COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State’s win over Nebraska last Saturday night was a costly one as senior linebacker Etienne Sabino broke a bone in his leg and will likely miss a month of action.
“It’s a tremendous blow,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “He’s a very good player, but it goes beyond that. Sabino’s like a son and a brother to everybody. He’s an incredible human being. I love that guy.
“He’s hurting. He talked to the team after (the game), and it was an emotional moment. This team’s getting pretty close because of guys like him. So that’s first. We’re going to miss him.”
Sabino had surgery on Sunday and had a plate inserted in his broken fibula. Meyer said the “best case” for Sabino is a three-week absence, and the “worst case is longer than that.”
The 6-0 Buckeyes play at Penn State Oct. 27, host Illinois Nov. 3 and are off the following weekend before playing at Wisconsin on Nov. 17.
Ohio State was already thin at linebacker before the injury. Freshman Joshua Perry took most of Sabino’s reps vs. Nebraska and figures as the first candidate to replace him in the starting lineup.
“My biggest concern is (we’re) starting, like every team in America, to deal with physical games,” Meyer said. “Our last two games were really physical and we lost some players. Are the backups ready? Do they want to be ready? That is the challenge I have. There are some guys I’m very concerned about as backups. So that is the challenge right now.”
In his Monday press conference Meyer cited linebacker and offensive line as two positions he wants to see the backups answer those challenges, and Sabino’s injury means Perry might not be the only freshman linebacker called to the big stage.
“Josh Perry has to step up,” Meyer said. “He has all the talent. David Perkins is a guy that’s helping us on kickoff but should be further ahead. Jamal Marcus should be further ahead. Cameron Williams played a little bit (vs. Nebraska). He was in on the big one. They’re all good kids. They come from good people, good families, and they have talent. So we’ve just got to accelerate their growth.” LOOKING AHEAD: Next up for Ohio State is a Saturday night game at 2-3 Indiana, which has lost three straight.
“They’re getting better in all phases,” Meyer said of the Hoosiers. “I wasn’t here last year, but I watched some of their film. They’re a much better team. They have pretty good players, too.”
Meyer said “the best thing that happened” was Indiana jumping out to a big lead vs. Michigan State last week. Even though the Spartans rallied for a 31-27 win, Meyer said Ohio State’s players will see on film an Indiana team that’s improved and will come out firing.
“Indiana’s got a lot of talent in certain positions, and they play an offense that you better have every T crossed and I dotted or they’re going to pop one on you,” he said. “So the film doesn’t lie and that is the best thing that happened.”
Meyer said Indiana’s spread offense may buy the Buckeyes a little time in their search for Sabino’s replacement and overall help at the linebacker position because they’ll almost exclusively play nickel defense, and senior Storm Klein and sophomore Ryan Shazier have been Ohio State’s nickel linebackers.
HOW THEY STAND: The two teams ineligible to play in the Big Ten Championship Game – Ohio State and Penn State – are tied atop the Leaders Division standings at 2-0. Wisconsin is 1-1, while Purdue, Illinois and Indiana are all still searching for their first conference win.
Wisconsin visits Purdue this week, and the loser of that game will be in big trouble as far as winning the division — but maybe not totally out of the race to play in the Big Ten Championship Game, given the circumstances. Penn State, which has won four straight after a 4-2 start, is off this week, then plays a night game at Iowa on Oct. 20 before hosting Ohio State.
SITTING OUT: Freshman quarterback Cardale Jones wasn’t in uniform for the Nebraska game. He was serving a one-game suspension for tweets last Friday that questioned why football players have to attend class.
Meyer said Jones made “ignorant comments” but was remorseful, and he said Jones and the Buckeyes have moved on.
“We (were) getting ready to play a big-time game in a great stadium and I get a bunch of text messages and phone calls about – did you hear? So we suspended him immediately for the game,” Meyer said. “That’s a 19-year-old making an ignorant comment, which makes him one of 460 million. So we’re moving on. I’ve moved on already.
“We’ve had a good chat. He’s very apologetic. He does go to class in case people want to check, and he’s actually a heck of a kid. It kind of surprised me.”