Boren fills hole at linebacker
Senior's move to defense doesn't appear to be temporary
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Walking out to the practice field last Tuesday, Urban Meyer was doing some simple calculations about his lack of depth at linebacker when he caught a glimpse of his fullback.
All it took was one request of the offensive captain and the Ohio State coach suddenly had a new veteran presence on defense.
That conversation before practice was by an impressive set of practices that suggested the Buckeyes might have stumbled onto an answer with Zach Boren filling in for an injury-depleted unit. From there, the senior moved on through a crash course learning the defense in the hours leading up to Saturday's trip to Indiana, and there wasn't much time for anybody involved to think about the move.
"I'm not a math major, but we're starting to get real thin," Meyer said. "Zach is a guy that I just was jogging out to practice and I had this horrible gut feeling that we had to get some experience, a veteran guy over there to help us out. He jumped right at it and really changed practice on Tuesday just with his energy. He's an all-for-one, one-for-all kind of guy.
"Very unselfish move for him, and I've just got to see where we are when we get back. I would think he might stay over there for a while."
Should the switch become a long-term solution, it will come at the expense of an offense that has rallied behind Boren's leadership over the last few weeks, with his hard-nosed blocking and ability to pick up tough yardage when necessary. But that appears to be an exchange Meyer can live with for the moment.
The Buckeyes obviously don't have quite the same shortage of playmakers in the spread offense after cruising again on the ground thanks to the combination of Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde running for 305 yards, while Boren was busy making an instant impact by leading the defense with eight tackles.
While one notable missed tackle by Boren in the fourth quarter helped produce a touchdown for the Hoosiers during their late rally, there wasn't much the Buckeyes could complain about. He only had a few days to prepare for a completely new set of responsibilities for a team trying to stay undefeated.
"It's been a long 72 hours," Boren said. "[Defensive coordinator Luke] Fickell has been great, him and I have been staying at the [practice facility] until 9 at night, I've been coming in early for practice just to try to learn the whole defense.
"I made some mistakes out there tonight ... but it was fun. We needed a little depth at the linebacker position, and our offense has been well off. We've got a lot of playmakers over there, so coach Meyer came to me and asked if I would switch. I had no problem; I'll do whatever it takes for this team to win."
With senior starter Etienne Sabino still out for at least two more weeks with a fractured bone in his leg and a handful of other linebackers slightly dinged up as well, it's likely going to take more defensive work for Boren if the Buckeyes are going to come up with another victory on Saturday at home against Purdue.
This week his time might not be quite so compressed as Boren prepares for a second game in his new role, which could help him get more comfortable and build on that steady debut. But his teammates might still need a few more days to get used to seeing him lined up elsewhere, just as Boren stands to benefit from the extra practice.
"He's a great player, so I kind of expected that," wide receiver Jake Stoneburner said. "But that was weird, man, not having him on our side.
"He's the leader of the offense, and it was weird not seeing him."
Until the other unit no longer needs him to make the math right, though, that's likely where Boren will have to stay.
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