He can run, but he can't slide

Miller's competitive nature hinders his ability to slide in face of trouble

Updated: November 4, 2012, 11:49 AM ET
By Austin Ward | BuckeyeNation

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Maybe it's the internal conflict between fighting for extra yards and conceding a few to stay healthy.

Perhaps practicing a good slide isn't high on the priority list.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller, Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, Mike Hull
Rich Barnes/US PresswireSliding isn't exactly something that Braxton Miller is comfortable with.
Either way, for all the marvelous things Braxton Miller does on the field with his singular athleticism, there's one part of his game that looks a bit disjointed and uncomfortable. But when the Ohio State sophomore's instincts are telling him to stay up, it stands to reason that going down on his own wouldn't come naturally.

"Oh my gosh, man, I need to practice on that and I'll be all right," Miller said. "You know, after taking some unnecessary hits, I learned from it. Coaches told me and I watched film, and I was like, 'I don't know why I stay standing up, I might as well slide instead of trying to get extra yards and get hit.'

"But after one, [running back] Carlos [Hyde] was like, 'Are you all right on that slide?'"

If Miller is going to hurt himself by going to the ground, that would be counterproductive for the Buckeyes. And if he gives himself up before picking up a first down like he did late in the win last week against Penn State, that's also not much use to an offense that will continue to rely on his mobility to move the chains and generate points.

But Ohio State also is well aware that it needs the focal point of its spread attack healthy if it's going to continue the run toward perfection with three games remaining, starting on Saturday at home against Illinois. After Miller's injury scare against Purdue that resulted in a trip to the hospital and brief absences for medical attention in three consecutive games prior to that, it seemed quite clear that he was told to exercise a bit more caution with his body as a runner.

That can be a delicate balancing act for a guy who carried 25 times against the Nittany Lions and seemed to be wrestling with his competitive nature and the need to nurture his body when it was time to make a decision on whether to slide.

"There's another type of player, the one that doesn't have that competitive spirit," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "Teaching that tiger to bite, it's harder to teach him to bite and it's a little easier to teach it when to bite.

"There's nothing else a coach would rather coach than a competitor that you have to pull him out a little bit and say 'Don't force things and don't try to win the game every play'. I've coached the guys where you say, 'Hey, try to win the game once in a while.' Those guys aren't really the kind of guys you want leading your team."

The toughness Miller has shown throughout the season has only enhanced the confidence and faith the rest of the Buckeyes have in him, particularly after he bounced back from the vicious hit that gave him whiplash and a sore neck after the Purdue game two weeks ago.

Even while at times showing a more conservative approach with the ball in his hands, Miller still ran for 134 yards and a couple of touchdowns against the Nittany Lions and typically knew all the right moments when it was wise to get down. There was one notable exception though, and Miller also left a little room for improvement on his landing.

"[Offensive coordinator Tom] Herman is in charge of the sliding, especially when you come up a yard short of the first down at the end of the game," Meyer joked. "I think Tom is doing a good job, and I'm talking to [Miller] a lot about that -- there are certain times to go get it, then other times not.

"We don't spend too much time talking about that, quite honestly. I mean, we talk to him about it, but he's also a great athlete that's a competitor and [wants to] go win the game."

Keeping Miller on the field for all of it certainly gives the Buckeyes a better shot. And if it means sacrificing a few yards and style points along the way, Miller is starting to find that balance.

Austin Ward | email

Ohio State/Big Ten reporter