Most of the talk Monday at Nebraska’s weekly meeting with the media centered on one man — No. 5 in the scarlet and gray.
That’s Ohio State’s standout sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller. While the Buckeyes have some questions elsewhere — the passing offense and defense both rank 11th in the Big Ten — Miller has been the definite answer early on this season for Urban Meyer.
Through five games Miller has 15 total touchdowns and 1500 total yards. He’s completing better than 60 percent of his passes and averaging more than six yards per carry in the Buckeyes offense. Bo Pelini said there are some similarities between what the Buckeyes are doing now and what Meyer did with Tim Tebow at Florida, but Miller adds another element of danger.
“Tebow was a 240 or 250 pound guy,” Pelini said. “Braxton Miller is like a tailback back there. He’s elusive and makes a lot of people miss. Tebow was going to run over you, Braxton is going to make you miss.”
Miller might be better than most tailbacks. He averages more rushing yards per game (115.4) than anyone in the Big Ten outside of Le’Veon Bell of Michigan State. Only five starting running backs in the conference have more carries on the season than Miller (90). For comparison, Taylor Martinez has 50 rushing attempts (59.6 yards per game) headed into Saturday’s game. Against Nebraska in Lincoln last year, Miller had 91 yards on 10 attempts before being knocked out of the game early in the third quarter.
“We made some mistakes, missed a couple of tackles when we had the opportunity to tackle him,” Pelini said of facing Miller last year. “It wasn’t all Braxton Miller that hurt us during that period of time.”
But Miller’s even better this year. The Buckeyes come into the game averaging 418.2 yards of offense per game. Miller alone accounts for 302 yards per game. His passing has improved over last year as well. His completion percentage is up more than eight percent over his freshman season while his yards per game passing have nearly doubled.
“He’s a passer and he’s a runner,” senior safety P.J. Smith said. “If we stop him, or slow him down, we’ll be fine. It’ll be a challenge for us but we’re looking forward to it.”
Slow him down could be the operative phrase this week. Miller is too talented to stop completely Pelini said on Monday.
“He’s going to put stress on you, there’s no doubt,” Pelini said. “You’re not going to shut a guy like him down from the quarterback position the whole game. I know that going in.”
Tackling Miller will be perhaps the biggest key. Like Rex Burkhead, Miller rarely goes down on first contact, turning potential losses into three- and four-yard gains and short running plays into long touchdowns.
“You don’t want to sit there and dance with him, especially if you’re not a guy who should be dancing,” linebacker Will Compton said. “You have to take your shots when you have the opportunity. Once he’s breaking down to make a move, that’s when you need to take a shot.”
Some other news and notes from Monday’s press conference:
–Wisconsin’s pre-snap motion looked to confuse Nebraska early in last Saturday’s game but linebacker Will Compton said that the alternate jerseys, which featured a big ‘W’ on the chest and only a small uniform number on the upper right, also added to the confusion.
“There were a few occasions where the personnel groupings were off from up in the press box,” Compton said. “They were having trouble seeing it on the guys running off the field (towards the press box). We’d get a call and get in a certain personnel and I’d sit there and realize that they’re in a different personnel and we’ve got to get in a different defense.”
–Don’t expect Pelini to spend much time answering questions about returning to coach in the stadium where he played his college football. When asked if he had a soft spot for his alma mater Pelini replied: “No, not any more. I’m at a different time in my life. I have a job to do. That’s all I’m concerned with.”
–Running back Rex Burkhead said he’s “close” to being back to 100 percent after injuring his knee in the season opener. Burkhead rushed for 86 yards on 18 carries while still wearing a knee brace on Saturday.
–Wide receiver Tim Marlowe dressed for the Wisconsin game and took part in some pre-game drills but did not play on Saturday. Pelini said it’s still uncertain when he’ll return from the separated shoulder he suffered against Southern Mississippi. Defensive tackle Thad Randle, however, will be ready to go according to Pelini. Randle has been slowed this season by a knee injury suffered last spring.
–Some members of the Michigan State staff complained after last week’s loss that Ohio State sent incomplete game tape to the Spartans that didn’t show pre-snap motion and reads. It’s not an issue this week. “It’s all there,” Pelini said of the film.