Fickell, Players Liked Miller’s Command in Huddle
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Facing a first-and-15 at the Colorado 39-yard line, Braxton Miller tried to squeeze a pass in to tight end Jake Stoneburner.
It fell incomplete—the kind of play that usually leads to a field goal at Ohio State.
Not this time.
On second down, Miller used his legs to pick up seven yards. On third down, he connected with freshman receiver Devin Smith on a 32-yard touchdown pass to give the Buckeyes a 17-0 lead over the Buffaloes.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“I think he did a great job. He kept a good head on his shoulders, never got too down about a play or too excited about a play, which I think is key for a quarterback,” tight end Reid Fragel said.
“I think as the game went on he got more and more comfortable out there and had good composure. As the game went on, he picked up on certain reads that maybe he didn't early on in the game.”
This was the first start of Miller’s career—and only his fourth game as a Buckeye—but already the freshman quarterback showed dramatic improvement from his turnover display against Miami (Fla.).
“He did a good job. The number one thing he did was hold onto the football,” Ohio State Head Coach Luke Fickell said Tuesday.
“He made some big plays, maybe moreso early on with his legs and keeping plays alive. He threw two touchdown passes that were perfect throws and good catches.”
Miller took over as the starting quarterback during practice last week after senior Joe Bauserman struggled to move the offense against the Hurricanes.
It was a big switch for Miller after watching Bauserman take most of the snaps with the first-team offense during the offseason, but his teammates did not see any hesitation in the young freshman.
“He wasn't nervous at all. He was ready to come out and send a message, and I think he did that,” fullback Zach Boren said after Ohio State’s 37-17 win over Colorado.
“I knew he was going to come out confident today and he stepped up. He was a leader for us today.”
That leadership aspect of playing quarterback can be tough for a young player, especially on a team full of veterans. Terrelle Pryor struggled with it early in his career, but he certainly wasn’t the first.
This Ohio State team doesn’t have as much of a veteran presence as the 2008 squad did when Pryor took over for Todd Boeckman, but it was encouraging for him to get a vote of confidence from the older guys.
“I harped on him the whole week about stepping up in the huddle, he's the man, he's going to go out and control us,” said Boren, a three-year starter at fullback.
“He's the leader out there in the huddle and should speak up and he did that.”
Though Miller struggled throwing the ball early on—he was just 2-of-6 passing in the first half, he never lost his cool. When the pass wasn’t working, he continued to make plays with his legs—like the 16-yard run he had on 3rd-and-9 in the first quarter.
“We know Braxton is a confident guy. I think that shows. I don't think there were any doubts he could do it,” left guard Jack Mewhort said.
“He's a really confident guy as it is so he came in, took charge of the huddle, and he's a great guy to have in there. He takes control so it was good to see.”
Even without seniors DeVier Posey, Boom Herron and Mike Adams—all of whom are suspended for the first five games of the season—there is still some veteran leadership on the offense.
Center Michael Brewster and right tackle J.B. Shugarts have been starters on multiple Big Ten championship teams. Same with Boren, while Stoneburner is in his second year as the starting tight end, but Mewhort believes it’s important for the leadership to come from the quarterback.
“He's running everything. He's calling the cadence, he's calling the plays, so it's good we've got a guy in there that's confident and not shaking in his boots,” the first-year starter said.
“The pressure's not getting to him, and that's definitely a good attribute that Braxton has.”
Even though he finished with only 83 yards through the air, Miller’s confidence in the huddle was exactly what the offense needed after a listless performance against Miami.
“The ball wasn't coming out of his hands as well as he would have liked or anybody else would have liked. He settled down. Took some shots. Still got up and continued to compete,” Fickell said.
“I think that's the number one important thing we saw from him, his demeanor, how he competed.”
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