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Corey Hasting (94) and Jelani Woseley sack Gardener-Webb University quarterback Chandler Browning Sept. 10 Peden Stadium.

Football: Bobcats prepare to juke past injuries

A mouth guard can be replaced for about $3. But how do you replace a nose guard?

That’s the million-dollar question for coach Frank Solich and the Bobcats, who will face Buffalo on the road this weekend without their largest defensive starter.

Neal Huynh injured his leg during the first defensive series Saturday against Kent State. Huynh entered the game as Ohio’s leading tackler and a key reason why the Bobcats have the second-best rushing defense in the Mid-American Conference.

But with 55 minutes to play against a pesky opponent, the Bobcats were shorthanded — and, comparatively speaking, undersized.

“It looks a lot smaller,” Solich said of the line after the 307-pound Huynh’s exit. His immediate replacement, Corey Hasting, is 47 pounds lighter and two inches shorter.

“(Huynh) is what you look for in terms of size and strength there and quickness there, and so he’s not easily replaced,” Solich said. “He had gotten off to having a special season.  That was a big blow to us.”

But it was not the only blow. Cornerback Omar Leftwich sustained an upper-body injury, running back Donte Harden did not play because of a continuing hip and groin injury, and quarterback Tyler Tettleton left the game a few minutes early with a leg contusion.

Those ailments, along with the bumps and bruises typical of football, led the coaching staff to end practice 10 minutes early yesterday. Tettleton took reps in a 7-on-7 no-contact setting a day after not practicing at all.

Solich said Leftwich’s X-rays were negative and he was listed as questionable for Saturday’s game. Tettleton insisted he would play against Buffalo.

“They’re beat up a little bit, and they’re tired, so you have to be somewhat careful, but you also have to have reps into what the opponent’s doing,” Solich said. “There’s a happy medium there, I guess.”

With many of the injury-induced holes likely to be filled by Saturday, the main focus is the defensive line. Freshmen Brandon Purdum and Antwan Crutcher have taken more reps in practice, and Hasting continues to adapt to what likely will be his new starting role.

The Bobcats had not made a mid-season adjustment to the starting defensive line since Stafford Gatling replaced Kris Luchsinger during Week 7 of the 2009 season.

But because Huynh was injured so early against Kent State, Ohio had nearly a full game to adapt to the slimmer look.

“It gave us a chance to play with a new kind of front without that big nose guard,” defensive end Curtis Meyers said. “The coaches got to see how we play without Neal, and they kind of developed a strategy for us to get us doing some different stuff and put us in position to beat this Buffalo offensive line.”

Perhaps it was fitting that Hasting was the honorary wearer of jersey No. 62, which the late Marcellis Williamson wore during his time as nose guard.

Huynh will miss a few games, but is not out for the rest of the season.

“It’s bad enough that he’s going to be out, but he will return at some point,” Solich said.

The next order of business is stopping Buffalo’s running game, which might aim for the new man on the line.

“I don’t see why they wouldn’t try and pound the ball right up the gut, try to play smashmouth football and take it to us,” Meyers said.

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