Cody Cousino / Photo editor
“It’s all good.”
That’s how Braxton Miller described seemingly all aspects of Ohio State’s 37-17 win over Colorado on Saturday, in which the freshman quarterback completed 5 of 13 passes for 83 yards, including two touchdowns and rushed for 83 more in his first start.
But was it all good?
It didn’t seem to be the case for OSU’s passing game, at least.
Miller only attempted two passes in the first quarter, both of which were incomplete, and only 13 in the entire game.
After last week’s dismal performance in the air at Miami (Fla.), in which Miller and redshirt senior quarterback Joe Bauserman combined to complete only 4 of 18 pass attempts for 35 yards, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the coaching staff is still cautious with the anemic passing attack on their hands.
But the game plan for Saturday was to alleviate some of the pressure on Miller by running the ball, head coach Luke Fickell said.
“But, ultimately, when it comes down to it, there’s one guy that’s got his ball in the hands of every play besides the center and that’s the quarterback,” Fickell said. “There’s a lot of focus there.”
At first glance, Miller’s start at quarterback might draw comparison to Terrelle Pryor’s in 2009.
Following then-No. 6-ranked OSU’s 26-18 loss to a 1-4 Purdue squad, the ball was kept out of Pryor’s hands after he threw two interceptions and lost a fumble against the Boilermakers.
Pryor only attempted 17 passes in each of OSU’s final three regular season games at Penn State, at home vs. Iowa and at Michigan, before opening it up with 38 attempts against Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
Pryor left OSU on June 7, shortly after former head coach Jim Tressel resigned due to the money-for-memorabilia scandal. Pryor was chosen in the NFL Supplemental Draft by the Oakland Raiders on Aug. 22.
Regardless, Fickell appeared to think everything was “all good” — or good enough, at least, for Miller to keep the starting gig.
“Braxton’s our quarterback,” he said. “We’re going to continue to compete in practice and probably try to figure out what it is he does best and what he can handle and have obviously things that the other guys can handle as well.”
Miller’s teammates thought things were “good” as well.
“He was very good,” said senior center Michael Brewster. “He got it going slinging the ball and made sure everyone in the huddle knew the play call before we went to the line. He stepped in and did his thing.”
Colorado head coach Jon Embree was also impressed.
The Buffalo defense had trouble bringing Miller down all day, especially when flushing Miller out of the pocket, only to see him evade and break tackles with shifty maneuvers.
“I felt like our defense did a decent job but we did not tackle him,” Embree said. “He did a good job on eliminating losses where we should have had them for negative gains. We had shots but just couldn’t bring him to behind the line of scrimmage.”
Despite often escaping Buffalo defenders, Miller was hit often. He pulled the ball down for 17 rush attempts, including one where he was upended and flipped in the air and was later on the receiving end of a roughing the passer call. He was also sacked three times.
However, Fickell said they didn’t expect to run Miller as much as they did.
“You’ve got some ideas of what’s going to happen,” he said. “And probably some more of those were — he made the decision to run a little quicker, maybe.”
Part of that could have been jitters.
“Everybody was ready to get out there, excited,” Miller said. “At first it was fast but things started slowing down for me.”
Still, Miller was only able to complete 3 of 11 passes from the second quarter on. The Buckeye offense instead rushed the ball 47 times, gaining 253 yards, with junior running back Jordan Hall contributing 80 of those and sophomore tailback Carlos Hyde tacking on an additional 40.
Running the ball doesn’t seem to be a problem.
“I think we run the ball good,” Hall said. “Carlos did a good job running the ball. Braxton did a good job running the ball. We just have to get better at everything.”
That said, the offense needs more balance, Fickell said. With a freshman quarterback at the helm — one struggling to put together much of a threat through the air, no less — that may be difficult.
“To me, you don’t want to lead the nation in rushing, because if you lead the nation in rushing, you probably can’t throw the football,” he said. “If you lead the nation in passing, you probably don’t run the football too well, so we’ve got to continue to figure out how we can be a little bit more balanced in everything we do.”
If Miller keeps rushing the ball as often as he did Saturday and continues to take as many hits, it might be even more difficult, Fickell said.
“We are going to have to figure out some self-preservation,” Fickell said.