Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier tackles Indiana running back Stephen Houston during the second quarter on Saturday. The junior defensive leader had 20 tackles in Ohio State’s rout of Indiana.
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COLUMBUS — Ryan Shazier is neither a soothsayer nor a historian.
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The Ohio State junior is not thinking about his rise on NFL draft boards and will leave the debate on his place in the school’s proud lineage of linebackers to others.
Yet Saturday, when No. 3 OSU (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) visits Michigan, Shazier will have the stage to enhance his future while evoking the past.
In a game defined by its outsized feats — from Chic Harley’s four interceptions in 1919 to Chris Spielman’s 29 tackles in 1986 — can the Big Ten’s most prolific defensive player deliver an encore?
Shazier, who leads the Big Ten with 109 tackles, has built up to this moment with a late-season tear unsurpassed in recent OSU history.
The Butkus Award finalist had 16 stops at Illinois, followed by a 20-tackle tour de force against Indiana in what could have been his final game at Ohio Stadium. His career day last weekend included a school record-tying 16 solo tackles and five for a loss, a sack, and a forced fumble. By OSU’s grading system, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Shazier had 54 production points — or 24 more than coach Urban Meyer said a player of his had ever amassed.
Now, Shazier has lasered his focus on conquering Michigan. While his 20 1/2 tackles for a loss are third nationally, UM is last in allowing a staggering 102 stops in its backfield.
“That sounds good to me, but like every year, we’re always going to get their best," Shazier said. "I know they’ve probably given up a thousand tackles for a loss this season, but I know going into this game that they’re going to try to [change that].”
Shazier vows to be ready, though. His evolution over the past three seasons has rocketed him from a pure burner who, as Meyer said, "used to always overrun plays" to an All-American frontrunner ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr., calls the complete package.
"Shazier flies around," said Kiper, one of several analysts touting the OSU star as a first-round selection. "I love him. He can play every down, he can cover, he can get after you, he 's a great tackler in the open field, which you have to be in today's NFL."
The son of a pastor, Shazier also credits his recent burst to a little help from his buddy, injured safety Christian Bryant. After the senior captain suffered a season-ending broken ankle Sept. 29 against Wisconsin, Shazier began wearing Bryant’s No. 2 jersey — and devouring opponents at about twice the rate of an average player.
It may be no coincidence. Meyer calls him "one of the most incredible young men I’ve been around." Shazier said he cried before Saturday’s senior introductions, which included Bryant ditching his crutches to walk across the field. Then, he again produced enough for him and Bryant both. Shazier now has 72 tackles — 13 1/2 for a loss — and 5 1/2 sacks in his six games in the No. 2 threads.
"Before, I was just playing for myself and the team," Shazier said. "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."
EXTRA POINTS: After a one-year stop in Cincinnati while Ohio Stadium underwent renovations, the Scarlet and Gray game will kick off at 1:30 p.m. on April 12 in the Horseshoe. ... Meyer said the enormity of the OSU-Michigan rivalry hit him as a 21-year-old graduate assistant driving past the campus’ two high-rise dorms. A sheet hanging from a window blared an obscene anti-Michigan message, made family friendly only by transposing the first letters of the two words. "I said that is really cool right there," Meyer said. "Then they switched the ‘M’ and the ‘F’, and someone made them take it down. That was in 1986, so there is some old student now that is laughing their tail off saying, ‘Yeah, that was my room.’"