COLUMBUS: Up until Thursday, Urban Meyer wasn’t sure what he would do at quarterback. Speculation swirled throughout the week about the idea of playing both Braxton Miller and Kenny Guiton and no one was quite sure if Miller’s sprained left knee was ready for the pounding of the Big Ten.
On the final drive of the second quarter, everyone knew the answer. Including Miller, who admitted he was nervous how his knee would respond following a three-week layoff. So he stayed in the pocket for most of the half, delivering strikes to receivers across the field.
But with the Buckeyes clinging to a one-touchdown lead and momentum swinging to Wisconsin, Braxton did what Braxton does. He tucked the ball and ran the Buckeyes down the field for a key score in what became a 31-24 victory over the Badgers in front of 105,826 fans, the third-largest crowd in Ohio Stadium history.
There is no quarterback controversy in Columbus. Guiton did well, but this team belongs to Miller, who totaled 281 yards and threw four touchdown passes.
Asked if there was ever a doubt Miller was his quarterback, Meyer interrupted the question.
“Not if he’s healthy,” Meyer said. “When I saw on Thursday what I saw, then there was no doubt who was going to be our starter.”
Meyer didn’t elaborate on what that was, but it was presumably something similar to Miller’s sparkling drive before the half.
With the Buckeyes clinging to a 17-14 lead, the offense took possession on its own 29-yard line with 1:24 left in the half. Miller took off on a quarterback draw for 14 yards – his first real run of the game – and the Buckeyes were off. He totaled 32 rushing yards and heaved a 40-yard touchdown pass to Corey “Philly” Brown in the end zone with one second left. The Buckeyes had sprinted 71 yards on eight plays in 1:23, taking control of the game again while Miller’s confidence in his knee was restored.
Miller conceded there was “just a little bit” of hesitation to run the ball early in the game.
“I loosened up,” he said. “You know how things get tight, you loosen up after a while.”
It wasn’t all good news on Saturday. As the Buckeyes welcomed back their offensive leader, they lost their defensive leader and team captain presumably for the rest of the season when Christian Bryant broke his ankle. Meyer said he will need surgery and left the impression Bryant’s season is over.
“That darn kid has done so much for our program, come so far," Meyer said. "Incredible leadership skills. And he's going to be even more valuable outside of football. I love that guy."
The Buckeyes’ secondary struggled with Bryant on Saturday and now must patch the holes without him. While Ohio State’s front seven did an admirable job of holding Wisconsin’s potent rushing attack to just 104 yards, former walk-on Jared Abbrederis abused top cornerback Bradley Roby much of the night.
Abbrederis caught 10 passes for a career-high 207 yards and a touchdown. He had a new career high by halftime.
Roby was hailed during the preseason as a lockdown corner and future first-round NFL pick, but he struggled through another miserable night in what is becoming a disappointing season. He left the game temporarily in the first quarter when he appeared to injure his lower back, then returned on the next series. He was beaten badly throughout the night by Abbrederis and was also flagged for a pass interference on Abbrederis late in the third quarter.
Roby did manage a third-quarter interception that the Buckeyes converted into a touchdown, but that was due to heavy pressure from Adolphus Washington in the face of Badgers quarterback Joel Stave, who threw a bad pass into zone coverage and right into the arms of Roby.
It was one of the few highlights for a staggering secondary that now has even more questions to answer.
As for the quarterback controversy, well, there isn’t one. Guiton was the first player on the field to congratulate Miller following each of his first two touchdown passes and Miller opened his post-game press conference by praising the work Guiton did for three games in his absence. He insisted he wasn’t trying to deliver a message with his performance.
“I was just going out there to have fun and lead my team how it’s supposed to be led and just have fun,” Miller said. “Big plays come along with that. I don’t really look into how the media deals with that. It don’t bother me at all.”
That all-important touchdown pass to Brown late in the half almost didn’t happen. On the previous play, Miller threw a bad pass that should’ve been intercepted by Wisconsin’s Sojour Shelton. Given another chance, Miller went back to the same play.
“It slipped out of my hands,” he said. “I can’t make excuses. It’s on me. I told coach (offensive coordinator Tom Herman), ‘Let’s throw it again.’ I made up for it the next throw.”
And the Buckeyes are still undefeated.