COLUMBUS — It was early Sunday morning, and Ohio State’s locker room rocked with excitement when suddenly the players quieted.
Senior linebacker Etienne Sabino, who was carted off the sideline early in the Buckeyes’ 63-38 win over Nebraska and now walked with a stiff limp, had something to say.
“He was hurting,” coach Urban Meyer said. “He talked to the team, and it was an emotional moment. This team's getting pretty close because of guys like him. We're going to miss him.”
Sabino, the Buckeyes’ third-leading tackler, will be sidelined for at least three games with a broken fibula, dealing what Meyer on Monday called a “tremendous blow.”
A week after eighth-ranked OSU (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) lost one senior captain — running back Jordan Hall suffered a partially torn PCL against Michigan State — the absence of another will further test a team already short on depth.
Sabino, who had 37 tackles and two sacks, will be replaced by freshman Josh Perry — one of six underclassmen among the Buckeyes' top seven linebackers.
The unit offers a snapshot of Ohio State’s thin margin for error. With only 76 active scholarship players and 24 first-year players, the Buckeyes are less equipped than usual to withstand key injuries. Meyer, for instance, lauds his starting offensive line but said "God bless us" if one of them breaks a shoelace.
"We're going to call timeout and get a new shoe string because we just don't have the depth there right now,” Meyer said.
As the Buckeyes begin the second half of the season at Indiana this weekend, he said "the stakes are real high."
"My biggest concern is like every team in America you're dealing 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."
APOLOGY ACCEPTED: Meyer said there was an irony to quarterback Cardale Jones’ post on Twitter last week questioning why football players should have to attend class.
“He does go to class, in case people wondered,” he said. “We checked. He’s actually a heck of a kid. It kind of surprised me.”
Meyer suspended Jones for Saturday’s game against Nebraska, but said the third-string freshman from Cleveland was “very apologetic.”
“That's a 19-year-old making an ignorant comment, which makes him one of about 460 million,” he said. “So we're moving on.”
BAD DUDES: Early in Meyer’s tenure at OSU, he called the offensive line “nonfunctional.”
“They are dudes,” he said.
The Buckeyes’ front five cemented that status with a second straight manhandling performance Saturday. Behind a line that returns only one starter playing the same position as last year, OSU rushed for a combined 575 yards against Michigan State and Nebraska.
“Right now, this is as good as I’ve felt about an offensive line in a while,” Meyer said. “They're really playing well.”
At the top of the list is left tackle Jack Mewhort, who earned “champion” status against the Huskers for not allowing a single quarterback pressure. The St. John’s Jesuit graduate also had five knockdowns.
“He’s playing very well for us,” Meyer said. “I love what he stands for.”
SCOREBOARD WATCHING: Ohio State’s beatdown of Nebraska was not the only game Saturday that left Meyer feeling good.
He perhaps gained a measure of vindication with Florida‘s 14-6 victory over then No. 4 LSU. While one Florida columnist has repeatedly claimed the former UF coach left the “cupboard bare” when he left Gainesville after the 2010 season, the Gators are now 5-0 and ranked fourth nationally with a team largely recruited by Meyer.
“I don't want to get into all that ‘cupboard is bare’ talk because that's one man's opinion,” Meyer said. “We've got to move on. I'm very proud of those guys. Love those guys.”
MILLER HONORED: Braxton Miller was named the Davey O’Brien national quarterback of the week. The sophomore accounted for more than 300 yards — including 186 rushing — against the Huskers.