If he hasn’t done it already, Ohio State linebackers coach Luke Fickell may want to hang a shingle outside his office door saying, “Help wanted.”
The Buckeyes played without two starting linebackers against Illinois when junior Curtis Grant and sophomore Josh Perry were scratched. All-Big Ten junior Ryan Shazier was superb again in a 60-35 win Saturday, but a ferocious pass rush and opportunistic secondary made up for a lack of punch in the middle.
Sophomore Camren Williams started with Shazier as the Buckeyes began the game in their nickel package (five defensive backs). At other times, they played their dime defense (six DBs).
Williams struggled mightily. He whiffed on tackles on back-to-back plays, allowing running back Josh Ferguson to zip past him for gains of 15 and 12 yards.
The only other linebackers on the travel squad were two true freshmen and three walk-ons.
“That kept us out of some situational pressures that we wanted to do,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said of the injuries. “That kept us out of some base groupings. When I say we’re down to the bare nubs, we’re DOWN. I don’t know how (Williams) played, but I could tell those other two weren’t in there.”
Grant is suffering from ankle and back injuries. Perry had a bizarre mishap, losing his footing on ice last week and hurting himself after falling.
Meyer was incredulous about that.
“You’ve got to put salt down so you don’t slip, don’t you?” he said.
Shazier had 16 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss, including 1.5 sacks. He has a team-high 88 tackles. Grant was second in tackles going into the game with 49, while Perry was eighth with 33.
Asked about the play of the defense, Shazier said: “I’m not satisfied. You don’t want a team to score any points on you, and 35 is way too much. If our offense wasn’t the offense they are, this could have been a different situation.”
Shazier thinks the Buckeyes have gotten sidetracked with the BCS race simmering.
“The last few weeks with the bye week, everyone was getting into our heads about the situation with the top three teams and bowl,” he said. “Before, we were just playing it game by game and trying to win. I think we were too focused on the other things.
“This week in practice, we’re going to get back to what we know to do — that’s grinding.”