COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Lessons from No. 4 Ohio State's 31-24 win over No. 23 Wisconsin to open Big Ten play on Saturday night at the Horseshoe.
Miller's arm is better than ever. The Buckeyes needed his legs to be functioning fully again before putting Braxton Miller back on the field. But once that was out of the way, the junior quarterback quickly reminded everybody why the coaching staff had been raving about his improvements as a passer before his knee injury robbed him of three games outside of the league to prove it. Miller's back-shoulder throw to Devin Smith for a 26-yard touchdown was a pass he probably couldn't have made a year ago, and it was delivered with the perfect accuracy and strength -- only Smith could have made a play on it. Miller also was willing to step up in the pocket and wait for routes to develop on a couple crucial third downs, and while his decision-making still isn't perfect, he's becoming even more well rounded and dangerous.
The front seven passed the test. There's plenty of football left, but it might be safe at this point to consider the rebuilding project on defense a success in the trenches. Adolphus Washington returned from a groin injury to wreak some havoc in the backfield with Michael Bennett and Noah Spence, generating an effective pass rush and largely shutting down Wisconsin's powerful rushing attack. Bennett was credited with the only sack among the linemen, but Washington forced an errant throw that was intercepted by Bradley Roby and Spence was a real pain for the Badgers off the edge at times. Another tough examination is coming up on Saturday at Northwestern, but the Buckeyes appear to be well equipped for it.
The secondary is going to need some attention. Roby snagged an interception and broke up three passes at cornerback, but he and the defensive backs had more communication issues pop up against the Badgers that looked similar to a few they had against California a couple weeks ago. Giving up 295 passing yards to a run-first team with only one real target at wide receiver won't make the defensive coaching staff all that happy, and losing senior safety Christian Bryant to a fractured ankle only complicates matters for a unit that was expected to be the strength of the defense. The Buckeyes did execute a game plan that limited Wisconsin's effectiveness on the ground, and that obviously had to be a priority against Melvin Gordon and James White. But there are some kinks to be worked out against the pass that will be more difficult to do without Bryant's skill and experience.