Daniel Chi / Asst. photo editor
While his name is not present on Ohio State football’s official depth chart this week, a familiar face is slated to make his return against Wisconsin on Saturday.
Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said redshirt senior linebacker Etienne Sabino will strap on his pads when OSU makes the trip to Madison, Wis. to play Wisconsin this Saturday, after missing the last four games because of a broken right fibula.
“Yeah, I can’t tell you what percent (health) he’s at, but he’s in the starting lineup for the game,” Meyer said.
Sabino, who suffered the fracture during the Oct. 6 Nebraska game, needed surgery to fix the damage.
In six games before the injury, Sabino recorded 37 total tackles, two sacks, one interception and one forced fumble. Even though he has been out since the first quarter of the contest against the Cornhuskers, missing the last four games, he is tied for the seventh-most total tackles on the team.
Senior defensive end John Simon said Sabino’s play in practice hasn’t changed since the injury.
“He looks great, you can’t even tell there was ever an injury,” Simon said.
When Sabino went out, the defense’s productivity decreased, specifically in scoring defense.
In the first six games of the season, OSU’s defense gave up an average of 20.5 points per game. Since Sabino’s injury, however, it has allowed an average of 29 points per game, including the 49 points Indiana scored in Sabino’s first contest out on Oct. 13.
Although the first four games were against non-conference opponents perceived to be inferior to Big Ten opponents, the loss of the Miami, Fla., native forced the Buckeyes to pull senior Zach Boren, who once started at fullback, to help fill the void Sabino’s absence left.
During an Oct. 15 press conference, Meyer called Boren’s switch from offense to defense “temporarily permanent.” Evem with Sabino’s return, the change is looking more permanent now that Boren was also announced a starter for the upcoming game.
“The three that broke the starting lineup today, on Monday, is (sophomore Ryan) Shazier, Zach Boren and Sabino,” Meyer said Monday.
As a starting linebacker, Boren has collected 29 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.
Against Indiana, Boren was the leading tackler for the Buckeye defense.
“He’s been a stabling force for our defense,” Meyer said. “One of the most undervalued characteristics of a football team is leadership, and that’s what No. 44 (Boren) gives you.”
For the first time this season, Boren, Sabino and Shazier will play together on defense. Boren said he is excited to play with Sabino, but the three are trying to get used to playing as a unit.
“I definitely think Ryan’s and my play has elevated because of what Sabino brings to the table,” Boren said.
Junior defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins said he believes Sabino brings the same leadership intangible.
“He’s one of our key guys that is at the linebacker position. He’s the leader of the defense, so it’s good to have him back,” Hankins said. “I feel like he is going to be at full force and he is going to be ready.”