|Ohio State’s Miller healthy, gaining in confidence|
|Friday, October 04, 2013 12:11 AM|
By RUSTY MILLER
COLUMBUS — A week ago, no one was even certain Braxton Miller was healthy enough to play in a game.
Now, he thinks he’s still in the Heisman Trophy race.
“The way we keep playing as a team, as a whole, I feel like there’s all type of awards guys can get,” the junior quarterback said. “So if (the Heisman) comes upon (me), I’m really grateful for what it is. But I’m just going to keep playing my game, me and the guys. Hopefully I’ll be looking forward to it after the season.”
Ohio State (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) has the nation’s longest winning streak at 17 in a row.
Miller missed more than half of the Buckeyes’ season with a sprained knee ligament sustained in the opening minutes of a Week 2 win over San Diego State.
He didn’t play in the victories at California and back home against Florida A&M while backup Kenny Guiton racked up huge numbers. Guiton had a school-record six touchdown passes, all in the first half, of a 76-0 rout of overmatched FAMU.
It wasn’t until last Thursday that Miller was tapped as the starting quarterback two days later against Wisconsin. Coach Urban Meyer was looking for the shiftiness and change-of-direction that is Miller’s hallmark. When Meyer saw that, he stamped Miller as the starter.
Miller then played as if he had never left, tossing four touchdown passes in a 31-24 victory.
“I didn’t miss a beat,” he said.
He even threw a crunching block when an Ohio State running back changed direction.
“He was chirping about that all day,” Meyer said with a chuckle. “He did a good job. That was a great block.”
Miller had crumpled to the ground in pain on Sept. 7 after being sandwiched between two San Diego State tacklers. Before he was carted off the field, a doctor manipulated his knee and he cried out in pain.
Needless to say, there were a lot of concerns about the three-year starter.
“I was certainly worried,” quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “I don’t know that (the injury set him back). Maybe a little bit mentally just seeing the game over and over again and seeing coverages live and all those things. From a physical standpoint, it didn’t and from a preparation standpoint, it didn’t, but there’s only so much you can do in drills and in the film room. (Facing) live bullets is necessary to gain that experience.”
Herman and Meyer both said Miller made a couple of throws against Wisconsin that he wouldn’t have even attempted earlier in his career.
Miller might actually benefit later on from having been hit less so far this season. But that didn’t mean his return was a breeze.
“Man, after the game I was really sore,” he explained. “I just feel comfortable where I’m at. Coming back after the knee injury, I felt pretty comfortable just going out with the guys. It’s just a blessing.”
Another concern was that there might be a split allegiance among the Buckeyes, between Miller and Guiton. Guiton is a popular, gregarious member of the team, while Miller is quieter, more subdued and less demonstrative.
But everyone recognizes Miller’s special talents.
“Braxton’s our guy. At the end of the day, he’s the starter,” said receiver Corey Brown, who had two touchdown catches from Miller against Wisconsin. “No one was really too concerned about that because Kenny’s done a heck of a job in the games he’s played this year. Whatever quarterback went out on the field with us, we were confident with.”
Now Miller leads the Buckeyes against another ranked team, No. 16 Northwestern. Just like last week, it’s in primetime on Saturday night, only this time it’s a road game.
“(Our fans) always kind of take over the stadium,” he added. “Our fans travel wherever we go. It feels good. So a different environment, but it’s always a great feeling.”
QUOTABLE: Meyer on Brown, who he felt transitioned from a guy who had only bought in 75 percent to a team leader: “This time last year, I was hoping he would move on somewhere else. We had enough. And he’s really done a nice job. Not a nice job; a great job.”
A HOT TIME IN THE OLD TOWN: This is a major event in Evanston, Ill., with two unbeaten teams, both ranked in the top 16, coming to Ryan Field for a primetime game. ESPN’s GameDay will also be on hand for the first time in 18 years.
The game’s a sellout. Fans are fired up and ready to go.
So what’s it like around town, Pat Fitzgerald?
“I don’t know. We’re in a bunker,” the Northwestern head coach said. “We’re so focused right now on what we need to do.”
He did know that his players are aware of what’s at stake.
“Our young men, just like the four teams who played last week in our conference, are just excited to play Big Ten football,” he added.
Ohio State DL Michael Bennett knows that the emotion in Evanston will be ramped up.
“It probably means a lot to them,” he said. “I was talking with some guys (at Northwestern) and apparently they’re treating the game just like any other game. That’s what they’re saying in the media. That could be true. But it’s hard to deny that it’s a night game against another undefeated school and they’re undefeated. It’s a big game.”
FAMILY TIME: Ohio State P Cameron Johnston is from Geelong, Australia, but when the Buckeyes opened the season against Buffalo, he had a touch of home with him.
His grandparents made the trip and were overwhelmed by 100,000 people cheering for their grandson.
“It was their 50th wedding anniversary, so they just decided to come over,” he said. “It was great having them here for the first game. And they loved it. They thought it was a great experience. They’d never seen anything like it before.”
SPEEDSTER BACK: After missing the past three games with a leg injury, Northwestern’s mercurial runner/receiver/returner Venric Mark is expected to be back in full form against Ohio State.
The Buckeyes have taken notice.
“I see he’s one of the best punt and kick returners in America,” Meyer said. “Our defensive coaches say he’s a 1,400-yard rusher and an All-American player.”
Mark adds a dimension that keeps every defense honest — the ability to turn a simple play into a big gainer or a long touchdown.
“I don’t know how (his return) will change their offense,” CBs coach Kerry Coombs said. “I know that that’s a talented kid running the ball. I don’t think they’ll make wholesale changes in what they do. They’re just going to give the ball to a really good player. How that makes us account for that, you’ve got to defend the option game in all phases. The zone read and all that kind of stuff, that’s really important.”
BADLY ROBY: Ohio State CB Bradley Roby had a tough game against Wisconsin. He was flagged for a couple of penalties, was beaten easily on a few catches and seemed to spend the entire day trying to find Badgers WR Jared Abbrederis.
“He didn’t play up to Roby standards,” Meyer explained. “You know, we kind of put him on an island the entire game. We held them to a hundred yards rushing (actually 104), a team that as averaging over 300. That decision was made on Sunday right (to isolate Roby). That helped us win this game.”
Coombs said he did have to work a little extra with Roby this week.
“Great corners have very limited consciences. They’re not too concerned about the last play,” he explained. “I’m not going to tell you that we asked more than what he’s capable of delivering, because I don’t think that’s true. The kid that he played against was very good, but we made a determination as a coaching staff that in order to win that game you stop the run.”
He had no doubt that Roby would bounce back.
“We’re going to hang our hat on that kid,” Coombs added. “He’ll come back this week and he’ll play great.”