BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The biggest surprise Ohio State sprung Saturday perhaps shouldn’t have been one at all.
When Zach Boren took the field as a linebacker on the Buckeyes’ second defensive possession, a measure of order was restored to the senior captain’s world.
Never mind that Boren has served as Ohio State’s starting fullback the last four seasons. The Pickerington native came to Columbus as a linebacker like his father, Mike, who became the sixth all-time leading tackler at Michigan, and the itch never went away. When injuries depleted the Buckeyes’ linebackers last year, Boren even volunteered to help.
Saturday, he finally got his shot.
In an indictment on Ohio State’s defensive depth — and a show of faith in a senior leader — Boren dashed onto the field with Indiana pinned at its 8-yard line in the first quarter. Playing alongside sophomore Ryan Shazier in the nickel package, he dove onto the pile on a short first-down run before Hoosiers quarterback Cameron Coffman misfired on consecutive passes. Boren rejoined the defense several series later.
OSU coach Urban Meyer was searching for any help he could after losing senior Etienne Sabino for at least three weeks with a broken fibula. Freshman Josh Perry — one of six underclassmen among OSU’s top seven linebackers — was listed atop the depth chart. But coaches clearly preferred a veteran presence. With the Buckeyes primarily in their nickel defense, they rotated Klein and Boren in with Shazier in the first half.
The switch from fullback to linebacker — or vice versa — was not without precedent.
In 1997, All-American linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer made a cameo at fullback against Iowa.
Could Boren become the Buckeyes’ first two-way regular since Chris Gamble played receiver and defensive back in 2002 and 2003?
Doubtful, but Boren would not be one to argue.
"I kind of brought the linebacker attitude to fullback," he said earlier this year. "I was just going to go out and hit someone."
WILLIAMS OUT: The star-crossed career of Nathan Williams continues.
The fifth-year senior defensive end did not travel with the team after suffering a concussion last Saturday against Nebraska. Sophomore Steve Miller started in his place.
Williams said he was just starting to feel like his old self after returning from microfracture knee surgery that cost him last season. He recently regained his starting edge spot opposite of John Simon and had 19 tackles and a sack in five games.
Now, he is the latest visitor to the infirmary on a team that is suddenly reeling from injuries.
The Buckeyes on Saturday were also down a pair of starters on their greenhorn kick coverage team.
Cornerbacks Najee Murray and Armani Reeves — two of seven freshmen on the unit known as the “piranhas” — both missed the trip. Murray is out for the year with a torn ACL while Reeves sat with a sprained ankle.
EXTRA POINTS: Meyer was positioned Saturday to become just the third coach since 1946 to start 7-0 at a Big Ten school. Earle Bruce opened his tenure at Ohio State with 11 straight wins in 1979 while Michigan’s Bennie Oosterbaan went 9-0 in 1948. … The Buckeyes took a detour en route to Bloomington. With no suitable hotels in the campus area, they stayed in Indianapolis on Friday night before busing the 60 miles south to Bloomington on Saturday. Meyer said the school had a helicopter scout the route from the hotel to Memorial Stadium to “make sure we get there on time.” … Senior safety C.J. Barnett started after missing the last three games with a high ankle sprain.