Perhaps it wasn’t supposed to happen this early in the season, but injuries and suspensions could already be catching up the Ohio State football team.
But don’t tell that to Luke Fickell, who just saw his No. 15 Buckeyes narrowly escape Ohio Stadium Saturday with a 27-22 win over Toledo.
"We're not going to dwell on it," answered Fickell when asked if current holes in his personnel are cause for concern. "We're not going to look at that. We never feel sorry for ourselves. We're not looking for pity.”
Perhaps that’s the diplomatic way to look at it for the first-year head coach, but there had to be a sinking feeling for Fickell when injuries continued to plague the personnel on the field for the Buckeyes.
Already missing from the starting lineup was Ohio State’s best pass rusher in Nathan Williams, who didn’t play against the Rockets while recovering from a bone bruise.
Then Fickell saw his No. 1 receiver Corey “Philly” Brown leave the game with what looks to be a serious ankle injury only to return to the sideline later with crutches and a splint on his ankle.
Finally there was John Simon, who left the game in the second half with cramps. Though he missed only a few series while loosening back up, the Buckeyes felt what it was like to play without yet another top weapon.
And of course Ohio State was already missing three senior offensive starters for the first five games in Mike Adams, Dan Herron, and DeVier Posey in addition to recently suspended starters Jordan Hall and Travis Howard.
Still, Fickell’s philosophy remains consistent.
“The next guy's got to step up,” Fickell said, staying true to the motto he’s continued to stick by since taking over as head coach. “That's what we said on the sideline. Adversity is going to happen whether it's a situation off the field or on the field."
The Buckeyes (2-0) — thanks in large part to pressure put on by Simon that led to a Toledo incompletion on fourth-and-five with 52 seconds remaining in the game — were able to avoid paying the ultimate price for its personnel issues.
But the question lingers — how much longer can the Buckeyes continue to lose out on talent on the field before the team can no longer sustain it?
Fickell Supports Rod Smith: Even after fumbling the ball deep in Akron territory in Ohio State’s season opener, Fickell expressed confidence in his reserve tailback when sending Smith onto the field late in the game against Toledo.
With the Buckeyes clinging to a five-point lead driving deep in Toledo territory late in the game with hopes of slamming the door shut on the threatening Rockets, Smith fumbled for the second consecutive week.
Toledo, who recovered the fumble, was instantly given an opportunity to drive for the winning touchdown in the game's final minutes. Ohio State’s previous offensive possession could have ended the game with a score, but instead it took a late turnover on downs to preserve the victory.
After the game Fickell continued to support the young Smith, who is in his second career game after redshirting the year before. Fickell compared Smith’s situation to a similar one Eddie George faced after having crucial fumbles early in his career.
“I'm not down on Rod,” Fickell said. “He obviously knows he's got to get better. He's going to be hard on himself, and that's what you want to make sure he understands.
“I came up and reminded him of a guy that I played with that fumbled a few times as a young guy, and people were on him hard. He was on himself hard. But that guy was one of the toughest guys I ever saw, and hardest working guys I ever saw here.”
Bauserman Plays Entire Game, Miller Still In Mix: Fickell said it was in the plans to get freshman quarterback Braxton Miller into the game, but when it was over only senior Joe Bauserman took snaps for the Buckeyes.
Bauserman, a 25-year-old senior, led the Buckeyes on a scoring drive in the team’s first possession, but Ohio State’s offense sputtered for a solid portion of the remainder of the game.
Though Fickell and his staff clearly stuck with the older option in a close game — perhaps the ultimate sign of faith from those running the show — the first-year head coach refused to acknowledge Bauserman as the team’s starter.
“I feel we have two quarterbacks and I've got confidence in both of them,” Fickell said. “One just hasn't had as many opportunities just yet. I feel like we've got two middle linebackers, but one has to start, and one probably played a little more than the other.
“I know everybody wants to talk about the quarterback more so, but they know we have confidence in them. They know we need them both, and it's our job to make sure we can handle it the right way.”
Odds & Ends:
• Fickell didn’t have an update on the severity of Philly Brown’s ankle injury. Though there was no update on the wide receiver’s status, the sophomore finished the game on the sideline with the use of crutches and a splint on his ankle.
• Simon left to the locker room on a cart only to get fluids to help alleviate pain caused by cramps. The defensive lineman is fully healthy heading into week three.
• Nathan Williams didn’t suit up for the game, as it sounds like the defensive end suffered from a bone bruise. Players seemed hopeful that Williams will be back on the field next week against Miami.
• When asked about the running back situation, Fickell adamantly said Carlos Hyde “is our starting running back.” Hyde finished the game with 20 carries for 76 yards and two touchdowns, including one score on a 36-yard jaunt to the end zone.
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