Forget the Heisman, Miller Proving He Can Win
By Brandon Castel
EAST LANSING, Mich. — It wasn’t a Heisman Trophy performance for Braxton Miller Saturday – certainly nothing like the numbers Geno Smith put up against Baylor – but Ohio State’s sophomore quarterback brought home something a whole lot more valuable:
On the road.
Against maybe the toughest defense he will face all season.
The same defense that forced Ohio State to turn the offense back over to Joe Bauserman, who had already been benched in favor of the freshman, after Miller could barely get off a pass against the Spartans last year.
Much of the credit has to go to Ohio State’s offensive line. For as much as the defense will be the talk of the town for their lockdown performance against Le’Veon Bell and the Michigan State offense, it was Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell, Corey Linsley, Marcus Hall and Reid Fragel who paved the way to victory Saturday.
Particularly Fragel, who has now put together probably the two best games of his OSU career in the last two weeks. They were the ones who kept William Gholston – or the ghost of William Gholston who came back into the game after what looked like a knockout hit from his own teammate – and the Michigan State defensive line out of the backfield for most of the day.
After giving up nine sacks in that game a year ago, the Buckeyes allowed just one on Saturday. A lot of the credit goes to those big guys up front, but it was Miller dodging in and out of traffic Saturday like a young Barry Sanders.
“He’s very elusive,” said senior linebacker Chris Norman.
“Braxton Miller is a dynamic talent. It was a really hard offense to defend. The guy can make plays. It was really frustrating at times, but you’ve got to roll with the punches.”
Frustrating is probably he best way to describe it. Every time Miller looks like he’s bottled up, even when there are three or four defenders in the area, he somehow finds a way to break loose.
“He took a lot of bad plays and made them good ones, or at least average ones,” said MSU coach Mark Dantonio, a former defensive coordinator with the Buckeyes.
He took what looked like a minimal gain on the first play from scrimmage and turned into a 20-yard run. He averaged almost six yards per carry, despite the fact every green helmet was keying on No. 5 as soon as he touched the football.
“Number five changed the game,” MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said afterward.
It wasn’t a perfect day for Miller. Far from it. He turned the ball over three times, including an interception at the MSU 17-yard line and a fumble at the Spartan’s 37. Both drives looked like they were headed for scores – or at least points – before Miller gave the ball back to Michigan State.
“He’s got to take care of the ball, but we’ll worry about that tomorrow,” Meyer said of his young quarterback.
“We’re going to enjoy the win. One thing about giving great effort, that’s all I care about. Point A to Point B, 4-6 seconds, and Braxton (does that) of course.”
Twice it looked like Miller was going to finish the game on the bench. The first time he took a late hit out of bounds at the end of a 13-yard run down the left sideline. Miller smacked his helmet on a metal container along Michigan State’s narrow bench and he had to be replaced by Kenny Guiton.
Guiton made an excellent pitch to Jordan Hall on the next play for 11 yards and Hall finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. Miller would return on the next possession, but the real scare came in the fourth quarter.
That’s when he fumbled the ball at the end of a run where he planted the wrong way on his left knee. The ball came loose as he crumpled to the ground, much like Terrelle Pryor a few years ago when he injured his quad at Illinois.
“I saw his knee jam right in front of me,” Meyer said after admitting his heart almost stopped when he saw the injury.
“I’m sure they showed that on TV, too. I love Braxton. Braxton’s my guy. I have a great relationship with him. He’s family now, and when something like that happens … you spend so much time together, you see what these kids do.”
But even that couldn’t keep Miller from finishing the game. He passed the medical test on his left ACL and was right back on the field for Ohio State’s next drive after Michigan State made it a 1-point game with a 48-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter.
“The kid played tough,” OSU offensive coordinator Tom Herman said.
“He played hard, he put the team on his back. We can fix the turnovers, but the attitude and effort and ability that he has can’t be taught.”
If they can fix the turnovers and teach him how to make the right reads in the right situations – something Herman rated as “above average” on Saturday – there is no ceiling for this kid.
If that happens, he will win the Heisman at some point in this offense, or at least be invited. It won’t be this year, most likely, but right now he’s racking up something much more important:
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