Coming into the season, Steve Miller knew his role would be bigger — at least for two games.
Ohio State’s senior defensive lineman wasn’t expected to start this season, but the man ahead of him was set to serve the final two games of a three-game suspension. Junior defensive lineman Noah Spence failed a drug test before OSU’s January Orange Bowl matchup with Clemson, and earned a three-game suspension, leaving him out for the first two games of the year.
Miller opened the season with three assisted tackles in the Buckeyes’ win against Navy on Aug. 30, then followed up with one solo tackle in a loss to Virginia Tech the next week.
After two starts and little production, the Canton, Ohio, native’s spot in the lineup was expected to disappear. Spence’s suspension had been served, and the 2013 first team All-Big Ten selection was set to pick up where he had left off as a sophomore.
But then reports broke that Spence had reportedly failed a second drug test, and Miller’s time in the limelight was extended.
“I just looked at it that I had to step up, and I had to be ready for my brothers and I didn’t want to let my brothers down,” Miller said of his reaction to Spence’s continued absence. “So I just, I knew I had to play a big part this season helping my brothers out.”
The news of Spence’s new ineligibility came less than 24 hours before he was set to make his return to the field against Kent State on Sept. 13. Instead, Miller started again and recorded just one solo tackle for the second consecutive game.
That game was followed by a bye week, then a face-off with Cincinnati, and Miller underwhelmed yet again with two solo tackles.
Through three starts, the Canton McKinley High School product had yet to produce a tackle for loss or make a significant impact along the defensive front.
But while he didn’t record a sack or tackle for loss, Miller had a breakout performance against Maryland on Oct. 4. Coach Urban Meyer even went so far as to say he hadn’t played better since first donning a scarlet and gray uniform.
“Had his best day as a Buckeye, sure did,” Meyer said of Miller’s performance against Maryland.
He made multiple big hits that disrupted the Terrapins’ offense, showing some of the ability that made him a highly-rated recruit coming out of high school.
In total, Miller has started all five games for the 4-1 Buckeyes and recorded nine total tackles.
But overall this season, Meyer said No. 88 hasn’t quite been at his best.
“He has played OK this year, I won’t say great,” Meyer said. “And then he played his best game, no question, against Maryland.”
Meyer went on to say that Miller has to step up, something he didn’t have to do as a backup in the past. He added there’s more to Miller than what fans see on the field.
“I really like Steve,” Meyer said. “And everybody likes him academically, because he is a grinder, he is a worker, he is a good kid.”
But regardless of academic praise or breakout performances, Miller said he still has room to improve.
“It felt like I was playing well (against Maryland), but I still got stuff to work on,” he said. “I still gotta work on my getoff, and I still gotta work on my pass rush, playing the pass more better.”
As Miller looks to improve going forward in his final season playing for the Buckeyes, he hasn’t forgotten the man whose mistakes have lead to his chance to be a starter.
“Noah’s like a brother to me. I talk to him all the time, see how he’s doing,” Miller said of Spence. “He’s trying to get better, We (are) trying to help him the best we can.”
OSU is scheduled to return to the field a week from Saturday to take on Rutgers at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m.