No. 2 Ohio State expects to get back a couple of starters on a banged-up defense that has shown a weakness for giving up big plays all season.
Despite their 30-14 victory over Minnesota on Saturday, the Buckeyes — who moved up a spot in the AP Top 25 — looked vulnerable, allowing the Golden Gophers to stack up 396 yards of offense. Walk-on freshman quarterback Zack Annexstad threw two touchdown passes, and freshman tailback Mohamed Ibrahim romped for a career-best 157 yards.
The bend-but-don’t-break Buckeyes should get some help Saturday against Purdue with starting defensive end Jonathan Cooper and starting linebacker Malik Harrison returning, coach Urban Meyer said Monday. Both were in concussion protocol after the Indiana game.
In addition, starting defensive tackle Robert Landers, who has been limited by an unspecified injury, is probable for the game, while starting cornerback Damon Arnette, who was hurt in the Penn State game, is questionable, Meyer said.
“At times you’re in survival mode,” he said.
Of course, the Ohio State defense was thrown out of sorts by defensive end Nick Bosa’s lower abdominal injury and subsequent surgery. Meyer said Bosa’s progress is being evaluated.
He left the door open when asked if the All-American could return this season.
“Hopeful,” he said.
“It affects us a lot, and it’s kind of tough being in there seeing those big plays given up,” linebacker Pete Werner acknowledged. “But the next man’s got to step up, and that’s what coach preaches. That’s what we’ve got to do.”
Meyer said the work this week also will focus on improving the running game, which has faltered lately as Ohio State has morphed into a pass-first team behind prolific quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr., who logged his second consecutive 400-yard game.
Tailbacks J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber — both of whom have 1,000-yard seasons already on their resumes — have been limited by defenses crowding the box. Together they’ve been held to less than 4 yards per carry by Indiana and Minnesota.
“You can scheme it up, you can talk about pressures, movements, you can talk about being outnumbered, but still running the ball is a little bit of an attitude,” co-offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. “I think, again, to be as good as we need to be, we’ve got to find what we’re going to hang our hat on.”
It’s going to be worse if starting right tackle Thayer Munford is limited by a foot injury he suffered against Minnesota. Munford, who also has been dealing with a hip injury, is probable for Saturday, Meyer said.
Kicker Sean Nuernberger’s status is uncertain after he suffered a groin and quad strain warming up before last weekend’s game. In his place, Blake Haubeil made three field goals and three PAT kicks.