LOS ANGELES – Urban Meyer and his Ohio State team have a handful of mantras that fuel the program.
But one in particular was almost worn out from overuse from the Buckeyes after leaning on it in late September when future NFL first-round draft pick Nick Bosa injured himself against TCU.
In the heat of the season, there is no time for throwing a pity party. But it’s obvious from listening to Meyer in early December that the Buckeyes weren’t really ready to replace Bosa this year despite their best efforts to minimize his injury and subsequent decision to leave school in October rather than trying to return to the field for Ohio State in November.
That announcement from Bosa came four days prior to the debacle at Purdue. A year earlier, Bosa’s early departure from a game at Iowa seemed to produce a similar, stunningly bad effort from the Buckeyes. Nobody thought they could replace everything the nation’s best defender provided, surely, but maybe there wasn’t enough emphasis on what it truly meant to lose him.
“The damage, when Nick Bosa went down, that changed our team,” Meyer said on Dec. 2. “I didn’t realize how much until witnessing the change it made. It changed everybody not seeing him.
“I know he’s a great player, but he was so much more than that. Nick Bosa was your rock, man. He was your guy. He was your guy at practice, he was [strength coach Mickey] Marotti’s guy. I know if I feel that way about him, imagine what the defense felt about him and the team.”
“It would have helped if Nick was here,” Young said. “But he wasn’t. So I would just talk to him about that, talk to him about what me and Dre’Mont [Jones] would pick up. Obviously, I played the best I could.
“We could talk about what would happen if Nick could be here and stuff like that, but he wasn’t. But it changed the course of the team, just because he’s a big leader and he probably had the biggest role on defense.”
The leadership vacuum left by Bosa’s departure meant others, like the usually understated Jones, had to emerge in a different way. Jones is likely a first-round pick in next year’s NFL Draft too, and it’s worth wondering if he became a better player as a matter of necessity.
“It allowed me to come out of my shell as a player and do more than what people expected,” Jones said Thursday morning. “As a team, we kind of lost that leadership presence because he was one of our captains. With him being gone you lose that leadership, even though he wasn’t super vocal. He was more of a lead-by-example type of person. Losing that hit us a little bit.
“But it changed how I led, for sure. Being a little more vocal, being more lead by example. I was never the type of player to slack around, but I just had to turn it up a little bit. Making sure I was first in line to show guys the way it should be done so we could enhance as a unit.”
The Buckeyes didn’t get better when they lost Bosa. But there’s a chance his absence could provide the 2019 team a boost because it forced players like junior defensive end Jonathon Cooper to step his own game up knowing his team needed him to fill some big shoes.
“When Nick went down, it was a shock,” Cooper said. “Then we found out he was really hurt, then we found out he was leaving, it definitely hurt [the team]. Not only is that one of our brothers, but he’s one of the best players to ever come through Ohio State.
“It definitely had an effect on me, personally. I knew I had to step up into a bigger role and make sure we didn’t miss a beat defensive-wise. I realized when he went down I’d have to step up into a bigger role and play more on defense.”
The Buckeyes downplayed Bosa’s absence all season.
But now, as stars like Chase Young and Jonathon Cooper step up and reach their own big-time potential, they finally appear ready to replace him.