CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Braxton Miller is one of the most electric quarterbacks in the country.
Yet ask coach Urban Meyer to identify Ohio State’s most important offensive player, and he said it just might be senior left tackle Jack Mewhort.
His case was bolstered Saturday in OSU’s 60-35 win over Illinois when the visitors’ offense stalled with Mewhort sidelined for parts of the second and third quarter with a hyperextended knee.
Mewhort tweaked his knee in practice Wednesday, and Meyer said it looked like he "probably" would not play. But Mewhort returned to practice Friday and played the first six series as OSU took a 28-0 lead before Meyer replaced him with junior Darryl Baldwin as a precaution.
Mewhort watched the rest of the half with an ice pack wrapped around his knee, only to return as needed with the Buckeyes ahead 35-21 in the third quarter. In his absence, OSU had three three-and-outs.
Asked about the St. John’s Jesuit graduate’s absence, Meyer said, "Oh, it’s devastating."
"Not just that he’s a pretty good player, but he's the man," Meyer said. "He's the rallying point. He's the leader."
Meyer said afterward Mewhort will be fine for next weekend’s game against Indiana and kicked himself for pulling the anchor of the offensive line.
"That's my fault," he said. "We've got to win games. It’s still football. There are a bunch of scholarship players on the other side and a really good quarterback. When our focus is on [winning], we're pretty good. It was somewhere else today."
KYNARD SHINES: Speaking of former Titans, Tim Kynard took advantage of his buddy’s absence to emerge among the Illini’s few silver linings.
The senior defensive tackle, who graduated from St. John’s with Mewhort, beat Baldwin off the edge to sack Miller for a 13-yard loss in the second quarter and finished with two tackles and a fumble recovery.
ICY SITUATION: Now you know why Meyer bemoans the Buckeyes’ linebacker depth.
All it took was a patch of ice to leave OSU in a major bind.
The Buckeyes were down two starting linebackers Saturday after sophomore Joshua Perry hit his head after slipping on ice earlier in the week, while junior Curtis Grant was sidelined with sprained ankle. Only seven healthy linebackers made the trip, including three walk-ons and two true freshmen.
With the Buckeyes mostly in their nickel package, sophomore Camren Williams started in Grant’s place alongside Ryan Shazier. The son of former University of Toledo star and 11-year NFL defensive lineman Brent Williams acquitted himself well, finishing with 10 tackles.
Shazier had a game-high 16 tackles, while safety C.J. Barnett added 14. The Buckeyes had six sacks.
OSU also lost another defensive starter when defensive end Joey Bosa went down with an apparent neck injury in the third quarter. But the freshman later said he was fine. The status of Grant and Perry for next week is unclear.
GOING STREAKING: The Buckeyes’ school-record-tying 22nd straight win is the fifth longest in Big Ten history — and the longest since OSU ran off 22 straight from 1967-69.
Fielding Yost’s Michigan teams won a league-record 29 in a row from 1901-03 and 26 from 1903-05, the Wolverines won 25 straight from 1946-49, and Minnesota had a 24-game streak from 1903-05. Oklahoma holds the all-time mark with 47 straight wins from 1953-57. Toledo’s 35-game streak from 1969-71 is fifth.