Sabino finished with eight tackles with two quarterback hurries, a sack and a pass breakup. One of the hurries came in a clutch situation. With the Spartans facing a third-and-9 at its 32 with a little more than four minutes remaining, Sabino came on a delayed blitz and forced quarterback Andrew Maxwell into an errant pass. Michigan State then punted – and never got the ball back.
Sabino was named by Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer as the team's defensive player of the game, and the fifth-year senior said it was his best collegiate effort.
"I felt great out there," Sabino said. "I felt like I played pretty well."
Sabino has not had the career many thought he would have since he arrived in Columbus a five-star recruit from Miami Dr. Krop. The 6-3, 237-pound strongside linebacker played in 39 games through his first four years as a Buckeye but has been a late bloomer. Sabino even took a redshirt season in 2010 when he failed to earn a starting spot after playing in 2008 and 2009.
He started all 13 games last season and made 62 tackles with eight stops in three games – vs. Toledo, Miami (Fla.) and Michigan. Sabino also finished last season on a high note by earning Gator Bowl team MVP honors after making four tackles, including two for loss against Florida.
This season, Sabino is second on the team with 36 tackles through the first give games. He has two sacks, an interception, three pass breakups, four pass deflections, two quarterback hurries and a forced fumble. More importantly, he was elected a team captain by his fellow Buckeyes prior to the season and his leadership has caught Meyer's eye.
"It's hard for me to say he's not my favorite player on this team," the first-year OSU head coach said.
Meyer went on to add that he did not know until recently that Sabino had not been a bigger contributor for Ohio State in previous years, saying the senior has "been a classic underachiever."
"Now he's a leader," Meyer said. "He's a grown man. I have conversations with him like I would a coach. I listen to him. I usually don't listen a lot, but then I listen to him.
"He also plays his best game against a team like (Michigan State). That just shows you his growth."
Sabino, the elder statesman among the linebackers, said his personality meshes well with Meyer's.
"The thing with Coach Meyer is honesty," Sabino said. "He really likes that, and I keep it real with him. He keeps it real with me. I think he respects that. We have that respect for each other, and I think it's helping us."
Sabino has been affectionately called "grandpa" in the linebackers room at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and has put in the effort in working with his "grandsons." The group struggled during nonconference play but had its best effort against the Spartans. In addition to Sabino's performance, weakside linebacker Ryan Shazier added an eight-tackle afternoon with a quarterback hurry.
Sabino is trying to mold the rest of the linebackers like other did with him when he first came to Ohio State. He credited many of his fellow LBs with helping him adjust to college life on and off the field, especially James Laurinaitis.
"Like we say, this is a sacred brotherhood," Sabino said." We spend so much time together. You get to learn a lot about each other. The young guys really do look up to the older guys. … They need an older guy to lean on, and that's our job."
It has taken Sabino longer than he expected to become an integral part of the Ohio State football team, but that fact does not bother him.
"Sometimes things don't pan out as fast as you want them to happen, but it's not about where you start, it's where you finish," Sabino said. "That's my motto."