Ohio State is preparing for its trip to Wisconsin in good health and with good feelings after a week off.
The sixth-ranked Buckeyes will put their perfect record on the line with a full lineup of linebacker thanks to the expected return of Etienne Sabino, a senior who missed the previous four games while recovering from a broken leg.
“I can't tell you what percent he's at, but he's in the starting lineup for the game,” head coach Urban Meyer said Monday during his weekly press luncheon.
With the Buckeyes expecting to play their base 4-3 defense for much of the game in Madison on Saturday night, Sabino will return to his spot at strong-side or Sam linebacker while classmate Zach Boren mans the middle and sophomore Ryan Shazier patrols the weak side.
Boren moved from fullback after Sabino’s injury, so this will be the first time the trio plays together in scarlet and gray. Storm Klein, another senior who has battled a disc issue in his back, is also expected to see some time with Wisconsin prepared to test the Buckeyes’ manhood with its rejuvenated power running game.
Better health at linebacker should also be good for the special teams, as will the return of Armani Reeves, a freshman cornerback who has missed four games with a sprained ankle.
“Armani Reeves is coming back as the left ‘missile’ of the kickoff team. Very valuable player,” said Meyer, who acknowledged some concern about his special teams given the problems they have faced throughout the season and the way the Badgers jumped on the Buckeyes with a kickoff return for a touchdown in 2010, the last time the teams tangled in Camp Randall Stadium.
Ohio State’s head coach also sounded optimistic about the return of junior center Corey Linsley (lower leg) and senior safety Orhian Johnson (shoulder), both of whom left the Buckeyes’ last game with injuries. Linsley was hurt early but later returned to the 52-22 win over Illinois on Nov. 3. Johnson missed the second half.
“Linsley is still banged up,” Meyer said. “We hope to get him full speed by Wednesday. He practiced today. Orhian Johnson was dinged a little in the game. He's good to go today. On the injury front, it the been pretty positive.”
The only notable exception was freshman running back Bri’onte Dunn, who sprained an MCL during practice last week. Meyer declared him out for the Wisconsin game and called him questionable for the season finale against Michigan on Nov. 24.
“He was doing good in practice,” Meyers said.
Overall, he expressed confidence in how his team handled its first week without a game since the preseason.
“The number one thing to worry about is that phone call, everyone driving home to families and doing something ignorant on a Friday or Saturday night,” Meyer said. "?My comment was, ‘If it's going to help us win our 11th game, do it and do it a lot. If it's not, don't do it.’
“They came back bright eyed. That's the number one thing you worry about, when they go home. It's great, especially for local guys, to go home to their families. We really encourage that, go to their high school game and all that fun stuff.”
The Badgers enter the game 7-3 and winners of four of their last five. They trail Ohio State by two games in the Big Ten Leaders division but have already clinched a trip to the second annual Big Ten championship game because the Buckeyes and Penn State are ineligible for postseason play thanks to NCAA sanctions.
Ohio State has clinched a share of the division title and can claim the crown outright with one more win or one more Wisconsin loss in the regular season.
“If we win this game, then we win it,” Meyer said. “That will be brought up. That's real important to us.”
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