Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Miller gives Buckeyes building block at QB
By Adam Rittenberg
Lost amid the chaos of Ohio State's stunning collapse Saturday night in Lincoln -- overshadowed by the second-guessing of Luke Fickell and his staff, the hatred directed toward quarterback Joe Bauserman and the disbelief of what Fickell called "an unbelievable snowball effect" -- was an important fact.
Ohio State found its quarterback. His name is Braxton Miller. He's young, but he's got plenty of game.
Braxton Miller was a catalyst for Ohio State's offense against Nebraska, making plays with his arm and his legs.
Miller would have been the big story Saturday night had the final 23 minutes played out like the first 37. He sparked an Ohio State offense that one week earlier had come 10 seconds away from its first scoreless performance at home since 1982.
Operating in a system that suited his skills and development level, Miller recorded 91 rush yards on 10 carries and completed 5 of 8 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown. Aside from one ill-advised pass and a fumble that triggered Nebraska's rally -- along with Miller's departure from the game with a sprained right ankle -- the freshman had a very solid performance under the circumstances.
"You saw him play with a lot more confidence," Fickell said. "He can throw the football, he understands the game of football, he's getting better each and every week. He's a competitor. You saw him as he gets he hurt, he wants to get back in there. Those are the things you've got to continue to build on."
Ohio State certainly could have used Miller as Bauserman struggled, completing just 1 of 10 pass attempts for a flat-lining offense.
Miller is listed as Ohio State's starter for this week's game at No. 16 Illinois. While Fickell wants to evaluate Miller on the practice field beginning Tuesday, the expectation is that the freshman will play in Champaign.
"Obviously," Fickell said, "Braxton is our quarterback."
It wasn't obvious until Saturday night, as Miller, like Bauserman, struggled in losses to Michigan State and Miami. But Miller came out strong against Nebraska, connecting on four of his first six passes, including a 21-yarder to Corey Brown on his first attempt and a 32-yard scoring strike to Jake Stoneburner.
Miller benefited from having players like Brown and starting left tackle Mike Adams back on the field. Coordinator Jim Bollman's game plan put him in situations where he could succeed, particularly with his legs.
"He played well the other night," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "He's going to be a pretty special player. He's a freshman right now, but he's got a lot of ability. He can run it, he can throw it. He's going to be a heck of a player in time."
Pelini acknowledged after the game that "it helped us, obviously, when Miller went out. Their game plan was built around him."
After the Nebraska loss, much of Buckeye Nation turned its focus to the men behind Miller. Bauserman is listed as Miller's backup on the depth chart, but Fickell said Tuesday that Kenny Guiton will get a closer look this week in practice.
"I'm sure he's waiting for that opportunity to arise," Fickell said of Guiton.
Regardless of who plays second string, Miller gives Ohio State the best chance to upset Illinois on Saturday. The Buckeyes offense regains another big piece as running back Dan Herron, a multiyear starter, returns from suspension.
The big question is how much Miller's ankle will limit him against an aggressive Illini defense led by Whitney Mercilus, the nation's sacks leader (8.5).
"This is a game of momentum, a game of emotion, and we're going to need that [from Miller]," Fickell said. "We're getting ready to go out today and make sure everybody sees him out there."
Illinois coach Ron Zook turned on the Ohio State-Nebraska game Saturday night right around the time of Miller's fumble, but Zook said, "It's not hard to see why they were up three touchdowns."
"He can run, he can throw," Zook added of Miller. "I would assume we're going to see the same thing you saw in the first three quarters of the Nebraska game, and that's a guy who can do it all."