Before Braxton Miller’s season-ending shoulder injury, reassurance concerning his fragile health in the last month came via trust and a deep-rooted bond between the senior quarterback and head coach Urban Meyer.
“I’ve known Braxton for three years, and it’s almost like looking at your son,” Meyer said two Saturdays ago. "You can see in his face if he’s concerned – and he’s not. I trust that he’ll be ready.”
Two days later, Miller, the back-to-back Big Ten Player of the Year and Heisman candidate, tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder for the second time in less than eight months. He will miss the 2014 football season.
It’s a blow to Ohio State’s championship aspirations, as life without Miller for this long remains unchartered water.
But it’s also a blow to Meyer personally, where the well-documented fatherly bonds between coaches and players is perhaps no greater than with a head coach and his quarterback. And in Meyer’s offense, where the signal-caller is asked to do so much, this is particularly true.
It’s why, for Meyer, the last week has been a balance of grieving and moving on.
“It was devastating. It was a bad deal,” Meyer said of Miller’s injury, which happened on a non-contact play in practice last Monday. “I didn’t see exactly what happened. I thought someone hit him. I went berserk.”
That's because Miller, as senior tight end Jeff Heuerman put it at Big Ten Media Days in late July, means as much to Ohio State as LeBron James means to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
With Miller behind center, the No. 5 Buckeyes are among a handful of favorites to win the win the national title. Without him, they are fringe contenders at best.
In short, Miller’s absence is unnerving. But dwelling on the loss might only make things worse for Ohio State as it finds itself scrambling to fortify a Plan B it didn’t think it’d suddenly need in late August.
“Did I have any thought that this could happen? No,” Meyer said Wednesday.
By that point, life without Miller had already started. So the Buckeyes are moving on.
“We lift (Miller) up with prayer, and just lift him up as a friend and a teammate,” Meyer said.
“And then you pick up your rifle and go as hard as you can possibly go. That’s the mentality here. And if there’s anything other than that mentality here, that’s when you have problems.”
Miller’s situation is a gutting story and one that will inevitably receive heaps of attention. But Ohio State will have to repress it, at least for a little while, if it wants a chance at winning the Big Ten Championship and making the first-ever, four-team college football playoff.
While Meyer readies redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, who hasn’t played a competitive down of college football, for a tricky season opener against Navy, Miller becomes an afterthought.
“I mean, it’s a difficult part of the sport. It breaks your heart – I mean, like shatters your heart – but you gotta move on," Meyer said. "It’s not hard to try and get the other guy ready and that’s what we have to do.”
It’s not callous, it’s practical. Meyer can’t sit and dwell on what was, what is and what could’ve been with Miller under center.
Life with Miller is wishful thinking. This is reality.