- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Even as the disabled list continues to swell seemingly every week, Urban Meyer isn't buying bad luck as an excuse for injuries.
That doesn't mean there might not be a little superstition left in the Ohio State coach.
There was one position on defense where Meyer could ill afford significant losses, and he can talk about that since it's obvious the Buckeyes have had to scramble to fill the void at linebacker. And while the group on the other side of the ball with the least amount of depth might be just as clear, Meyer had to stop himself before he jinxed the offensive line ahead of Saturday's trip to Penn State.
"Every school is dealing with injuries," Meyer said. "But the one area that got smacked that couldn't get smacked was our linebackers. That was the one area, that and the offensive ... don't even say that, though."
The Buckeyes have survived up front on offense, but that's one of the few spots on the team that has stayed in one piece for a program that is starting to run low on bodies and has never really been at full strength after some roster attrition in the coaching transition.
Etienne Sabino's broken leg necessitated moving a fullback over to linebacker to pitch in defensively. The secondary was stretched for weeks while safety C.J. Barnett recovered from a high ankle sprain. Projected starting defensive end Michael Bennett missed the first month of the season with a groin injury, and a couple of missed games by senior Nathan Williams helped force the healthy guys to play even more snaps than Ohio State would like, with mostly freshmen backing up the first unit.
The offense hasn't had quite as much trouble so far other than an earlier injury for running back Carlos Hyde and the tough time original starter Jordan Hall has had getting and staying healthy. Even at quarterback the Buckeyes had an option on the bench that it trusted after Braxton Miller went down with an injury on Saturday, with Kenny Guiton rallying the offense to a late touchdown and two-point conversion in the overtime win over Purdue.
But by this point of the season, Meyer is chalking up those various ailments to the nature of the game instead of anything cosmic. And instead of just knocking on wood, he's tinkering some with the practice plan to keep guys fresh while balancing that with making sure they're ready for physical showdowns such as the one on tap Saturday with the Nittany Lions.
"We've got to be smart," Meyer said. "Sunday we went out, didn't go for a half-hour, we went for 15 minutes. We have an obligation to develop Ohio State, too, so I mean, that's nonstop churning in my mind right now.
"It's development of players, but also let's go win this game. You don't want to get caught without players, which we're pretty close to getting caught."
Meyer indicated he's currently working with a roster of around "59, 60" players, some of whom essentially haven't contributed at all yet this season.
The challenge has gone out to that group of players to step up and offer something to a team that is still gunning for an unbeaten season. And for those who have already made an impact up to this point, the trick is making sure they stay ready to do so with four more games on the schedule.
"You don't compromise working hard in practice, because the only way you can prepare for a game is by competitive reps in practice," co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers said. "You can't compromise that. You have to see the speed of the game in practice, and the only way to do that is to practice hard and get competitive reps.
"We're going to continue to practice hard -- every day. We're going to continue to be physical -- every day. I think it's the number of reps more so than how we practice."
The Buckeyes can at least control that. Counting on luck clearly isn't nearly as reliable.
Urban Meyer sends a loud and clear message to his defense that its effort on Saturday won't be good enough going forward.