By RUSTY MILLER
AP College Football Writer
COLUMBUS: The secondary is of primary concern for No. 10 Ohio State.
Down three starters in the defensive backfield, along with being without their leading tackler, the Buckeyes are just hoping to hang on through Saturday's game at Minnesota to reach their bye week. Then maybe they'll regain some players for three pivotal November games.
"We've got so many injuries on this team. I can't remember a team like this," senior defensive end Cameron Heyward said this week. "We're going to keep fighting through it and hope to get some guys healthy soon."
Strong safety C.J. Barnett (knee) and nickel or "star" backs Tyler Moeller (torn chest muscle) and Christian Bryant (foot infection) have all been sidelined. All were starters at one time or another this season, with Bryant taking over after Moeller was lost for the season. Now Bryant is hospitalized and is out indefinitely.
"It's been a little tough," said Aaron Gant, a senior who has seen little action until now but finds himself as the starting free safety. "We're kind of moving guys around a little bit but I think everyone is responding to the changes well."
Starting linebacker Ross Homan (foot), still the Buckeyes' leading tackler even after missing last week's win over Purdue, and backup Dorian Bell (concussion) won't play this weekend but are expected back soon. Other defensive players have been in and out of the lineup.
As a result, the Buckeyes (7-1, 3-1 Big Ten) have shifted positions and shared the workload. Luckily, starting cornerbacks Devon Torrence and Chimdi Chekwa are 100 percent.
Yet coach Jim Tressel remains concerned, even about the healthy players.
"It's like, 'OK, we're going to have a group, we'll be all right,'" Tressel said. "All of a sudden you get worn out a little bit because you're practicing so much. So we as coaches, we've got to be smart about taking care of their bodies. Those guys have carried a lot of the weight of the group."
The Buckeyes are hoping to hang on and get people back for pivotal games next month against Penn State, at Iowa and Michigan — after they take a week off.
Ohio State's secondary takes on particular importance this week because it will be going up against a Minnesota (1-7, 0-4) team that will likely fill the air with footballs behind experienced quarterback Adam Weber.
"When you play a team like Ohio State, you've got to be in attack mode," said interim Minnesota coach Jeff Horton, who took over last week after Tim Brewster was fired after 3½ years. "You've got to go right at them from the start. If you sit back and wait for something to happen, or sit back and hope they make a mistake, you've got no chance."
Weber is throwing for 245 yards a game, with 17 TD passes against seven interceptions. He's just the fifth Big Ten quarterback to top 10,000 career passing yards, joining Drew Brees and Curtis Painter of Purdue, Northwestern's Brett Basanez and Iowa's Chuck Long.
Since Minnesota has lost seven straight, Weber figures "How much worse can it get?"
"We're going to go out there with no pressure and guns blazing and make some big plays," he said. "It's going to be hard to run on Ohio State. It's going to be hard to dink and dunk against this defense. You're not going to win that way. You're going to have to take some shots."
And that's fine with the Buckeyes who start a senior who contemplated quitting last summer after a series of knee injuries (Gant) and a raw sophomore (Orhian Johnson) at the safety spots.
Asked if he thought Weber would try to pick on them, Gant flashed a sly grin and said, "We would hope so."