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COLUMBUS — In high school, Braxton Miller said he never ran the ball more than 16 times on a single Friday night. Last week, his worried coach said the Ohio State quarterback's 17 carries were about five too many.
So Miller will foray into uncharted territory when he wakes up this morning after carrying the No. 14 Buckeyes past Central Florida on his 215-pound frame.
"I'm sure I'll feel sore," Miller said with a smile, his right arm encased in ice after the Buckeyes' 31-16 victory over Central Florida.
Photo gallery: Ohio State vs. University of Central Florida
His 27 carries — the most by an OSU quarterback since at least the 1960s — on another historic afternoon highlighted the good and bad for OSU (2-0) on Saturday.
It is not a good sign when coach Urban Meyer warned afterward, "I don't want to be a downer around here." Where to start? The 10 penalties? The knee injury to Carlos Hyde that left OSU down to its third-string running back? The two fumbles and an interception? Relying on the cornerstone quarterback to run a half-marathon?
As Zach Boren said, "I'm sure there's going to be a lot of coaching done [today]."
"I don't want to say we're not a good team, but we're not," Meyer said. "We're just mushing around out there, and we've got to be much better."
Yet in the end, the Buckeyes had the ultimate bail-outs: three interceptions and the best player on the field.
Miller delivered another tour de force, rushing for three touchdowns and throwing for another to ensure OSU passed its meatiest nonconference test with relative ease.
Miller finished off the Buckeyes' opening drive with a 37-yard touchdown run and did not stop until he again traipsed where few OSU players had before. A week after his 161 rushing yards set a single-game OSU record for a quarterback, the sophomore became the first Buckeyes signal-caller to run for three touchdowns since Art Schlichter in 1978.
Miller, who ran for 141 yards and completed 18 of 24 passes for 155 yard with an interception, forecast his day early. With five receivers spread wide, Miller's first touchdown came on a draw where he ran untouched up the middle.
When Hyde was lost a knee injury in the second quarter — Meyer said the junior is week-to-week with a strained MCL — the playbook effectively became, "Miller right, Miller left, Miller pass."
UCF withstood the early blows and tied the game at 10. But late in the second quarter, Miller almost single-handedly reversed the momentum of a game that appeared to be slipping from OSU. The sophomore ran for 24 yards on third-and-16, then capped an eight-play, 48-yard drive on the next play with a six-yard touchdown dash to put the Buckeyes ahead 17-10 with 15 seconds remaining in the first half.
Miller and the Buckeyes put together back-to-back-to-back touchdown drives to push ahead 31-10. Miller ran in another score from eight yards and tossed a 12-yard touchdown pass to Jake Stoneburner.
How important was No. 5? Receiver Corey Brown was the Buckeyes' second-leading rusher with 33 yards on two carries.
"We're down to our third running back and it looked like it," Meyer said.
Jordan Hall (foot) and Hyde appear to be out for next week's game, leaving Bri'onte Dunn and Rod Smith to help lighten Miller's burden. But Dunn is a freshman and Smith fumbled late Saturday.
Asked if he hopes for help, Miller replied, "Absolutely. We've just got get the young guys prepared for this coming week so I don't have to have all them carries."
"He can't survive a 12-game schedule, especially in the Big Ten, running the ball as he much as he is," Boren said. "But at the same time, we needed Braxton today. He's a playmaker. When we need the offense to go, we put in his hands. He's our backbone."
For now, though, Miller's feet are the most potent option for a team still adjusting to the no-huddle spread offense. Meyer has said time and again his offense is designed to get the ball to his best playmakers, and Miller is that guy.
"He's blown out right now," he said. "We have to be smart. But somebody's got to run the ball. And right now, he's our best answer."
Maybe, on second thought, life isn't so bad.
"We won the freaking game," Meyer said. "We won by two touchdowns against a quality opponent. Time to move on, get ready to go play."
Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade,com, 419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggs Blade.