The Buckeyes are competing this season and the next two with a limit of 82 scholarship players, three fewer than the usual allotment because of NCAA sanctions, but that is not the only factor at work currently.
More than a dozen players with eligibility remaining have left the active roster for one reason or another since Urban Meyer took over the program following last season, and though a highly regarded crop of freshman have joined the ranks, the team is far from full strength.
Meyer confirmed earlier this week the Buckeyes are feeling the strain of operating with 76 scholarship players. He noted starting offensive linemen Andrew Norwell and Jack Mewhort were on the field as part of the field goal unit when the Buckeyes lined up to kick the extra point with a 62-38 lead in the final minute of the win against Nebraska.
"That shouldn't happen," Meyer said. "That's wrong, and that's where the young linemen have to step up and go play. That's not right, so we are definitely feeling the issues of a scholarship reduction. Absolutely, we are. Any time there is transition of a coaching staff, there is transition of players, and we're feeling that in a big way. When we lost a couple of D-line men. That hurt us bad. It doesn't show up until someone gets a turf toe or someone has an issue, then it really starts to surface, and we're at that point right now."
The problem is probably reflected more in the youth of the team's depth than a true lack of depth itself.
Every starting position on offense and defense enjoys at least one scholarship player as a backup, but only quarterback, running back, fullback and safety have juniors second on the depth chart. The first player off the bench at every other position is a sophomore or younger.
That includes at least seven spots – tight end, right and left tackle, center, strong-side linebacker, weak-side linebacker and 3-technique defensive tackle –have freshmen backups.
Tight ends coach Tim Hinton agreed there is a feeling of constriction with the roster smaller than usual. He is in charge of organizing the re-stocking effort as recruiting coordinator.
"A couple of injuries affect every team in America, even if it's a No. 2 because a No. 3 really might not be ready," Hinton said. "So you go into every game sweating bullets." Then he pulled out a favorite line of former coach Jim Tressel.
"You know, there's an old saying in football: Have a pair and a spare," Hinton said. "Coming up with the spare can sometimes be challenging."
"It seems like every week we play someone from Ohio," Meyer said. "That tells you how great high school football is in this state, but he's very good. He's their best D-lineman."
Indeed, Replogle enters the game against the Buckeyes tied for the Indiana team lead with 36 tackles. That includes a 4.5 for loss and 2.5 sacks. He is one of 17 Hoosiers from the Buckeye State, joining brother Mike Replogle, Pete Bachman (Cincinnati Elder), Larry Black Jr., (Cincinnati Wyoming), Ted Bolser (Cincinnati Indian Hill), Javon Cornley (Columbus Northland), Dawson Fletcher (West Chester Lakota West), Chase Hoobler (Orrville), David Kaminski (Strongsville), Tanner Kearns (Lexington), Cody Latimer (Dayton Jefferson), Mark Murphy (Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary), David Nelson (Hudson), Ryan Phillis (Youngstown Boardman), Zack Shaw (Coshocton/Coshocton), Alex Todd (Streetsboro) and Shane Wynn (Cleveland Glenville).
Bolser, Black, Latimer and Wynn join the elder Replogle in the starting lineup for the Hoosiers.
Ohio State's roster contains three Indiana natives: defensive lineman Joel Hale (Greenwood Center Grove), linebacker David Perkins (South Bend Washington) and running back Rod Smith (Fort Wayne Paul Harding).
"Mr. Enthusiasm" Strikes Again
No interview week that includes a visit from Kerry Coombs is likely to be boring. The combustible Coombs, in his first season coaching the Ohio State defensive backs after five seasons at Cincinnati, leaves little doubt he has a great passion for his position.
He provided a reminder Monday when asked about what it is like to be coaching a top 10 college team.
"It's an extraordinary feeling," said Coombs, a high school coach for 24 years before joining the Bearcats in 2007. "Saturday night for me with that crowd and with the energy level – I've had the good fortune to coach in a Sugar Bowl and an Orange Bowl when I was with Cincinnati. Neither of those experiences compared to the game Saturday night because of the number of people at the game, because it was a one-sided, home crowd, because of the tradition of Ohio State and what that means.
"I've been a lucky man. I've coached a lot of great teams in high school and college, but this experience is second to none. I told my guys after the game, ‘Let's just plan on not losing anymore. This is some pretty good stuff.' "
He was also asked about his feelings seeing the UC squad surprisingly rise into the top 25 in both major polls after a 4-0 start.
"I stay in close contact with the Bearcats," Coombs said. "I'm extremely proud of those kids at Cincinnati, those coaches are my friends and that's my town, that's where I was born and raised. For them to be in the top 25 again is fantastic. They're going to compete for the Big East championship and they may get a chance to be in a BCS bowl game. More power to ‘em. Those are kids that I raised. I recruited about 60 percent of that team. I love those kids, and I love those coaches. I want nothing but the best for them.
"I hope they win every week. It's a different football team than the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Ohio State Buckeyes we also hope win every week."