The coaching staff also faces an uncertain future. Luke Fickell became head coach on an interim basis May 30 after Jim Tressel was forced out in the wake of an NCAA scandal, and the contract Fickell signed earlier this season offers no guarantee his employment will continue past January.
The status of his assistants is up in the air, too, but Fickell has maintained all year that will not affect their job performance.
He continued to do so this week when asked if it is difficult to stay focused as the season winds down.
"It's not easy, but the world isn't fair," he said before referencing the battle former Ohio State quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels' has waged against cancer since 2006.
"Is it fair that he has to go through what he has to go through? There are a lot of different situations. We understand that it's a part of life, so we're not going to sit here and make excuses and worry about those type of things. We've just got to continue moving forward and focus on what we can control. We said at the beginning of the year, it's truly about this group of young men. It's about this group of coaches. It's about this program. All of the other things will have to take care of themselves."
"We know there are going to be situations, but that is a part of life. This isn't a utopia we live in."
Tackling Still An Issue
Among the many problems that led to a second consecutive loss at Purdue last week was the Buckeyes' tackling.
That has been a sore spot off and on all season, and Fickell sounded frustrated when discussing it earlier this week.
"It's the No. 1 thing," said the former Ohio State defensive lineman and linebackers coach. "We're always going to put the best 11 tacklers on defense. You know, if it means a guy is a safety, that's one of the best 11 tacklers and we have to move to get him on the field, we have to do it."
The Boilermakers exacerbated the problem by getting their running backs and a deep group of receivers into space via screen passes and various zone runs, but the head coach took that as no excuse.
"It's still a team concept," he said. "You're going to miss some tackles and have some of those things. They're a lot more obvious in the open field. When you don't have three or four other guys flying there or almost there, that to me is as big a problem as we've had.
"We have to do a better job tackling. We have to continue to practice it, but late in the season it gets difficult because you don't tackle, truly tackle, a whole lot in practice."
Last Line Of Defense?
Aside from getting the Nittany Lions on the ground this week, Ohio State defenders figure to find their discipline tested by a Penn State offense that counters the power runs of Silas Redd with the deep threat of wide receiver Derek Moye.
Redd is just a sophomore but has already shown himself to be one an effective runner, and Moye is a senior who has developed into an all-around weapon.
"They really try to lull a team to sleep with the running game then hit a big play over the top," safeties coach Paul Haynes said Wednesday.
Haynes, like Fickell, could only shake his head when looking back at the Purdue loss. A pair of his pupils, C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant, appeared to get crossed up on the Boilermakers' next-to-last play from scrimmage, a 14-yard pass from Robert Marve to Gary Bush that set up Marve's 1-yard touchdown run that won the game.
Bush ran a shallow drag all the way across the field and was running free while Bryant and Barnett both hung on the same receiver in the end zone and a third OSU defender, Orhian Johnson, was in a shallow to the play side.
The Buckeyes were mixed up both by a pre-snap miscommunication and a breakdown of scramble rules when Marve left the pocket.
"The big thing that happens a lot of times in scramble situations is guys stare at the quarterback," Haynes said. "That's the worst thing you can do on a scramble situation. You've got to find receivers."
"That was probably the hardest thing for the players because it's something you preach about all the time. You can't use the excuse that they're young and we don't want to. It's something that's got to happen, something that's got to take place. Unfortunately it's always a learning situation for those guys but they've got to learn from it, they've got to do it. It's expected of them and they've got to be accountable."
Historic Ups and Downs
Assessing trends can be a positive or a negative exercise this weekend as the Buckeyes prepare to tangle with the Nittany Lions.
First the bad news: Ohio State's only home losses to Penn State in the past four decades (1978 and 2008) have come with a true freshman at quarterback for the Buckeyes. Braxton Miller will try to break that streak this year. On the bright side, Ohio State fans can hope to see the defense continue to take the ball away and score on Penn State. From 2001-10, the Buckeyes returned eight Nittany Lion interceptions for touchdowns.