Thursday, January 2, 2014
A 'legacy game' for Braxton Miller, too
By Brian Bennett
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Braxton Miller had a pretty uneventful New Year's Eve.
He went to the mall. Bought a new T-shirt. The most excitement he had was watching Johnny Manziel go nuts in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Duke.
If this is his final game with the Buckeyes, Braxton Miller hopes to make it a memorable one.
"He was ballin'," Miller said Wednesday. "He's a baller. That's how you go out there for your last game of the season."
Manziel's performance -- 455 total yards and five total touchdowns -- couldn't help but inspire his Ohio State counterpart as Miller gets ready for Friday's Discover Orange Bowl against Clemson.
"Everybody is going to be watching so you've got to be prepared to go out there and have fun with it," Miller said. " That's what he was doing. He was having fun."
And like Manziel, Miller could possibly be playing his final college game this bowl season. The junior says he'll decide a few days after the Orange Bowl whether he'll head to the NFL early. He hasn't given any indications of where he's leaning yet, but he said last month that he was getting tired of taking hits as a runner and that he understands Ohio State loses four starting offensive linemen next season.
Sure, in some ways, Miller has already built quite a legacy for himself. He's the back-to-back Big Ten offensive player of the year. He has led the Buckeyes to a 24-1 record the past two seasons, including a perfect 12-0 season in 2012. He has beaten Michigan twice in three tries. Unlike Boyd, there were never really questions about whether Miller could win the big game early in his career, as he showed a preternatural ability to come through in clutch moments, like his game-winning touchdown pass to beat Wisconsin as a true freshman.
But Miller also plays for Ohio State, a place that aims for nothing less than championships and huge bowl victories. That's where Miller's portfolio could use some help.
Because of probation, he has played in only one bowl game -- the 2012 TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl vs. Florida. The Buckeyes lost that game 24-17. Miller played decently, throwing for 162 yards and two touchdowns, but it was in an offensive slog that characterized much of his freshman year.
Miller has led the Buckeyes to two Leaders Division titles, but of course he lost the Big Ten championship game against Michigan State last month. He ran for 142 yards and two scores but went only 8-of-21 for 101 yards through the air, failed to complete a pass in the fourth quarter and got stuffed on a crucial fourth-and-2 running play. It was one of the few times where he didn't come through late in a crucial game.
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Ohio State will need much more than that from its leader against Clemson, especially given the state of its defense right now. He understands that. Teammates said they have noticed Miller taking on a bigger leadership role lately.
"He's definitely been getting on us a little bit more than he has usually," center Corey Linsley said. "You definitely hear his presence more than you have in the past."
"You've got to get guys going," Miller said. "Guys get lazy at times, you've got to pick them up. As the leader I am, I just tell 'em to keep going."
Whether Miller will be staying or going becomes an immediate focus after the game. Head coach Urban Meyer said Thursday he has no idea which way that process will go.
"He's not there yet, but the ceiling is pretty high," Meyer said. "And it's a special place not many guys can go, [but] because he's got just incredible ability, quick release, and fundamentally, when he's on, he's on. So we just need to keep pushing that envelope."
Maybe Miller returns and shoots for a third straight Big Ten offensive MVP trophy, perhaps even a spot in the College Football Playoff. But if this is his last game at Ohio State, he can put himself in the discussion of all-time Buckeyes greats with a memorable final performance.