Urban Meyer said his heart skipped a beat, or nearly stopped, or fluttered, or some such thing as Braxton Miller’s knee was jammed into the ground on a fourth-quarter play Saturday.
That may be hyperbole, but Ohio State’s Meyer had and has good reason for concern. Few coaches in the country rely more on one player, in this case a quarterback, and at the same time put him more in harm’s way on so many snaps.
Of course, few players are more productive than Miller, who has the Buckeyes off to a 5-0 start after Saturday’s 17-16 win at Michigan State.
Miller ran the ball 23 times and threw it 23 times against Sparty. That’s 46 participations on 67 total plays.
That means Miller was in on 69 percent of Saturday’s offensive plays, well above his season average of 61 percent — 211 pass attempts or rushes on 348 OSU plays.
It certainly has paid dividends. Miller leads the Big Ten in total offense with 1,510 yards. Michigan’s Denard Robinson, who had this past weekend off and has played in only four games, still owns a higher total offense average — 319.5 yards per game to Miller’s 302.
Yes, Ohio State and Michigan have much in common. In fact, after four weeks, the two QBs were tied with a conference-high 165 offensive plays and with exactly 441 net rushing yards before Miller moved ahead during his team’s fifth game.
Robinson is more of a breakaway runner and Miller is the better passer, but both fan bases are identical in holding their collective breaths every time their respective hero is slow dragging himself out of a pile.
Miller rushed 17 times in OSU’s season-opening win against Miami (Ohio), and Meyer said, “Too much, too many.” A week later, the sophomore had 27 carries against Central Florida, and now there’s the 23-rush effort against Michigan State.
Meyer really has little choice. OSU’s rushing game has otherwise been injury-plagued, at best, and ineffective at worst. That’s why Miller has more rushes (90) than the Buckeyes’ top two running backs — Jordan Hall (40) and Carlos Hyde (35) — combined.
Hyde returned from the injury list against MSU to carry 11 times for 49 yards, including some key and tough advances late in the game, so perhaps some consistent help is on the way.
But nobody expects Miller’s role to be diminished.
“He is their offense,” said Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi.
Miller is big enough (6-foot-2, 220 pounds), strong enough, shifty enough, and quick enough to make something out of nothing or a lot out of a little.
“He’s very elusive,” said MSU senior linebacker Chris Norman. “Braxton is a dynamic talent. The guy can make plays.”
The Spartans lamented a number of missed and broken tackles, but linebacker Max Bullough put it in perspective when he said, “I think against a guy like Braxton Miller it’s inevitable that there’s going to be some.”
Or, as Narduzzi said, “Good players make you miss.”
Two such quarterbacks will face off Saturday night in a key battle between visiting Nebraska and OSU. Yes, there is another Big Ten quarterback cut from a similar cloth.
Taylor Martinez is coming off a 107-yard rush, 181-yard pass performance in a come-from-behind win against Wisconsin. The Cornhuskers’ junior may not run quite as often as the other two, but it was the 10th triple-figure rushing game of his career.
So there will be a mirror image to the two quarterback-oriented offensive attacks and an Ohio Stadium filled with folks who will cringe a bit every time one of them takes a big hit.
Contact Blade sports columnistDave Hackenberg at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6398.