The Boren Identity

By Kyle Rowland on October 15, 2012 at 10:00a

Tuesdays at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center are the kind of days Ohio State football players would rather forget. The second day of the workweek for the Buckeyes isn’t a nice ease your way into the week kind of day. Instead, it’s known as Bloody Tuesday, an afternoon full of intense, full-contact drills. 

A shift to defense didn't stop Boren from leading his unit. 

After a while, the grind and wear and tear of a football season becomes a blur for players. But Tuesday, October 9 will be an easy day for Zach Boren to recall. Midway through his senior season, the Ohio State captain was moved from fullback, a position he’s excelled at as a four-year starter, to linebacker.

When fellow captain and linebacker Etienne Sabino crumpled to the Ohio Stadium turf against Nebraska with a broken fibula, an already thin and underperforming position became even more magnified. Joshua Perry filled in for Sabino, but he was a non-factor much of the game.

Sensing that the defense needed a spark, head coach Urban Meyer opted for a fresh infusion of new blood. So he went to one of the toughest guys on the team and asked if a position switch was possible. Boren didn’t hesitate and traded in a scarlet jersey for a white one.

“I just was jogging out to practice and I had this horrible gut feeling that we had to get some experience – a veteran guy that could help us out,” Meyer said.  “(Zach) 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.”

Ninety-six hours later, Boren became the first Ohio State player to see extensive playing time on both offense and defense in the same season since Chris Gamble was a staple at wide receiver and cornerback in 2002 and 2003.

And, like Gamble, Boren didn’t just make a brief appearance; he was on the field for more than 30 plays and led the Buckeyes with eight tackles.

“It’s been a long (week),” Boren said. “(Defensive coordinator Luke) Fickell has been great. We’ve been staying at the Woody until 9 at night. I’ve been coming in early for practice just to try to learn the whole defense.

“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.”

Boren played in reserve of Storm Klein, who wasn’t even on the team when the season began, at middle linebacker and alongside Ryan Shazier. Ohio State used its nickel package almost exclusively.

Being a veteran helped, as did previous linebacker experience – during his senior season at Pickerington, Boren was Ohio’s defensive player of the year – though it came four years ago. Boren has been a part of thousands of plays against the defense in practice over the past four seasons, and Fickell being on the staff all four years contributed to a familiarity. A quick, four-day crash course of the defensive playbook was still in store, though. It was as if Boren was cramming for a final exam.

Injuries on an already thin roster concern Meyer. 

The possibility of Boren playing both ways, and specifically at linebacker, has nearly come to fruition the past two seasons. Boren himself wanted to make the switch in 2010 after Ross Homan was injured. It was thought to be a possibility again last season when Andrew Sweat suffered a severe concussion in November, leaving the Buckeyes’ prospects at linebacker bleak. But alas, it didn’t occur in either occasion.

“I made some mistakes out there tonight,” Boren said. “But it was fun.”

The most glaring miscue on Boren’s part came late in the fourth quarter on an Indiana touchdown when he was out of position to make the tackle. But he wasn’t alone in that category. Once again, the defense was picked apart by a pass-heavy offense. Ohio State allowed 481 yards – 352 through the air – and its most points in 18 seasons. Wide receiver Shane Wynn and running back Stephen Houston combined for 228 total yards and four touchdowns.

One look at the injury report – and success, or lack thereof, on defense – suggests that Boren’s stay at linebacker won’t be a short-lived experiment. Sabino is out two to three more weeks and the ballyhooed group of freshmen linebackers has been uninspiring in the season’s first seven games.

Jamal Marcus has the most tackles – six – among the five newcomers, but his production has come as a member of the piranha kickoff coverage unit. The rest of the group has combined to make eight tackles. Luke Roberts has not recorded a tackle.

“I’m not a math major, but we’re starting to get real thin," Meyer said. “Very unselfish move for (Boren). I’ve just got to see where we are when we get back. I would think he might stay over there for a while.

“We’re ripped to shreds in certain areas.”

