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October 18, 2012

Boren lends helping hand to Buckeyes' defense

Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As Urban Meyer made his way to Ohio State's practice last Tuesday, the first-year Buckeyes head coach realized he had a problem: his team didn't have enough linebackers.

Etienne Sabino had just fractured his fibula in OSU's win over Nebraska. Various injuries had forced Ryan Shazier in and out of the Buckeyes' lineup for a couple of weeks. True freshmen Joshua Perry and Camren Williams were dinged up and unable to practice, and Meyer wasn't comfortable letting fellow freshmen David Perkins and Jamal Marcus play on defense quite yet.

"I'm not a math major, but you're starting to get real thin," Meyer said of the rash of injuries that had depleted his linebacking corps.

With Storm Klein being the only healthy linebacker in the OSU two-deep, Meyer decided to look elsewhere on his roster for help at the position. And his eyes landed on fullback Zach Boren.

A linebacker in high school at Pickerington Central, it had been nearly four years since the last time that Boren lined up on the defensive side of the ball. But with his role diminishing on offense and the Buckeyes' in dire need of help on defense, the OSU captain agreed to make a position switch seven games into his senior season.

"We need a little depth on the linebacker position," Boren said. "Our offense has been well off and we've got a lot of playmakers over there, so he came to me and asked me if I had would make the switch and I had no problem. I'll do whatever it takes for this team to win."

In his defensive debut for the Buckeyes, Boren led the team with eight tackles, but his play was overshadowed by a disastrous collective effort from OSU on that side of the ball. Despite still picking up a win and keeping their undefeated record intact, the Buckeyes surrendered 49 points and 481 yards to an undermanned Indiana squad.

After leading the Hoosiers by 18 points with fewer than four minutes remaining the game, Indiana scored 15 unanswered points against the Buckeyes and was an onside kick attempt away from tying or beating OSU in the final minute of the game. The Buckeyes ultimately held on for a 52-49 victory, but it was clear that the closing minutes of the game left a sour taste in Boren's mouth.

"We just didn't finish. We got a little complacent there at the end," Boren said. "We finally turned it up there at the end when it really mattered to recover the onside kick. We'll get better."

As for his individual performance, the now former fullback admitted that he made a few mistakes on Saturday, but credited OSU co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell with helping him get ready to play his new position on such short notice.

"It's been a long 72 hours," Boren said. "Coach Fickell's been great. Him and I have been staying at the Woody until 9 o'clock at night, I've been coming in early before practices, just trying to learn the whole defense. It's been a long week."

Addressing Boren's status and position moving forward after the game, Meyer remained non-committal. But with Sabino expected to miss at least another three weeks and no freshman having yet to prove himself worthy of playing time, all signs point to Boren's future remaining with the OSU defense.

"I don't think it is. I don't think it is," Meyer said when asked if Boren's playing time at linebacker was a one-time deal. "That's how thin we are at certain spots. I would think that he might stay over there for a little while."



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