Miller, O-line face stiff test

After yielding nine sacks to Spartans in 2011, protection will be key

Updated: September 28, 2012, 3:57 AM ET
By Austin Ward | BuckeyeNation

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The benefits are obvious.

A mobile quarterback can turn a potential tackle for a loss into a big gain.

Elusiveness in the pocket can downgrade a sack allowed into merely a pressure on the stat sheet for an offensive lineman.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesOhio State will have to do a better job of keeping Braxton Miller upright if it hopes to avenge last year's loss to Michigan State.
And extending a passing play can open up acres of space down the field for receivers as the pass coverage eventually wears down.

Having a dual-threat weapon taking the snaps, though, can come with one critical caveat -- a quarterback that doesn't have much experience handling the heat and relies too much on his athleticism can lead to problems for everybody else on the offense.

Braxton Miller might have learned that lesson the hard way during his first significant test leading Ohio State a year ago, and Michigan State came away with a win and nine sacks to prove it. But one year later, the Buckeyes don't see anything but positives from Miller's scrambling ability as they open Big Ten play looking for a little revenge.

"No [negative], not with our guy," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "I think when he was younger, and if you panic and you start bailing on the pocket, that can be a challenge for the offensive line. But, no, I don't see any negative.

"Maybe when you're a young player and you just start panicking, but he's not doing that. I think any time you've got a guy who can get you out of trouble, that's an advantage, not a disadvantage."

The Buckeyes have certainly used Miller to their favor early in the season, watching him use his incredible acceleration and an array of jukes, spins and stiff-arms both by design as a rusher and when things break down through the air.

For the most part, the offensive line has done a decent job keeping Miller out of situations that test his set of skills, and Ohio State also has built in rollouts and play-action passes that take advantage of his mobility and his accuracy throwing on the move. But the protection hasn't been completely perfect and Miller hasn't always escaped unscathed, with the Buckeyes allowing seven sacks in four nonconference games. The Spartans are more than capable of putting them both to the test with the Big Ten's best total defense.

"I think we've improved every game," right tackle Reid Fragel said. "I'm not sure what the stats are with sacks or anything like that, but just watching the film this weekend after the game I think we were pretty happy with what we had coming at us with blitz packages and stuff they were throwing at us."

Blitzing or not, despite posting just three sacks in four games so far this season, the Spartans proved last season they could get after the passer. And many of those same talented defenders are back -- including defensive end William Gholston and linebacker Max Bullough, who both had sacks in the win at Ohio Stadium.

Miller is back for another round as well, and this time he has much more experience to draw from if he has to make a break for it.

"He definitely evades some sacks that most quarterbacks wouldn't be able to," Fragel said. "You never know, I mean, the play is never done with that guy. He makes plays happen out of nothing, but that's not a bad thing by any means to hold your block a little bit longer for him when you see him running down the field for 40 yards and spinning off two tackles, making a play.

"That's definitely not a bad thing."

Austin Ward | email

Ohio State/Big Ten reporter