Ohio State football: Turnovers hurt Miller, but he came through
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller (5) fumbled twice in the win over Northwestern. He also threw an interception.
In some ways, it looked like a dreadful game for Braxton Miller.
No touchdown passes. An interception. Two costly fumbles. A badly overthrown pass to an open receiver in the end zone.
There’s no denying it: The 40-30 victory over Northwestern on Saturday wasn’t the Ohio State quarterback’s finest game. If there had been any hope of the junior inserting himself back in the Heisman Trophy conversation, it ended in Evanston, Ill.
But a closer examination of the game reveals there was plenty to like as well as criticize.
Let’s start with the obvious problems. The two fumbles — the first at the OSU 23-yard line and the second at the Northwestern 2 — were clearly the result of inadequate ball security. Miller has a tendency to hold the ball away from his body. On Saturday, he did have the ball tucked on those fumbles, but not tightly secured. Both times, a Northwestern defender was able to poke it free.
“That’s all on me,” Miller said. “I’ve got to fix it.”
Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said he’ll make sure of that during the off week.
“I think he’s loose with the ball,” Meyer said. “I saw that during the course of the game.”
Miller’s best chance for a touchdown pass came midway through the second quarter with Ohio State trailing 14-10. On third-and-goal from the Northwestern 3, Chris Fields was open in the right side of the end zone after two Wildcats defenders bumped into each other.
But instead of lofting the ball to ensure a completion, Miller fired it, and it sailed far over Fields’ head.
The interception, which came on Ohio State’s last-ditch drive of the first half, shouldn’t be pinned on Miller. Northwestern defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo bull-rushed right tackle Taylor Decker and hit Miller’s arm as he threw.
Ohio State would have benefited from more time on that drive, but the Buckeyes didn’t call time out after sacking Northwestern’s Trevor Siemian on the Wildcats’ previous possession. That allowed Northwestern to run 40 seconds off the clock, leaving the Buckeyes with only 55 seconds when they got the ball.
In the third quarter, after Miller fumbled at the Northwestern 2 — “I was thinking about scoring, and I guess the ball got a little loose” — Meyer said he came “real close” to benching Miller for backup Kenny Guiton.
“I just didn’t think that was an appropriate thing to do right there, and I had a lot of trust ‘5’ would pull it out, and he did,” Meyer said.
Now, some positives:
On Ohio State’s decisive 81-yard touchdown drive, Miller played with poise under pressure, completing all four pass attempts.
His best play on the drive came on second-and-1 from the Ohio State 40. Miller ducked a pass-rusher and rolled left. He could have run for the first down, but bought some time while barely staying behind the line of scrimmage. Then he saw receiver Corey Brown get open and tossed him the ball at the Northwestern 45. Brown made a nifty move and went for a 38-yard gain.
“He had some really good throws as far as the quick gains and moving the chains,” Meyer said.
Miller finished 15 of 26 for 203 yards. A couple of the incompletions were drops.
He also ran 17 times for 68 yards. His longest was 15 yards, a sign that the sprained knee that kept him out for two weeks might still be affecting him. Miller acknowledged that the knee is “bothering me just a little bit.”
After the game, Miller said he wasn’t aware that Meyer considered benching him. He said he would have accepted that as a coach’s prerogative.
“I just talked to myself, (saying), ‘Calm down and play my game,’ ” Miller said. “I felt like a couple of drives I wasn’t playing my game. I got comfortable after a while.”
For the Buckeyes, it was just in time.