In his first meeting with local reporters this week, head coach Jim Tressel said safety C.J. Barnett is likely to miss the rest of the season with a knee injury suffered in the second half of the game last Saturday against the Hurricanes.
Barnett, a sophomore who worked his way into the starting lineup during preseason camp while classmate Orhian Johnson nursed a leg injury of his own, was having an exemplary game before he was hurt. The Clayton (Ohio) Northmont product had three tackles and deflected a pass that was intercepted by Nathan Williams to set up Ohio State's first score against the 'Canes.
"C. J. was really playing well," Tressel said. "He took advantage of an opportunity in preseason to get a lot of reps when Orhian Johnson had a calf pull and really did well and we thought played very well through the first game and three quarters. Unfortunately, I think today he'll be having surgery and probably won't have him the rest of the year. Other than that, we should get everyone back.
Johnson replaced Barnett against Miami and is expected to assume a starting role along with Jermale Hines when the Buckeyes tee it up for a Noon visit from Ohio University. Tressel said the top backups for that pair would likely be senior Aaron Gant and sophomore Zach Domicone.
As for the 1-1 Bobcats, Tressel said he expects to face a gritty, tough team that reflects their head coach, Frank Solich.
"He's hard-working, tough, disciplined," Tressel said of the former Nebraska head coach who is in his sixth year in Athens. "They're going to have fundamentals. There's been great continuity on his staff, and he fosters that environment, the people enjoy what they're doing there and they believe in their program. His entire playing and coaching life he's been around excellence and I don't know how many coaches can win 75 percent of their games and all of a sudden not have a job, but he's been around excellence and he's one of the real good ones."
With the Bobcats lacking the national buzz of the Hurricanes, who entered the Horseshoe ranked No. 12 after a whole offseason's worth of hype for the contest, Tressel acknowledged there are potential hurdles facing his team this week that are not physical.
"When you play in an emotional game, there is that human tendency to take a deep breath," he said.
Thus the coaching staff plans to focus its message to the players on how they can improve in order to continue building toward goals of winning the Big Ten and competing for the national championship.
"Here's what you need to execute better and here's what we need to do as units and so forth," Tressel said. "We kind of take the approach of showing the film, showing where we need to get better, and I guess if we can't get excited 12 times in one calendar year, shame on us. So we'll let that take care of itself."
He also said the staff will contemplate making changes to personnel on kickoff and punt units that have struggled so far this season after closing the 2009 campaign poorly, but the problem is more with fundamentals.
"There are different spots on the field where technique has to change," Tressel said. "The first half of the kickoff, for instance, you can avoid (a blocker) and get back in your lane. When you get to the second half of the kickoff, you can't avoid and in all three long kickoff returns, our two and their one, there were people in the second half of the play going around blocks, avoiding as opposed to taking on blocks and holding gap integrity and so forth. So what can you do? You can do it right, just like any other play."