COLUMBUS: You wonder what quarterback Braxton Miller sees when he looks toward the Ohio State sideline for the next play.
You wonder if at times he sees a signal that translates: “Disregard our arm waving and our hand gestures and just make it up when the ball is snapped. In fact, after you’ve made it up the first time, feel free to invent a totally new move in the middle of the play.”
It seemed that Miller’s coach, Urban Meyer, tried to fit the Buckeyes’ offense into a more conventional mold for the first quarter of Saturday night’s 63-38 win over Nebraska.
Miller dutifully handed the ball off to his No. 1 running back of the evening, Carlos Hyde (Jordan Hall is injured), and stayed in the pocket to throw passes the way most quarterbacks throw passes, that is, not during a mad dash in one direction or the other (or both at the same time).
It looked like the kind of offense a quarterback’s mother would love. Why? There was less chance that her son would end up crushed under a couple of 300-pound linemen or bend one of his knees into a position that forces the TV commentator to say, “You might not want to watch this replay.”
So there are good reasons why most quarterbacks do it by the book. But it was apparent by what transpired in Ohio Stadium that this wasn’t going to work. In the first quarter, the Buckeyes gained only 10 yards rushing in nine carries, and Miller completed 1-of-4 passes for 4 yards and got sacked twice. Miller didn’t carry the ball from scrimmage until there were little more than 1½ minutes left in the quarter.
If not for a 41-yard interception return by Bradley Roby, Ohio State would not have scored. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez is something of a Miller clone. He is a runner first, thrower third or fourth. That is, he is capable of hitting the lethal long pass (and did Saturday night), but the odds that he will beat you in the air for the entire game are slim. Moreover, he threw two interceptions to Roby in the first half and one to Orhian Johnson in the third quarter.
Of course, there is a danger that even an ultra-talented kid like Miller will turn over the ball the less structure he has. But so far this season, his creative genius has outweighed his mistakes by a ton of yardage.
It is for such reasons — and a desire by Meyer to win the game — that Miller removed his Clark Kent shirt and tie in the second quarter.
After making no big plays in the opening quarter and not even any little plays, Miller began carrying the offense on his back — which for him doesn’t seem to be much of a burden.
In the second quarter, he had runs of 15, 18 and 31 and 72 yards and threw passes of 32 and 18 yards. He didn’t conceive these plays in the way that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. It was more of an execution thing. His 72-yarder was a simple quarterback draw that might have produced 10 or 12 yards had another quarterback done the running.
It’s not only that Miller can make Eggs Benedict out of a box of Eggos and a pound of butter. Timing is part of the equation. With 23 seconds left until halftime, the Buckeyes were facing a fourth-and-1 at the Nebraska 31.
Meyer called Miller’s number, and he ran into the end zone. It would be ridiculous to say that he was expected to score, but it also wasn’t much of a surprise.
Once Ohio State got more than a seven-point lead, Meyer gave Miller a little more shelter. Hyde got more carries, and down-in-the-depth-chart running back Rod Smith ran for a 33-yard touchdown.
But the coach didn’t allow the Cornhuskers to forget whom they should fear, so Miller threw a 35-yard pass to Jeff Heuerman and ran for 24 yards after halftime.
For the game, Miller rushed for 186 yards on 16 carries; he threw for 127 more yards. Hyde ran for 140 yards and four touchdowns.
Meyer might try to protect Miller again, more likely against an opponent who doesn’t put up as much of a fight.
But the truth is that when Ohio State has a tough game to play, Miller will be the guy who puts his body on the line to win it. This is his offense; he is the only one who can make it work, and that’s just the way it is.