to pound the ball," Grant said. "They run the ball at least 40 or 50 times a game. You got to prepare for that."

With little hesitation, the linebacker said he welcomes the challenge of having to stifle a powerful running game like the Badgers'.

"I know I do because I like to hit people," he said. "When you're out in that spread, a lot of times you don't get to run into a lot of people, you're more in space. These are the games that I like."

In fact, Grant said the duo of White and Gordon isn't a foreign concept to prepare for.

"I mean, it's just kind of like you have Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde. One's more power and one's more shifty. That's what I kind of compare it to," he said.

All of it seems to be a style of play that suits Grant.

"I think he's kind of built for that," Meyer said. "He's kind of a tackle-to-tackle kind of linebacker."

Which, for Ohio State, must be a point of relief considering the contest could very well make or break a season with top-25 opponents few and far between on the schedule.

Such potential implications are not lost on Grant.

"Like I told everybody this week, me and Ryan (Shazier) have been talking a lot and we said we have to take our games to a different level," he said. "Anybody that gets in that game has to maximize their talent and just go out and play because we're in the Big Ten and nothing's guaranteed, nothing's promised."

While a loss to the Badgers would certainly hinder the Buckeyes' national championship aspirations, it could entirely rule them out of the picture because of an already relatively weak slate of games.

"That's for them to determine, all we can do is play," Grant said of the pollsters who will have their say when all is said and done. "Like coach says, at the end of the year, people are going to form their own opinions about us. As long as we stay together and play together as a team, we have nothing to worry about."

That whole philosophy, though, won't mean much without a win against Wisconsin.