He may not see the ball much, at least prior to this season, but Boren’s role on offense should not be understated. Since his freshman season in 2009, he’s played a leading role as a blocker, opening up holes for 1,000-yard rusher Boom Herron and dynamic quarterbacks Terrelle Pryor and Braxton Miller.

Finally, though, in the first six games of his final year in Columbus, Boren was becoming involved in playmaking. He has career highs in every offensive statistic – 11 rushes for 33 yards and two touchdowns, and five receptions for 42 yards. In his absence on offense Saturday, tight end Jeff Heuerman lined up at H-Back part of the night and helped open up holes for Ohio State’s ground game.

Boren developed into one of the top blocking backs in the country. But Ohio State did fine without him against the Hoosiers. Miller and running back Carlos Hyde each tallied more than 100 yards rushing – and more than 300 yards combined – the first time in 37 years and just the fifth in school history that the Buckeyes have had two 100-yards rushers in back-to-back games. Ohio State also had its season high total yardage output with 578 yards.

Where Boren, perhaps, is missed the most on offense is on the sideline and inside the huddle. In the Buckeyes’ consecutive wins over ranked opponents Michigan State and Nebraska, Meyer called Boren’s leadership some of the best he’s seen as a college head coach.

“It was cool to see one of our leaders out there doing everything for the team,” cornerback Bradley Roby said.

Production and leadership come in all shapes and sizes, regardless of whether you play offense or defense – or both.


Comments Show All Comments

Earle's picture

Waiting for Zach to make some really big hits at LB so we can start calling him "Natural Boren Killer"

Have you tried Not Your Father's Root Beer?  It tastes just like the real thing, but it packs a punch (5.9%ABV).  It's a little sweet for me though.  Two is my limit.

painterlad's picture

I doubt there are any better posts on this thread than this. Well done.

To err is human. Really sucking requires having yellow stripes on your helmet.

carence's picture

Would love to see what a LB Boren would look like with 4 years on defense.

Oben_Where's picture

I never thought I would say this a couple of years ago, but Zach Boren is my favorite college football player.

ccollins0325's picture

I noticed after the IU blocked the punt, it seemed that Meyer turned to Boren to see what went wrong. The kid has shown a lot of leadership this season.
He has been a beast on the offesive side, and hopefully he will continue to do well filling in on defense.

Kyle Rowland's picture

The ball was actually snapped when Boren was counting to see how many men were on the field. 

carence's picture

Good to know, because it takes me 13 seconds to count to 11. I'm just messing with you K-Rizzle!

causeicouldntgo43's picture

Let's hope this turns out to be one of the most interesting and inspirational stories in college football this season. Meyer understands that just having Boren in the huddle can make a difference.....Admittedly, having to turn to the fullback to be one of your linebackers is not a good thing, but damn - this is why we love college football. How many coaches would have the stones to even try this?

osubuckeye4life's picture

I completely agree on your post. I'm really pulling for Boren to be successful on D and it seems with his past and the fact he led the team in tackles this is very possible
As far as how many coaches would have the stones to even try this? 
It seems like this an example where Meyer and Bellichek are very similar. 

dubjayfootball90's picture

Boren had a nice hit close to the goal line to stop a touchdown, popped him good and forced the ball out. Too bad it was fumbled out of bounds... That hit got me amped.

You can feed a bobcat all the chili it wants. That don't mean it's going to crap out diamonds.

GABuckeye's picture

Anyone know when they are replaying this game on TV?  

QBYBuckeye's picture

I don't know who "they" are, but I've watched it twice (already) on my DVR ...  LOL

New York Buckeye

Run_Fido_Run's picture

You're a better man than I am.

osubuckeye4life's picture

Thankfully, there was enough great offense to at least enjoy that part.

GABuckeye's picture

BTN really would be the only station to play it again where I live I guess...

carence's picture

I just re-watch the Nebraska game to make me feel better! :)

AltaBuck's picture

Hey can watch it via streaming on B1G to go. It's free depending on your cable or satellite provider.

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thatlillefty's picture

thanks ALTABUCK... forgot to DVR the game myself

JJB's picture

Unfortunately my Cable provider isn't on the list of big ten to go. They replayed the OSU game at 3 am Sunday, and then saw fit to replay UM vs Ill 3 times during "normal" Sunday hours. WTF.

