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Ohio State's Steve Miller: Interception prophet

1/5/2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There was no reason to listen to the prediction that kept coming out of Steve Miller's mouth all week.

The Ohio State defensive end had no interceptions in his career, for starters. Semifinal opponent Alabama typically took good care of the football when throwing it, as well, and if anybody was going to help swing the outcome of the Allstate Sugar Bowl on defense for the Buckeyes, Miller might have been among the last guys named.

But there was a hint that maybe the senior was on to something when he snagged a ball that had been tipped in the air during practice leading up to the matchup with the top-ranked Crimson Tide. Miller interpreted that as a sign that he would get his hands on the ball and lead No. 4 Ohio State to the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented By AT&T, and his teammates were left shaking their heads and hailing him as a prophet after his game-changing touchdown.

"That’s true, man, that’s true -- he’s been calling it all week," defensive tackle Adolphus Washington said. "It’s something where he must have had the feeling. He must have watched film and seen something like, 'I’m going to get it.'

"He knew, and he’d been saying it every day."

If the Buckeyes had grown tired of hearing about it from Miller, they won’t question his predictions moving forward as they prepare for Oregon. But from the outside, there was still some reason to look at Miller with something of a skeptical eye heading into the postseason and think about how Ohio State might have looked different up front if Noah Spence had been lining up on the D-line instead of a senior who had never been able to develop into a consistent playmaker during his career.

Miller had certainly been a serviceable contributor throughout the season, and he was never exactly a problem for the Buckeyes thanks to his knowledge of the defense and his perhaps undervalued athleticism. But he had only 6.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a single sack to his credit when he hit the practice field to gear up for the Crimson Tide.

But a ball that popped into the air during workouts and found its way into his hands before the team left for New Orleans gave him a shot of confidence, and a premonition Ohio State would hear plenty about. OSU might never hear the end of it after he dropped into coverage, picked off a pass and returned it 41 yards to give his team a two-score lead in the third quarter on the way to the Buckeyes' historic upset victory.

"After I caught one in bowl practice when we were in Columbus, I just had a feeling like, 'Man, I’m going to get one in the game,'" Miller said. "It just felt amazing. Catching the ball in my hands, I just hoped I wouldn’t drop it.

"I called it all week. I was telling the defensive line I was going to catch the ball and return it for a touchdown, and it came true."

Miller’s personal dream-come-true moment has put the Buckeyes in position to realize a dream as a program in the first title game of the College Football Playoff

era after largely being written off in September.

The loss to Virginia Tech was certainly a big factor in those doubts about Ohio State’s legitimacy as a contender, not to mention the season-ending injury to quarterback Braxton Miller. But the permanent loss of Spence to a second failed drug test was high on the list, as well, not just because of his All-Big Ten status but also because Steve Miller and fellow D-line backup Rashad Frazier were largely unknown commodities as full-time contributors.

But there is no reason to doubt Miller now -- on the field or when he’s talking in the locker room.

"No drop-off at all," Washington said. "In this program, the motto is 'next guy up.' So when Noah was done, we knew Steve could go. Steve has played in games before, and there was no drop-off at all.

"He has been here four years; he knows what it takes."

Miller also seemed to know what was coming last week, an interception that surprised everybody but him and the Buckeyes, who believed him.