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COLUMBUS — Two scenes best represented the aftershock of Ohio State’s alternately assuring and wrenching 31-24 win over Wisconsin.
The first came early Saturday night. Quarterback Braxton Miller had just thrown one of his four touchdown passes in a performance that muted the faintest whispers of a controversy, and the first person to embrace him was Kenny Guiton — the backup dashing onto the field and smiling as widely as anyone in Ohio Stadium.
The other came in the smallest hour of Sunday morning. Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer came into the postgame media room and fought back tears halfway into his opening statement.
Senior safety Christian Bryant was on his way to the hospital for surgery on a broken ankle suffered in the final minute. A defense already short on veteran leaders had lost its best one for the season.
"Just tough news," Meyer said. "That's the hardest part of this whole job. I'm not sure everybody understands what goes into playing a football game, the training and work ethic and all that. My goodness. Just love that kid. That darn kid has done so much for our program, come so far. Incredible leadership skills. And he's going to be even more valuable outside of football. I love that guy. Doggone it."
He then slammed his fist on the podium.
On a night in which Miller decisively answered one question, the loss of Bryant sprouted another as the fourth-ranked Buckeyes (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) began preparation for their latest top-25 primetime test.
Miller’s return after missing two weeks with a strained left knee ligament means there will be no discussion on the QB situation heading into this weekend’s game at No. 16 Northwestern. Miller is the man, and if Saturday was any indication, he will be the only one.
Though Meyer said Guiton deserves some time, that may be wishful thinking. Miller played every snap against Wisconsin, and did nothing to relinquish his grip on the job in displaying the range of his dual-threat abilities (198 passing yards, 83 rushing). After, he said his knee was "100 percent."
"I just wear the knee brace for caution and keep it real tight," he said.
As for the Great QB Debate, Miller dismissed suggestions that Guiton’s success as a stand-in made him feel he had something to prove Saturday. Nor, he said, has it strained the quarterbacks’ friendship.
"I am proud of Kenny and the way he led the team while I was out," Miller said. "I look at him as a big brother. So no controversy with that."
He added: "We've always had a connection. We room together every game. We talk about things outside of football, we hang out all the time. I’m just happy to see him happy for me to be back on the field."
Meanwhile, the upshot of Bryant’s injury could linger. On a defense coming off an uneven showing — Ohio State held the run-first Badgers to 104 rushing yards but allowed 295 through the air — how will OSU handle the loss of a third-year starter who was the unit’s most vocal and respected leader?
The Buckeyes will likely fill his place on the field with a mix of senior Corey Brown, sophomore Ron Tanner, and freshman Vonn Bell. Replacing the voice of one of their two senior defensive starters will be difficult.
"Oh man, it's hard to even talk about," said senior left tackle and fellow captain Jack Mewhort. "It’s the energy he brings to this team and he's such a good guy. He cares about everybody. It's heart-wrenching. He's a great friend, a great football player and a great leader."
Safety C.J. Barnett, the Buckeyes’ other senior starter, called the win bittersweet.
"We're going to have to pick it up," he said. "[Bryant] is going to be missed."
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @ DBriggsBlade.