Denny's picture

Probably not the 'refreshed role' that everyone was alluding to in the offseason, but it's great to have a guy willing to make the switch at moment's notice like that.


TheHannimal's picture

This move to linebacker has all the symptoms of a future Patriots 6th round draft pick...then they'll turn him into an all pro LB.
Also, perfect fodder for Urban to tell future teams about doing whatever the team needs.  These stories are so much better than Buckeyes getting arrested.

Buckeyejason's picture

No ones going to draft him as a LB. He's been an All-Amercan caliber fullback for 3 1/2 years. He's way to slow to be drafted as a LB. 


Doc's picture

Zach is a true Buckeye, and just think he could be wearing Sun and Blue right now.  I'm sure he'll get better each week.  This defense needs a good kick in the pants, here's hoping it's Boren.

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CALPOPPY's picture

+1 for sun and blue. Hadn't seen that lately. Ha-ha color trademarks.

I'm a hurtin' buckaroo.

QBYBuckeye's picture

I just hope the Defense takes on Zach's identity and not the other way around.

New York Buckeye

hodge's picture

Thanks, Rich Rodriguez.  Had you offered Zach, the entire "erosion" of family values probably wouldn't have caused big brother Justin to leave, and our man Flint Zach to play for the good guys.  That Boren family's one hell of a pipeline, I--for one--am really glad that we kind of "lucked" into it.

HSBDAWG's picture

The question is how do you become a legend without touching the ball look at what and how Boren goes about his time on the team and that is how legends are made. THIS IS A GUY THAT SAY TEAM FOOTBALL  and not what about me!

Buckeyejason's picture

^ I agree. It's hard not to love Boren!


timdogdad's picture

the coaches should yell:  how is going for the espn highlight hit working out? instead of tackling correctly.  and same with angles,etc.  49 pts has to be a wake up call.  just limit that stuff and hold a team to the mid 20's and we'll be fine because we'll be  racing to mid 40's of points or more.   

Justanut's picture

Thank you Zach Boren for being a totally unselfish young man and willing to help your(our) team anyway you can! I look forward to watching you make big plays Saturday against Purdue!

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

I think Boren is an excellent example, case in point, of why our defensive problems do not lie with the coaches.

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NC_Buckeye's picture

I agree Opti. The fact that Boren and Fickell crammed the defensive playbook so that Boren would be ready for Sat says a lot. Boren, apparently, is someone who has the mental abilities to make correct decisions on defense.
Maybe the fact that Boren is getting more tackles than them will shock Shazier and Curtis Grant into re-thinking what they're doing in the backfield. Think guys, don't just react.

QBYBuckeye's picture

The key is to be so prepared that your reactions are informed. While the play is happening, you don't have time to think.  Those who think during a game are always playing slow and two steps behind.

New York Buckeye

daytonbuckeye's picture

@kyle- Will you be writing the other two pieces of the trilogy? I will be waiting for the Boren Supremacy one.

3 85 yards and a cloud of dust.

JLP36's picture

Nathan Williams to LB.  He will play LB in the NFL.  We have 700 DEs.  Has been playing it in half of the schemes anyway and seems to have an ability to run and hit the ball carrier.
Still can't understand why young LBs are struggling so much.  Many teams are doing far more with far less potential.  Same LB coach has produced an incredible string of great LBs.


Buckeye_Mafia's picture

I actually think Boren would flourish MORE if he was able to play iron man football.  He doesn't strike me as s dude that wears down.  His stamina has got to be great...losing him as a lead blocker is kinda sad.  I enjoy watching him blow people up at the line of scrimmage...

"At critical moments throughout the season, we learned about the character of this football team.  This was a team of true character, of true resilience." -- President Barack Obama

osubuckeye4life's picture

If Zach keeps up the great work and improves his D play, we'll need a #44 jersey. 
This guy is awesome!
I'm so glad we got Justin from TTUN and started this pipe line. I can't wait to see Jacoby on the field.
Thank you Mr. and Mrs. Boren for rasing such amazing young men.