Even When He’s Off, Braxton Miller Still Provides Fireworks
By Brandon Castel
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Braxton Miller certainly has a flair for the dramatic.
Whether it was his 40-yard touchdown pass to Devin Smith in the final seconds of last season’s win over Wisconsin or his 1-yard touchdown run Saturday against Penn State, Ohio State’s sophomore quarterback can make just about anything look like a highlight film.
“We work on that,” OSU Head Coach Urban Meyer said slyly of Miller’s 1-yard scoring play, which gave the Buckeyes a 21-10 lead with 3:30 left in the third quarter.
“We have a drill. Make seven people miss and dive across.”
Meyer didn’t even have a good look at the play from his spot on the sideline. He missed the first couple guys Miller left piled in a heap in the OSU backfield, and all he saw was No. 5 diving into the end zone after splitting two defenders near the goal line.
“All I heard in my headset was `Oh my God,’ ” Meyer exclaimed after the game.
The play was set up by tailback Carlos Hyde, who had carried the ball for a total of eight yards on the previous two plays. His second run gave Ohio State a 3rd-and-goal at the Penn State 1-yard line.
Miller faked the handoff to Hyde on the inside and Ohio State’s tailback was crunched immediately in the backfield by a Nittany Lions defender.
“I think a guy just came in and tried to tackle Carlos and I pulled it,” Miller said.
“I don't know who was around my. My instincts just took over after that.”
It looked like Michael Mauti, Penn State’s star linebacker, was the first guy who had a shot at him, but Miller sidestepped a sack and slipped away from a diving Sean Stanley, who ended up in a pile of bodies where Miller used to be.
Miller took off to his right, where he was met almost immediately by PSU linebacker Gerald Hodges. It appeared as though Hodges was going to have a clean shot at the OSU quarterback, but Miller used his unique step-back move to avoid No. 6 before adjusting his body mid-leap to get by Penn State safety Malcolm Willis on his way into the end zone.
“I just think he's an excellent player,” Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said.
“One of the top five players in the country.”
Miller didn’t look much like guy who was being touted as a Heisman Trophy contender during the first half of Ohio State’s 35-23 win over the Nittany Lions in Happy Valley. He completed just four of his first 12 passes and nearly spotted Penn State 14 points with a pair of dropped interceptions that might have gone the other way for touchdowns.
“I think the crowd (got to him) a little bit, and it wasn't just Braxton,” Meyer said afterward.
“He had that look in his eyes. Twice this year I've seen that look, he's such a competitive guy. It's the night game, it's the rah-rah, it's the flash, so our challenge is to get that out in an away game. It wasn't because he wasn't jelled up or ready to go.”
If that had been the reason, nobody would have thought twice, not after Miller spent the fourth quarter of last week’s game in the hospital. As he was leaving the field against Purdue, it looked like he might not play again this season, and Miller looked “a little jittery” in the first half, as the Buckeyes punted on each of their first six possessions.
“I was so excited I missed a lot of throws,” Miller said with a smirk.
“I was so excited to come back on the field from my injury. The crowd was energetic.”
Miller missed on a deep ball to Devin Smith, who had gotten behind Penn State’s secondary on a 3rd-and-13 from the OSU 14-yard line, early in the game. That led to the blocked punt and Penn State’s first points of the game, and Miller would later throw an interception on a ball he threw off his back foot for Corey Brown, who also looked like he had gotten open behind the defense.
His final numbers turned out OK, thanks in large part to a 72-yard run and catch to receiver/tight end Jake Stoneburner down the middle.
“First I was thinking don't get caught,” Stoneburner said.
“I kept looking back to make sure no one was going to get me, and then it was just surreal. I've never had that long of a touchdown in that big of a game.”
Despite the slow start, Miller still finished with 134 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground. It was his sixth 100-yard rushing performance of the season and the ninth of his young career. He was sacked three times, but even that could stop him from eclipsing the 1,000-yard rushing mark this season.
No quarterback in Ohio State history has ever accomplished that feat in a season. Neither has any player Meyer has ever coached. Tim Tebow’s closest was 2009, when he ran for 910 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior at Florida.
Miller still has three games to go. He is still on pace to rush for over 1,400 yards and 16 touchdowns this season, but statistics hardly tell the entire story with this dynamic youngster.
Even when he’s off his game, Miller is always one play away from greatness.
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