Injuries Dulling D's Playmaking Abilities

Ohio State was already running low on bodies on defense before Tuesday's news that Ross Homan and Christian Bryant are likely out for Saturday's game with Purdue. That leaves OSU without its most productive linebacker and another personnel change at its biggest playmaking spot, leaving open the question of how the Buckeyes will get their big plays.

Two weeks ago today, Ohio State safeties coach Paul Haynes was asked if the banged-up group at his position could afford anymore injuries.

"It always gets that way when you lose two for the season," he said, referencing season-ending injuries to nickel back Tyler Moeller and strong safety C.J. Barnett. "We're not there yet, knock on wood, but it's getting close."

Apparently the podium he stood behind in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center wasn't made of good enough wood.

Head coach Jim Tressel announced at Tuesday's press conference that a third member of OSU's secondary – Moeller's replacement at star, true freshman Christian Bryant – would likely be out for Saturday's clash with Purdue with a foot infection.

Add in a foot injury to starting linebacker Ross Homan, which is likely to keep him out through the open week, as well as some injuries to key reserves and black and blue are replacing scarlet and gray as the official team colors.

"I've never seen anything like it," safety Jermale Hines said. "We just have to get through it and try to get guys healthy."

Having to come up with another configuration is not a positive sign for a team coming off giving up a season-high 31 points and 187 rushing yards during a loss to Wisconsin a week ago. To start, junior Andrew Sweat, the team's starting strongside linebacker, will move to the weak side while Jonathan Newsome moves into Sweat's spot in the base defense.

When the team goes to its nickel look, comments from Hines make it sound as though he will move to the star while fifth-year senior Aaron Gant takes over Hines' spot as the free safety. Another possibility is Hines can stay in his spot while junior Nate Oliver comes in as the star.

Add in injuries to some key depth players – including linebackers Dorian Bell and Storm Klein, who did not play vs. Wisconsin and may not be back this week, as well as cornerback Donnie Evege and safety Zach Domicone – and the line at the infirmary is long. Tressel just doesn't except Purdue to be crying any crocodile tears for the Buckeyes come Saturday.

"Someone's got to step up," he said. "I mean, who cares how difficult it is? On a scale of one to 10, I don't know. Regardless of how difficult it is, we've got to have someone ready. That's why you get to practice Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and have walk-throughs on Friday.

"If you want anyone to care that you've had three guys in your secondary hurt, you're coaching the wrong sport at the wrong school because we've got to be ready."

The bad news is that the injuries already appeared to be getting to the Buckeyes. After forcing 13 turnovers through four games, the Buckeyes have five in the past three games.

That coincides with the loss of Moeller, who filled up the stat sheet with 4½ tackles for loss, one sack, one interception and two forced fumbles in his four-plus games. Bryant had eight tackles in three games since taking over for Moeller but was not involved in a turnover, which is less than ideal at the star.

"That's what you expect out of that guy, production," Haynes said. "You look through the years, those guys have been the most productive that we've had."

OSU has also struggled to get that type of impact out of the safety position manned by A HREF=//>Orhian Johnson. A year ago, Kurt Coleman had five interceptions, three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and a sack, while Johnson has but a single forced fumble in seven games and appeared to overrun two Wisconsin TD runs.

"The big thing I challenged Orhian with is we're still lacking 200 production points that we lost with No. 4 last year, so … we have to make sure we're not happy with just going out there and getting lined up," Haynes said. "We have to make plays."

Losing Homan at the linebacker spot won't help in that regard. The fifth-year senior, who tied Coleman for the team lead with five interceptions a season ago, had a forced fumble, a recovered fumble and an interception while leading the team with 41 tackles in 2010. He is also one of the best linebackers in the league at playing both the run and pass.

Sweat did have an interception against the Badgers while posting eight tackles but will be getting used to playing the weakside spot, a position he hasn't played since fall camp while filling in for the injured Homan. Another alarming stat: Wisconsin's tailbacks lost yards on only two of 38 carries, leading to first-down success that made the stop troops struggle.

Add it all up and the Buckeyes will have a few new players in new positions, which can be an issue when it comes to making plays, especially with younger players.

"You don't recognize what people are trying to do to you," Hines said. "The more games you've played in, the game gets very slow, sort of like practice."

But if Ohio State needs any inspiration, it can simply look across the ball on Saturday. The Boilermakers have lost quarterback Robert Marve, running back Ralph Bolden and wideout Keith Smith to knee injuries since the spring, but the team has regrouped and won two in a row coming out of its open week.

"That's crazy," Sweat said. "They've faced adversity. Obviously we've faced adversity this week. We have to overcome it. Obviously they have. They've been playing pretty well, and hopefully we can bounce back and play well this week."

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