After enduring quarantine, Josh Myers revels in Trey Sermon's record-breaking performance
For any offensive linemen, being a part of what Josh Myers helped do in the Big Ten championship game would be special.
The Ohio State center and his teammates helped spring Trey Sermon for a school-record 331 rushing yards in the Buckeyes’ 22-10 victory over Northwestern. Opening gaping holes consistently, as Ohio State did, is a lineman’s dream, and it will be critical against Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal.
“I’ve got to tell you guys, it was the best feeling,” Myers said in a postgame Zoom interview.
It was especially sweet for Myers and tackles Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere. They missed the Michigan State game after testing positive for COVID-19 and hadn’t played since the Indiana game on Nov. 21.
“The process was terrible,” Myers said. “I had to sit there for 10 days and basically do nothing.”
Players in COVID quarantine may do light exercises such as stretching, but nothing strenuous. Because of the risk of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle), they must keep their heart rate at normal levels. For football players, intense workouts are simply part of their routine. Having that taken away feels foreign.
Other than schoolwork and finishing tasks for his internship, Myers had little to do.
“I was just sitting there, and it was probably 10 of the hardest days I've ever had in my life,” he said.
Watching the Michigan State game, in which backups filled in admirably, left him with mixed feelings.
“I was just so proud and so happy for our guys on the offensive line the way they stepped up to the plate,” said Myers, who was named a Rimington Trophy finalist on Tuesday. “But sitting there watching your own team play, when you have so much invested into it, it's awful. I don't have any other way to put it.
“When you invest so much and you sacrifice so much for something, and then you have to sit out, it's hard to put into words how bad it is.”
Myers was concerned how his body would react from the inactivity when he was permitted, along with Munford and Petit-Frere, to return for the Big Ten championship game. He said he felt better than he expected, though he was especially tired afterward.
For much of the game, it looked like Ohio State would be fortunate merely to survive the Wildcats. The Buckeyes trailed 10-3 early and 10-6 at halftime. Justin Fields and the passing game struggled with receiver Chris Olave out for COVID reasons. The running game showed sparks, but the Buckeyes couldn’t finish their drives.
It was the first time since the 2018 debacle at Purdue that they hadn’t scored a first-half touchdown. Ohio State couldn’t overcome that loss in its bid to reach the College Football Playoff. Given the Buckeyes’ abbreviated schedule, a loss to Northwestern would have ended the Buckeyes’ CFP hopes this season.
Sermon and his blockers made sure that didn’t happen. After running for 60 yards in the first half, Sermon exploded for 271 in the second to break Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George’s 25-year-old school record of 314.
“There were looks that we knew they were going to give us, and they were disguising them pretty well,” Myers said of the Wildcats’ defense. “They were moving a lot right before the snap, trying to disguise what they were doing. Once we kind of figured them out, we were able to bust some big runs off.”
Sermon’s 29 carries included gains of 12, 13, 12, 21, 65, 33, 28, 25, 12 and 23 yards. Myers noted that it came against a stingy Northwestern defense. The Wildcats entered the game allowing an NCAA-low 14.6 points per game, and their run defense had yielded only 3.8 yards per carry.
“We averaged over 9 on like 40 rushing attempts,” Myers said, “so I can't even express how happy I am about that.”
The only thing that made the day bittersweet was that 22 Buckeyes, most because of COVID, couldn’t be in Indianapolis. That included such key players as Olave, linebacker Baron Browning and punter Drue Chrisman. Olave is expected back for the CFP semifinals. The status of most of the others is uncertain.
“It just breaks your heart for guys like that,” Myers said.
He said he told his teammates in the pregame huddle about all the hurdles they’ve overcome and what they’ve been deprived of.
“The point I was trying to make was that so many things have gotten taken away from us, but we're still here,” Myers said. “I was talking about the brotherhood and the love that we have for each other. I was like, for Chris Olave, Baron Browning and some of the guys that couldn't be here, keep those guys in your hearts because I'm telling you, (missing a game) was awful.”
In the Big Ten championship game, Myers had a chance to make the heartache worth it with a triumphant performance. His hope is that it’ll be the same for his teammates against Clemson.