Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
Braxton Miller’s shirt was taut to his right arm as he strode to the podium to speak to the media following Ohio State’s 31-16 victory against Central Florida Saturday.
The sophomore quarterback was coming off one of the best statistical games in his college career. He completed 75 percent of his passes, rushed for 141 yards, threw for 155 more and totaled four touchdowns on the day.
Under his shirt was an ice pack fastened to his right elbow. Miller said he was fine, but a hard shot he suffered earlier in the game created a knot he hoped the ice would soothe.
The talk after the game was not about Miller’s 141 rushing yards, though, it was about the 27 attempts – and multiple hits – he took to amass them.
The ice pack on Miller’s elbow was the only evidence of the damage Miller absorbed during the game, but his teammates and coaches said they fear the day an ice pack won’t cover the extent of Miller’s injuries.
“A little bit (nervous),” senior fullback Zach Boren said of his feelings about Miller carrying the ball 27 times. “He’s going to be sore tomorrow.”
First-year football coach Urban Meyer agreed.
“That’s too much, 27 hits,” Meyer said. “He’s blown out right now. We have to be smart.”
In OSU’s 56-10 victory against Miami (Ohio), Miller ran the ball 17 times – a count Meyer said he’d like to see closer to 12.
Seventeen carries is something Miller said he felt he could handle.
Twenty-seven, though? Miller wasn’t so sure.
“I never had 27 (carries) in my life. It’s a lot,” Miller said. “There’s a big gap between 27 and 17. I’m sure I’m going to feel something tomorrow.”
Part of the problem for the Buckeyes is they are simply running out of options, leaving Miller as one of the few people Meyer sees as capable to effectively carry the ball. Senior running back Jordan Hall is still recovering from a foot injury he suffered from stepping on a piece of glass, and redshirt junior running back Carlos Hyde suffered what Meyer called an MCL strain in the second quarter Saturday. It’s unknown how long Hyde will be out, but Meyer speculated that it could be a couple weeks.
“Someone’s gotta run the ball and right now (Miller) is our best answer,” Meyer said. “We need a guy to turn around and hand the ball off and pound it in there, get six, seven, eight yards and line up and go.”
The next running backs on the depth chart are freshman Bri’onte Dunn and sophomore Rod Smith.
Dunn has 12 carries for 60 yards and a touchdown on the season while Smith has totaled 26 yards on six attempts.
“We’ll take a Bri’onte Dunn anytime,” Meyer said. “Rod Smith, we’ll take him anytime. Good dudes, good guys. Talented. Not a lot of production out of those guys. But usually good guys that work their tails off, good things happen to them.”
Meyer mentioned another potential option in junior wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown who carried the ball twice for 33 yards and caught six passes for 48 yards Saturday.
“Another guy that’s done a nice job that I’ll investigate more this week is Philly Brown, turning into that playmaker,” Meyer said. “You might see him carrying the ball a little bit on the east-west stuff.”
It’s not as if the OSU offense isn’t producing.
In the Buckeyes’ two victories, they’ve produced 949 yards and 87 points. Forty-two of those points have come on touchdowns from Miller, and Meyer’s concern is that his team is too reliant on its quarterback.
“When the game’s on the line and we need to get stuff going, we’re going to put the ball in Braxton’s hands,” Boren said. “He’s the heart of our offense.”
Meyer said he’ll start experimenting with different guys in practice this week, but don’t expect to see immediate changes.
“He’s kind of the guy that’s an athlete playing quarterback,” Meyer said. “We’re changing that, but (27 carries) is too much. I’ll say it again next week.”