Most Important Buckeyes: No. 15
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Senior captain Etienne Sabino came to Ohio State as a five-star recruit but never quite lived up to the billing in his first three seasons on the field.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Each year began with new hope that this would be the season when he would finally be comfortable in his role and produce accordingly. As it would turn out, that's exactly what 2012 was for him.
Unfortunately, a leg injury early in game six against Nebraska derailed his season for a bit, but until that point he was averaging a career-best seven tackles per game, which was good enough for third on the team.
His injury made his worth much more measurable, because we saw what the Buckeyes were without him, and it wasn't nearly as good.
What Made Him Important?
Sabino was elected a captain prior to the season. That tells you what his teammates thought of him. Off the field, he brought years of wisdom and tremendous advice to the slew of young linebackers that Urban Meyer had signed in the 2012 recruiting class.
On the field, however, he brought a sense of calm to a linebacking corps that was desperate for one. On a defense that couldn't find a middle linebacker, the play of Sabino and Ryan Shazier was magnified.
Prior to his injury, Sabino also led the Buckeyes in sacks with two. He was making plays like he never had before, and his coaches couldn't rave about him enough. Sabino was finally playing like many had hoped he would.
It isn't a coincidence that while Sabino was injured, the Buckeyes gave up 38 points to Nebraska, 49 points to Indiana and needed a miracle finish to defeat Purdue. Clearly this was a defense that was a bit lost without him.
It was also not a coincidence that with Sabino on the field, the Buckeyes held Wisconsin to 14 points and Michigan to 21. and don't forget that it was Sabino who destroyed Wisconsin's third-down run in overtime that led to a fourth-and-long attempt.
What Would The Buckeyes Have Done Without Him?
Funnily enough, we saw what the Buckeyes had to do without him. They tried true freshman Joshua Perry in his place at times, with varying results. They missed Sabino's consistency and understanding of the defense.
They also tried defensive end Nathan Williams, and while he had the understanding, he just didn't have Sabino's speed and athleticism to make the same types of plays.
During Sabino's absence, they started safety Orhian Johnson every week as the nickel back. Johnson had his best season ever, but he is not Etienne Sabino against the run.
Ohio State was fortunate in that those four games that Sabino was out, the defense was facing either a spread team or a passing team.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect to having Sabino injured was that it was one of the final factors that forced Meyer's hand to pull Zach Boren over to the defensive side of the ball.
If Sabino had never gotten injured, would Meyer have ever been desperate enough to make that move? And if he doesn't make that move, do the Buckeyes beat Wisconsin and Michigan without Boren on defense?
How Does It Compare to Our Preseason Expectations?
To be honest, Sabino wasn't even in our Preseason Top 20. His absence from the original list was indicative of a guy who more often than not was replaced by a defensive back, even on running downs.
How could we put a linebacker on this list who played maybe 40% of the snaps because he wasn't productive enough to play anymore than that?
Because we were wrong, that's why.
Jim Tressel always preached of his players to play your very best as a senior, and that's exactly what Etienne Sabino did in 2012.
No. 16 Andrew Norwell
No. 17 Travis Howard
No. 18 C.J. Barnett
No. 19 Garrett Goebel
No. 20 Kenny Guiton
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