COLUMBUS: Braxton Miller walked slowly out of Ohio Stadium, his right arm packed in ice and a light jacket slung over his shoulders. He shuffled past a boy, no older than 8 or 9, dressed in an Ohio State wig and face paint howling for an autograph.
Miller didn’t have time to stop. After the day he endured, he just needed to sit down.
Regardless of their 2-0 record or Miller’s tendency to create school records, the Buckeyes have a problem brewing in their backfield — and it centers around their star quarterback.
Given his full control of the offense and his staggering rushing totals through two games, it doesn’t appear as if Miller trusts any of the remaining tailbacks on the roster.
One week after Urban Meyer lamented 17 carries as too many for his quarterback, Miller blew by that with 27 carries for 141 yards and three touchdowns in the Buckeyes’ 31-16 win against Central Florida on Saturday.
The three scores tie Art Schlichter’s 1978 mark for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback, giving Miller two school records in as many weeks. His 161 rushing yards in last week’s win against Miami are the most ever by an OSU quarterback.
The problem, of course, is that Miller is supposed to be a quarterback. Instead, he’s also the most talented tailback on the roster.
That’s particularly true after Carlos Hyde went down with a knee injury in the first half Saturday, leaving Miller to try and do it all.
Hyde is expected to miss at least a week or two, leaving GlenOak’s Bri’onte Dunn and Rod Smith as the only remaining healthy tailbacks on scholarship. It has gotten so bad, Meyer can’t even remember the names of the guys left.
Standing at the podium after the win, Meyer stuttered and stammered trying to think of Smith’s name, referring to him as “No. 2” before a team official and a few reporters helped him out.
In fairness, Smith hasn’t done much in limited time to make anyone remember him, but that now has to change.
Meyer has to find a tailback this week — and Miller has to trust him — or they’ll risk burning out their quarterback before the Big Ten schedule even begins.
Miller was weary when he addressed reporters after the game, conceding he was hurting after taking so many hits.
“I’ve never had 27 [carries] in my life,” he said. He felt fine after carrying the ball 17 times last week, but added “there’s a big gap between 27 and 17.”
Watching him walk to the team bus Saturday reminded me of the national championship game following the 2002 season, when Craig Krenzel missed the bus and had to hitch a ride with a police officer back to the team hotel.
Krenzel was the Buckeyes’ leading rusher that night and took a beating at the hands of a merciless Miami Hurricanes defense. I passed him on my way out of Sun Devil Stadium as he walked gingerly up a steep ramp. He was rolling a suitcase, but using it more as a crutch than luggage.
No one will ever confuse this Central Florida defense with that tenacious south Florida version, but the images were strikingly similar and the lesson remains the same: Quarterbacks aren’t built to take those types of poundings.
Miller is Ohio State’s best player and the offense is at its best when the ball is in his hands, but the Buckeyes need to find a secondary option immediately.
Miller was forced out of the game for a snap early in the second quarter after he was blasted on a late hit out of bounds following a nice gain. He was slow to get up and had to miss a snap. More hits like that are coming if the Buckeyes don’t find a tailback to soften the blows.
Dunn is likely up next. He carried just five times Saturday, but could be in line for an increased workload next week against California. In order for Dunn (or any other tailback) to be successful, Miller has to trust him.
This Ohio State offense is designed for Miller to make all the calls, particularly when to keep the ball and when to pitch it. For the second consecutive game, Meyer said Miller chose to keep the ball too often when the better option was to get rid of it.
“He’s kind of the guy that’s an athlete playing quarterback,” Meyer said. “We’re changing that. But [27 carries] is too much, but we have to find a way to win that game.”
Players with Miller’s type of elite athletic ability typically believe the team is at its best when the ball is in their hands, although both teammates and coaches dispute that is how Miller operates.
“He’s not trying to make this the Braxton Miller Show,” co-offensive coordinator Ed Warriner said. “He’s trying to execute and make the right call on every play. And sometimes when he doesn’t, he can fix it.”
By “fix it,” Warriner meant Miller’s immense athleticism running the ball can often correct his errors in reading a play. That has yet to translate to his passing.
Miller completed 13-of-18 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown, but threw a terrible interception when he missed a wide-open Corey “Philly” Brown because he threw lazily off his back foot. He had plenty of time in the pocket and had enough space to step into the throw, but the turnover briefly set the Knights up with a chance to make the game interesting.
Miller’s passing numbers through two games look better than how he has actually played, but he is still just a sophomore learning a complicated offense. His talent should eventually get him to the level Meyer believes he can reach.
Until then, the solution to his passing deficiencies isn’t to carry the ball more. It’s his legs — not his arm — that need put on ice.