COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- No. 4 Ohio State has done without standouts such as quarterback Braxton Miller, tailback Carlos Hyde, cornerback Bradley Roby and defensive lineman Adolphus Washington at times this year.
Now the Buckeyes will have to make their way without the player acknowledged by his teammates as the leader of the defense, free safety Christian Bryant.
Bryant, a starter in 27 games across his four-year career, and the Buckeyes' third-leading tackler in 2013, was lost for the season with a broken ankle late in Saturday's 31-24 victory over No. 23 Wisconsin.
His loss has been a body blow to the team.
''Christian is the heart and soul of our defense, a big energy guy,'' wide receiver Corey ''Philly'' Brown said on Monday. ''(He's) a dude that's out there making plays. When we've got Christian out there, and the defense is on those long, eight- and nine-play drives, Christian's the guy who can keep the defense up.''
Michael Bennett, who shared the huddle with Bryant as a lineman, said it'll take a lot to make up for his loss as the Buckeyes prepare for another big Saturday night showdown at No. 16 Northwestern.
''It's hard to see how many ways Christian gives to the program,'' Bennett said. ''It's really hard to equal. I wish you guys could hear some of the speeches he gives us in the locker room. He's a huge leader on the field, he's a huge leader off the field.
''It's a hard loss.''
Moments after finding out the severity of the injury on Saturday night, coach Urban Meyer pounded his fist on the podium for emphasis.
''That's a hard part of the game, boy,'' Meyer said, trying to hold back his emotions.
After some time to reflect on the injury, Meyer has moved on to the more pragmatic matters of the job, such as the oversized hole left by Bryant's absence.
''The sign of a good team is always that someone must step up in his place,'' he said on Monday. ''The issue is going to be not just as a player but who he is. That's one of the greatest things you get to do as a coach is watch and witness a young guy turn into a man. And he has. I can't say enough good things about Christian Bryant and what he means.''
Bryant was injured while pursuing a Wisconsin receiver on the next-to-last defensive play on Saturday night. He crumpled on the field near the Ohio State sideline, rolled onto his back and grimaced in pain while holding on to left leg.
Ohio State is looking at three potential replacements alongside C.J. Barnett at strong safety: senior Corey ''Pitt'' Brown, redshirt freshman nickel back Tyvis Powell or touted freshman Vonn Bell.
All three will be evaluated throughout this week's preparations for Northwestern.
One of the assistant coaches in the secondary, Kerry Coombs, said he was excited about the prospect of Brown moving in because he can do so many things. Then again, that goes for many of the defensive backs.
''Our guys are versatile players back there,'' Coombs said. ''That gets understated somewhat. There's a lot of kids who can play field corner, boundary corner, nickel, strong safety, free safety. We've got a lot of similar types of athletes and that's part of the plan in recruiting.''
At the same time, Coombs said it will be hard for anyone to replace Bryant.
''First of all, anytime you lose a player, it's a loss. Anybody who doesn't acknowledge that would be foolish,'' he said. ''Christian is a guy who has no hesitancy in standing in front of the team and addressing them. There's only a handful of guys who are able to do that with credibility in any locker room. And he's one of them.''
The Buckeyes kept adding to their nation's best 17-game winning streak when Miller sat out almost three games with a sprained knee ligament. He came back in fine form against Wisconsin.
They also stayed the course as Hyde and Roby sat out suspensions and Washington missed two games with a groin injury. All are back and in good standing.
Even while sustaining a traumatic injury, Bryant served as a role model for the Buckeyes.
''Christian went hard every single play. So up until this point, he can't really have any regrets about where he's at as a football player,'' Bennett said. ''You have to understand that at any point this game can be taken from you.
''It just kind of puts it in perspective.''
Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/RustyMillerAP