Braxton Miller admitted late last week that he still wasn’t himself. A Cedar Pointesque up-and-down performance at Northwestern was partly due to a hesitant Miller still dealing with the effects of a sprained MCL.
Urban Meyer admitted that he isn’t one for style points. Ohio State’s schedule might be weak and the Buckeyes are already behind three teams in the BCS standings, but that number in the “W” column has grown to 19 since Meyer came to Ohio State.
On Saturday, Miller showed he is back and did so in style. A 34-24 win over Iowa at home didn’t do much to help the Buckeyes’ cause in the rankings. Getting the old Braxton Miller back, though, might prove more valuable.
“I can always tell when he’s feeling good,” Meyer said. “When he’s running, carrying out fakes, those types of things, I can see it now. He’s becoming a much better practice player and obviously that correlates to production. He looks better. He looks like he feels great.”
A quarterback controversy has swirled over the football program the past month. That was put to rest with one dazzling performance by Miller. He completed 22-of-27 pass attempts for 222 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 102 yards.
“It should have been 23,” said tight end Jeff Heuerman, who dropped a pass.
“Running, strides – it feels pretty good,” Miller said. “I didn’t feel this well since the first game of the season. The knee injury set me back a little bit, but I felt pretty good out there. I had a good week of preparation.”
The first three conference games have not gone as planned for Ohio State. It didn’t expect to be in closely contested games week-in and week-out. The Buckeyes have appeared lethargic after starting so quickly in the non-conference schedule. An underwhelming defense has been red-flagged as a major issue, but so too was Miller’s inability to be the exciting player he was a year ago.
That looks to have been rectified. Whether he was throwing or running, Miller constantly created offense for Ohio State when it needed it most. The Buckeyes finished with 495 total yards and scored on four of its five possessions in the second half to overcome a seven-point halftime deficit. Oh, and that one drive they didn’t score – it ended with a kneel down.
“He can make something out of nothing. He is a playmaker.”
“We didn’t really change anything that we do, as far as just one guy spying him or following him around,” Iowa safety Tanner Miller said. “We knew he was capable of making those plays with his feet, and unfortunately we didn’t get to him enough.”
One play by Miller made fans stop clamoring for Kenny Guiton and remember another quarterback from the past. Early in the fourth quarter, Ohio State faced a 3rd-and-7 at the Iowa 28. Miller rolled right before reversing field and galloping for a nine-yard gain and the first down. The next play was Carlos Hyde’s 19-yard SportsCenter sensation.
But it was Miller’s run that set it all up, and it was eerily reminiscent of one of Terrelle Pryor’s shining moments. Kirk Ferentz took notice.
“It was Deja Vu all over again to 2010,” he said. “It came at a real critical situation and a little bit different field position. That was the Terrelle Pryor play. Not a lot of players can make a play like that.”
Said Heuerman: “We haven’t really seen those moves that much this year. He definitely made some of those Braxton plays that he used to make before his injury, those electric scramble plays that keep drives alive.”
Hyde would have nothing to do with the atta-boys. His run may well be the exclamation point of the Buckeyes’ season, but he too was enthralled by Miller. For Hyde, it’s not just an effective offensive line that gets him going. Miller drawing attention from opposing defenses also helps.
“When he’s running, I’m always expecting a big play,” Hyde said. “He can make something out of nothing. He is a playmaker.”
Which is what separates Miller from others, even Guiton. He has that extra bit of dynamic playmaking ability that puts him in a class with few others. That elite group includes Johnny Manziel, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariotta. Hyde’s touchdown run will be played on a loop on highlight shows. But Ohio State’s top offensive takeaway from the Iowa game should be the return of Miller’s scrambling.
“He looked like the Braxton we were used to seeing,” linebacker Joshua Perry said. “The way he was keeping plays alive, that’s the thing that stuck in my mind. Guys were literally taking shots at him and diving at him, but nobody could get him down. We have the quarterback with that ability and one that can make dynamic plays.”
Miller’s sideline-to-sideline lateral movement was something not seen since the season opener. He made cuts with no hesitation and was an uncontrollable whirling dervish for the Hawkeye defense. Even Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock left the Horseshoe impressed.
“It must be nice to run around like that,” he said. “When you’ve got guys who can run, and with some good moves, it makes things tough for a defense.”