Why might Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller cause so many headaches for Nebraska’s defense on Saturday night?
Let’s count the ways.
1. He’s a running quarterback, and running quarterbacks with Miller's speed and elusiveness will get yards, be it on designed draws, options and zone-read plays, or on scrambles, when yardage can accumulate in a hurry.
When a play looks all but dead, that’s when Miller can be most dangerous with his improvisation, making something — or a lot — out of nothing.
So to think the Huskers can completely shut down Miller isn’t realistic, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said.
“He’s going to make his share of plays,” Pelini said. “We know that going in.”
The key for Nebraska, linebacker Will Compton said, is to come at Miller in droves.
“We have to get extra guys to the ball, especially when he’s running the ball,” Compton said. “We can’t leave guys out one-on-one with him. We’ve got to get off blocks, and we’ve got to get 11 hats to the ball.”
2. He’s tough to tackle.
That’s what Nebraska players remember most about trying to defend the shifty, slippery Miller in last year’s game in Lincoln, when he ran for 91 yards on 10 carries and threw for 95, then left in the third quarter with an ankle injury.
(Perhaps not so coincidentally, that's when Nebraska began its comeback from a 27-6 deficit to win 34-27).
“You definitely don’t want to sit there and dance with him, especially if you’re not a guy who should be dancing with him,” Compton said. “You just have to get your shots when you have the opportunity. Once he’s breaking down and made a move, that’s when you need to take your shots instead of trying to dance with him.”
3. He’s the focal point of Ohio State’s offense.
Miller has 90 rushing attempts in five games. Nobody else on the team has more than 40.
“He’s the key to their team,” Nebraska safety P.J. Smith said.
Urban Meyer would agree. That’s what the first-year Ohio State coach seems to keep in mind when Miller errs — like with his three turnovers inside Michigan State territory on Saturday.
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“He’s going to help us win,” Meyer said. “Without Braxton Miller, I don’t think we’re 5-0. As a matter of fact, I know we’re not 5-0.”
Miller has accounted for 15 touchdowns this season, and when combining his rushing and passing totals, he’s responsible for 72.2 percent of Ohio State’s total offense.
“He does a lot for that offense,” Compton said. “He’s what gets 'em going. We’ll have to do a good job of stopping him.”
4. He can be deadly throwing on the run, and he’s especially dangerous when throwing deep balls.
Remember his electric, game-winning, 40-yard touchdown pass to Devon Smith with 20 seconds remaining to beat Wisconsin last year?
This year, he’s hooked up with Smith for a 72-yard touchdown against California and a 63-yard touchdown against Michigan State. Both were game-winning scores, including with 3:26 remaining in the game to beat Cal.
“Probably the thing that impresses me more than anything in his throwing game is his ability to throw the deep ball,” Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. “He does do a good job of that, and we’ve got to limit their big plays, for sure.”
That’s a concern for a Nebraska defense that allowed completions of 54, 30, 29 and 26 yards against Wisconsin, and completions of 49, 33, 31 and 27 yards to UCLA.
5. He puts added pressure on a secondary even when he’s not completing deep balls.
Because Miller is mobile and can extend plays, Nebraska’s defensive backs must cover for longer periods of time. Over four quarters, that can wear on a defense.
“Obviously, we want (the play) to happen in about four seconds, but this week it can be eight and 10 seconds sometimes,” Nebraska secondary coach Terry Joseph said. “So that’s a huge challenge, because sometimes even the best DB in America, it’s hard to cover for that long.”
6. He’s tough.
Meyer likes that about Miller, even when he sees his quarterback get knocked around, as he did at Michigan State, when Miller momentarily left with a knee injury.
“That is one tough guy,” Miller said. “He’s a tough guy, and he’s a competitor.”
And he'll be a headache Saturday night.