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Published: Saturday, 10/27/2012

Penn State defense stingiest unit in Big Ten

BY DAVID BRIGGS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

COLUMBUS — Ohio State is per­mit­ted by rule to take just 70 play­ers to road games, though meet­ing even that quota seemed like a hope­less task as the Buck­eyes pre­pared to visit Penn State.

The prob­lem: OSU be­gan the week with only 59 healthy schol­ar­ship play­ers.

“And of those 59, not ev­ery­body's play­ing, ob­vi­ously,” coach Ur­ban Meyer said of a ros­ter thinned by in­ju­ries, off­sea­son at­tri­tion and schol­ar­ship sanc­tions. “So the call at arms is still there.”

In the end, though, he knows what mat­ters most is the seat on the plane that will not be empty.

Brax­ton Miller is back.

Despite the sea­son and his ca­reer flash­ing be­fore him as he left Ohio Sta­dium in an am­bu­lance last week, the Heis­man Tro­phy-can­di­date quar­ter­back re­mains the di­rec­tor of the ninth-ranked Buck­eyes’ chase of per­fec­tion.

Miller re­turns with hopes of van­quish­ing his­tory — and Penn State — in to­day’s hyped show­down in Happy Val­ley.

In a closely matched con­test be­tween bowl-banned ri­vals who have pushed aside ex­pec­ta­tions to emerge as the top two teams in the Big Ten’s Lead­ers Divi­sion, his sta­tus is the big­gest wild­card.

Will Miller be the same dy­namic threat as usual? Can he nav­i­gate one of the na­tion’s top de­fenses?

The Buck­eyes think so. Miller prac­ticed Tues­day through Thurs­day, and Meyer said the soph­o­more will not be lim­ited to­day as he closes in on an­other school rush­ing record.

“Com­pet­i­tors are com­pet­i­tors, and they go as hard as they can,” Meyer said. “Brax­ton Miller is a com­pet­i­tive guy. Com­pet­i­tors fight through ad­ver­sity.”

Miller re­peated what his coaches said ear­lier in the week; he was rat­tled but not se­ri­ously in­jured. He had suf­fered all na­tures of bruises and sprains over his ca­reer, but this was dif­fer­ent. At the end of a long run in the third quar­ter of the Buck­eyes’ 29-22 over­time win over Pur­due — a vic­tory led by backup Kenny Gui­ton — his hel­met slammed vi­o­lently to the turf.

“I was a lit­tle bit dizzy from the hit," Miller said. "I didn't know what it was, so they sent me to the hos­pi­tal to see. That was my first time some­thing hap­pened like that, land­ing on my head, shoul­der, neck-type thing.”

Doc­tors at the Wex­ner Med­i­cal Center ruled Miller free of con­cus­sion symp­toms or fur­ther in­jury.

Now, with a smile, he said, “I’m good.”

Miller, who is sec­ond in the Big Ten in to­tal of­fense with 292.9 yards per game, needs only 41 rush­ing yards to be­come the first OSU quar­ter­back to rush for 1,000 yards — and be­come the first player at any po­si­tion to reach the thresh­old in Meyer’s 11 sea­sons as a head coach.

He must nav­i­gate a de­fense in­tent on rat­tling him again. The Nit­t­any Lions held Iowa to 209 to­tal yards in a road rout last week and rank 13th na­tion­ally in scor­ing de­fense, hold­ing op­po­nents to just 15.71 points per game. A year ago, they held Miller and Co. score­less in the sec­ond half of a 20-14 vic­tory over OSU in Co­lum­bus, though play­ers know the Buck­eyes quar­ter­back has evolved.

“We did a great job of con­tain­ing him last year but ob­vi­ously as you can see, he has be­come a great quar­ter­back both run­ning and pass­ing,” se­nior line­backer Ger­ald Hodges said. “So we are def­i­nitely are go­ing to have to make a big em­pha­sis on mak­ing sure some­one is there as a quar­ter­back spy for the whole game.”

Miller, though, said he looks for­ward to the test. While his neck re­mains sore, he gave no con­sid­er­ation to sit­ting against Penn State.

Con­sider the scene: 108,000 scream­ing white-clad fans, the di­vi­sion lead on the line. In a sea­son stripped of the usual post­sea­son re­wards, Miller and OSU are ul­ti­mately play­ing for glory on nights like this.

“There are two to­tally dif­fer­ent rea­sons be­hind [the sanc­tions], but it is what it is, and we’re both here so that's what makes this game so im­por­tant,” PSU run­ning back Mi­chael Zor­dich said. “Both of these teams are play­ing just for Satur­days. Each Satur­day is the only one they have.

“There is no post­sea­son and that is why Ohio State has been able to get where they are at with an un­de­feated sea­son so far and that is why we have been able to turn it on lately. That will be a big fac­tor go­ing into the game.”

Con­tact David Briggs at:dbriggs@the­blade.com,419-724-6084, or onTwit­ter @DBriggsBlade.



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