COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ready or not, the Ohio State freshmen continue to be thrown into the fire.
In some cases it's no longer really a matter of getting a couple opportunities for the young Buckeyes to prove themselves -- they have no choice if the program is going to stay undefeated this season while injuries keep piling up on the roster.
That situation has been most obvious at linebacker, and Joshua Perry appeared ready to capitalize on his expanded role before a minor health concern popped back up for him as well. But the defensive line has had to deal with the same issue lately, and even the special teams already loaded with young Buckeyes are getting ravaged by significant injuries and forcing another wave of players to fill the void in the kicking game.
A few players are obviously handling the responsibilities better than others, and every new player develops at a different pace. But these guys three guys stood out in the 29-22 overtime win over Purdue as starting to turn the corner -- or building on previously encouraging outings for Ohio State.
Position: Defensive end
Stats sheet: 2 tackles
What it means: The talented pass-rushing specialist didn't have as much of an impact on the stat sheet as he did against Indiana when Nathan Williams was out of the lineup, but the Buckeyes now have enough faith in him to tinker with the rotation and get him involved in meaningful situations. The clearest example of the different approach an emerging Spence allows the coaching staff to take is moving Williams to play some outside linebacker in a 3-4 look, and the newcomer was on the field for a critical stop on the late drive in the fourth quarter that helped set up the game-tying touchdown.
He said it: "When you start knocking some bodies out of there, we’ve got a problem. We have some guys playing inordinate amount of plays, 600-some snaps for some defensive linemen that we should be developing some depth behind them, but they’re all freshmen." -- coach Urban Meyer
Position: Wide receiver
Stats sheet: 1 catch for 11 yards
What it means: Certainly contributing in the Big Ten is a bit more difficult than turning in a productive outing in an exhibition game in the spring, and Thomas has struggled to live up to the hype that accompanied his huge afternoon back in April. But there's not much question about his talent or potential ability to have an impact for the Buckeyes, and while it's only one play, making a grab in conference action and starting to see more responsibility on offense is a sign Thomas might be catching on.
He said it: "Every day somebody has a chance to make a change. Every day you have opportunities. Every day something flashes across you, a chance that maybe you'll get better -- and we're nonstop around here. I believe that's one of the great things about college football as opposed to the NFL." -- Meyer
Position: Linebacker/special teams
Stats sheet: 3 tackles
What it means: After a five-game drought, Perkins was back to showing up and wreaking some havoc on special teams -- where all of his tackles for the Buckeyes on Saturday. The coaches have pointed to the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder as somebody they have been waiting for to get a grasp on the defense so they can turn him loose at outside linebacker, where he's currently listed behind Perry and could be close to breaking through for some playing time. Obviously given the injuries at that position, Ohio State could certainly use the help.
He said it: "Right now we’re dealing with a roster that’s around 60, 59 players. Of those 59, not everybody is playing obviously, so the call to arms is still there. Rather disappointed in several handfuls of guys who haven’t contributed, and when you start throwing those kinds of numbers around, that’s why you’re seeing issues on kickoff. ... Some guys have to really step up." -- Meyer