Sabino Looks Good, Expected to Start at Wisconsin
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — If the Buckeyes are going to go down in Madison this coming weekend, they are going to go down swinging. A much-needed bye-week after 10-straight weeks of football has given Urban Meyer’s football team a chance to heal some wounds and prepare itself for two key battles in November.
One of the walking wounded for Ohio State was senior linebacker Etienne Sabino. Meyer said last week he felt it was better than 50/50 odds Sabino would be able to return against Wisconsin following the bye. Now it appears Sabino will not only be available Saturday, he may indeed get the start in hostile Camp Randal Stadium.
“I can't tell you what percent he's at,” Meyer said Monday, “but he's in the starting lineup for the game.”
Sabino practiced Monday with the rest of his teammates, who did not have class because of the Veteran’s Day hospital. There are still three more key days of practice for Sabino before Meyer and his staff can really feel confident they are going to have the senior captain back in full capacity, but he looked good to his teammates on Monday.
“He looks great. You can’t even tell there was an injury,” fellow senior John Simon said Monday.
“It’s huge for us. The leadership he brings for us on and off the field is tremendous. So, anytime we get a guy like that back who is a playmaker and a leader for us, it means a lot to our defense.”
Even with Sabino likely back this week, the Buckeyes don’t have any plans to move Zach Boren back to the offensive side of the ball. Instead, Meyer would like to see those two on the field together alongside sophomore Ryan Shazier.
“The three that broke the starting lineup today on Monday are Shazier, Zach Boren, and Sabino,” Meyer said Monday during his weekly press luncheon.
“Storm Klein will play as well. Still not near the depth we need, though.”
Klein has been battling a bulging disc in his back for much of the season, and he’s gone from splitting reps with Boren at middle linebacker to mostly playing special teams. The Buckeyes would probably be forced to use him more on defense Saturday if they aren’t able to get much out of Sabino, who has missed the last four games with a broken leg.
Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell will likely have his team in more base 4-3 defense on Saturday than it has played since the one-point victory over Michigan State back in September. That was the last complete game Sabino played before suffering his injury in the first half of the Nebraska game.
Ohio State has been playing primarily two linebackers ever since, with senior Orhian Johnson as the fifth defensive back in the nickel defense. Johnson injured his shoulder against Illinois, but Meyer said he was good to go in practice Monday.
Strength on Strength
Don’t expect them to play much nickel defense on Saturday, however, as they face a Wisconsin team that will put as many as seven offensive linemen on the field at one time in order to run the football.
“I think there's ways to stop the run,” Meyer said.
“What they do a nice job is just these multitude of shifts, formations, and motions that are hard to get gap control or gap security, and then that's what the good thing is we've had a bye week. A lot of time's been spent on that.”
The Badgers don’t throw the ball all that well – just 167 yards per game, which ranks 11th in the Big Ten – but they do have a dangerous play-action game when they are running the ball effectively.
Seldom-used fifth-year senior Curt Phillips will likely be charged with running the offense again this week for Bret Bielema, but Meyer says their passing attack starts with No. 4 Jared Abbrederis.
The former walk-on scored two huge touchdowns against the Buckeyes in the fourth quarter of last year’s game, which nearly capped off the dramatic comeback for Wisconsin.
He caught six passes for 113 yards in that game before Braxton Miller tossed the game-winner to Devin Smith, but Meyer knows the guy who really makes it all work is No. 28 out of the backfield.
“He started slow, and I don't put that on him. I thought they had a lot of transition in the coaching staff,” Meyer said of senior tailback Montee Ball.
“Their coaching staff has been together for a while, and you can tell. Probably a little more creative in the run game than they were earlier in the year.”
According to Meyer, Ball’s greatest strengths are vision, speed, toughness and his ability to pull away from angles taken by would-be tacklers.
“You can give him the ball a bunch of times, and he just keeps getting stronger,” Meyer added.
“He'll be a very good NFL back.”
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