It was only one game, but on Saturday, Ohio State true-freshman quarterback Braxton Miller lived up to the hype and expectations that surrounded his first collegiate start.
Miller’s full array of skills were on display against the Colorado Buffaloes as he rushed for 83 yards and connected with fellow freshman Devin Smith for two touchdown passes to help lead OSU (3-1) to a 37-17 win at Ohio Stadium.
“This is a big team thing,” first-year head coach Luke Fickell said after the game. “(Miller) gave us a lift, gave us some things we needed offensively as well as keeping plays alive.”
Fickell said at a Tuesday press conference that all four of OSU’s quarterbacks remained in competition for playing time. Fickell then announced during his Thursday radio show that Miller would start against Colorado (1-3).
Early in the game, the freshman signal caller was keeping plays alive exclusively with his feet.
Miller didn’t throw on any of OSU’s first 11 plays, but put the Buckeyes in scoring position on their second drive as he rushed twice for 16 yards. Junior running back Jordan Hall capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to put OSU up, 7-0.
“It definitely felt good to be out there the whole game,” said Hall, who left last week’s game against the Miami Hurricanes game early with cramps.
A fumble on the Buffaloes’ next possession by senior running back Rodney Stewart was recovered by Buckeyes’ sophomore tackle Adam Bellamy on the Colorado 22-yard line.
Miller dropped back to pass three times after the recovery, but went 0 of 2 and was also sacked on the six-play drive. OSU couldn’t capitalize on the short field, but a 28-yard field goal by sophomore Drew Basil extended the lead to 10-0.
Seventeen of OSU’s 19 first-quarter plays were running plays.
Miller finally completed a pass with approximately 9:30 remaining in the half. Some of the 105,096 fans in attendance applauded sarcastically.
The cheers on Miller’s next completion, which came three plays later, were ones of genuine excitement as he threw a 32-yard strike to Smith for a touchdown that extended OSU’s lead to 17-0.
“I was excited to play,” Miller said. “At first, it was fast, but things started slowing down for me.”
Colorado response was anything but slow, though.
Senior quarterback Tyler Hansen led the Buffaloes on a 10-play, 83-yard drive on their next possession. Hansen scrambled on fourth-and-1 from the OSU 11-yard line and found senior wide receiver Toney Clemons for a touchdown that cut the Buckeyes’ lead to 17-7.
Colorado had been held to just 23 yard of total offense prior to the drive.
“You would hope we could make a play there,” Fickell said of Hansen’s touchdown pass. “We didn’t panic. We just kept under control. So, we’re excited there.”
Junior punter Ben Buchanan’s punt on the Buckeyes’ ensuing drive was fumbled by Colorado and recovered by OSU freshman defensive end J.T. Moore on the Buffaloes’ 11-yard line.
The Buckeyes took over with 15 seconds remaining in the half after the recovery, settling for an 18-yard field goal by Basil after a Miller run was stopped short of the end zone. OSU took a 20-7 lead into the locker room.
Miller went back to work after play resumed in the third quarter. Miller lead OSU on a 50-yard drive that culminated with another touchdown pass to Smith, who hauled a 17-yard fade pass in and dragged his feet along the sideline to extend the lead to 27-7.
The catch marked the third time Miller and Smith have connected for a touchdown on the season.
Miller finished the day 5 of 13 passing for 83 yards.
Colorado place kicker Will Oliver narrowed the Buffaloes’ deficit to 27-10 with a 47-yard field goal with 4:11 remaining in the third quarter.
Hall responded on the ensuing kickoff by taking Oliver’s kick 90 yards to Colorado’s 5-yard line. Sophomore Carlos Hyde wasted little time capitalizing on the short field and scored on a 5-yard run on the next play to up OSU’s lead to 34-10.
A 47-yard field goal by Basil extended OSU’s lead to 37-10 with 11:42 remaining in the game, and fans began to head for the exits.
Hansen completed a 14-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Tyler McCulloch to cut the deficit to 37-17, but OSU was in command at that point.
Hansen completed the game 22 of 39 passing for 238 yards and two touchdowns.
During the same Thursday radio show that Fickell announced Miller would start against Colorado, he also said the team would still need redshirt senior Joe Bauserman.
Bauserman made his first appearance in the game with 3:30 remaining, and led the Buckeyes on one final drive to bleed out the game clock. OSU went on to win, 37-17.
“Braxton’s our quarterback,” Fickell said. “We’re going to continue to compete in practice and probably try and figure out what it is he does best and what he can handle. We’re going to continue to figure out how to get those best 11 (players).”
With the non-conference portion of OSU’s schedule now complete, the Buckeyes will host Michigan State on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. to open Big Ten play. The game against the Spartans will be the final game in which four OSU players — DeVier Posey, Mike Adams, Dan “Boom” Herron and Solomon Thomas — are suspended for selling Buckeyes’ memorabilia in exchange for improper benefits in the form of tattoos.