Inspired By Bryant, Shazier Dominates

Ohio State junior linebacker Ryan Shazier has seen an increase in his dominant play since switching over to Christian Bryant's No. 2 jersey. Over the past six games, Shazier has amassed 71 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, while also garnering back-to-back Big Ten defensive player of the week honors for his play in the wins against Illinois and Indiana.

In a game filled with tough players, one of the most hard-hitting athletes to don the scarlet and gray is also among Ohio State's most emotional. While junior linebacker Ryan Shazier speaks calmly – often flatly – in interviews, the words themselves paint a picture of a player heavily invested in the program for which he plays.

With rising draft stock, Shazier has avoided any talk of the chances he forgoes his senior season to enter the NFL Draft. Whether truthful or not, he says he's not even thinking about his professional prospects at the moment.

On Senior Day, a game that may or may not have been his final game in Ohio Stadium, Shazier said he spent the morning of the game crying in the team hotel, thinking about the senior class with which he shares such a close bond.

"It was a real emotional day," he said following the 42-14 win against Indiana. "I was crying in my hotel room because I'm really close with all of these seniors, too, because me and Braxton and Joel Hale and those guys, we came in early. Those were the guys that really took care of us, those guys in the dorm with us at the time. Those are the guys that are leaving. It just feels like everything is going too fast. I just had to relax and think about everything that's been going on."

All he did was deliver the performance of a lifetime, registering 20 total tackles (16 of which were solo stops), five tackles for loss and one sack. In his Monday press conference, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer noted that Shazier compiled 54 production points against Indiana and said that he couldn't remember a player ever finishing with more than 30 in one game.

That effort was preceded by another impressive stat line in the 60-35 win against Illinois, in which Shazier amassed 16 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. In fact, his whole season can be traced, coincidentally or not, to perhaps the most impactful play of the season.

On the second-to-last defensive snap of Ohio State's 31-24 triumph against Wisconsin, senior safety Christian Bryant suffered a broken ankle that will likely end his college football career, barring any appeals for a medical redshirt. That play fundamentally changed the makeup of the OSU defense by removing a senior captain and playmaker, but Shazier found a way to ensure that Bryant's presence was still felt out on the field.

Beginning with the game at Northwestern the following week, Shazier swapped out his No. 10 jersey for Bryant's No. 2. It was not an unprecedented move for the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native. In 2012, Shazier wore No. 48 against Penn State to honor the memory of high school friend Gary Curtis. He finished that game with eight tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and an interception return for a touchdown.

He has once again raised his game in the jersey of Bryant. After registering 37 tackles, seven tackles for loss and one sack over the first five games, he has compiled 71 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks over the next six contests.

"I think it pushed him a little bit, just knowing he just had to be out there making plays for me and him," Bryant said. "He knows how many plays I was out there making."

For his part, Shazier agreed.

"I think it's a really big impact. I've been playing for him," he said. "Before, I was just playing for myself and the team. Now it's like there are two people in me almost. I'm trying to make sure both of us are happy with the game I play. I'm just trying to do my part."

His level of play has been impossible to ignore. His play against Illinois and Indiana garnered back-to-back Big Ten defensive player of the week honors, and he has also been named one of five finalists for the Butkus Award, given to the nation's best linebacker.

"It's a tremendous honor just being with the names of a lot of guys and being able to keep getting these honors," he said. "I'm just doing what I have to do for the team, and I'm just getting honored for it, so I just have to keep doing what I have to do to keep working as hard as I can to perform at the level I am."

In Michigan, of course, he may have an easy mark to stake his claim for a third straight conference accolade while also catching the attention of awards voters. The Wolverines' offensive line has been nothing less than a sieve, ranking dead last of 123 Football Bowl Subdivision teams with 103 tackles for loss allowed. That's music to the ears of the man who's become the most ruthlessly effective blitzing linebacker in the conference, if not the country, as of late.

"That sounds good to me, but like every week, we're always going to get their best," Shazier said. "I know they've probably gave up a thousand tackles for loss this season, but I know going into this game that they're going to try to give up as little as possible."

In Shazier, however, they'll be dealing with two players – the junior linebacker, and the senior captain for whom he now plays.

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