Saturday, September 24, 2011

MILLER ERA BEGINS IN WINNING FASHION 37-17 OVER COLORADO

Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller (5) and receiver Devin Smith celebrate after connecting on a 32-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter of Saturday's win over Colorado in Columbus. (The Buckeye Times/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell)
COLUMBUS — He looked like a true freshman at times, and the second coming on others, but most importantly for the Ohio State Buckeyes, the Braxton Miller-era began in winning fashion.

Miller dazzled with his feet, made some big plays with his arm, and showed the 105,096 fans on hand why he was touted as the most versatile high school quarterback prospect in the nation last year, as he totaled 166 yards and two touchdown passes in the Buckeyes' 37-17 victory over Colorado on Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

"He gave us a lift," OSU head coach Luke Fickell said of Miller following the game. "He gave us some things we needed offensively, as well as keeping plays alive."

Miller's first series of the game was quite reminiscent of his opening snaps against Akron in the season opener, as he led the team on a three-and-out — which ended again on a bad snap from center. However, the young signal caller from Huber Heights (OH) would settle in after that and display an element with his feet that one cannot teach.

On the Buckeyes' second series of the first quarter, Miller picked up a third down on a six-yard run, then followed it with a jaunt for 10 that set up Ohio State inside the Colorado 20-yard line. Three plays later, tailback Jordan Hall would punch in a score from one yard out for the 7-0 lead.

Miller rushed for 29 yards on seven totes in the first quarter.

The true freshman would continue to hypnotize the Buffaloes' defense in the second quarter by running for another 54 yards. But during the stanza, Miller showed the defense that he can do damage through the air, as well.

Facing a third-and-7 at the Colorado 32 — on the second series of the second quarter — Miller rolled right, then dropped back in the pocket and fired a perfect strike down the middle of the field to an open Devin Smith in the end zone for the score, and a 17-0 advantage.

Miller would be back at it again on the opening series of the third quarter.

After riding the legs of Hall for five consecutive runs, Miller would convert another third down by completing a beautiful 17-yard fade pass in the end zone to Smith for the duo's second touchdown of the game.

Smith, also a true freshman, finished the win with three receptions for 64 yards and two scores. He also hauled in a long pass in the fourth quarter from Miller that was ruled incomplete, when Smith lost the ball after he hit the turf out-of-bounds. The questionable call wouldn't be reviewed.

"It was nice to see (Smith) and Braxton connect a couple times," Fickell said. "He made some nice catches. I kept hearing from upstairs that was a catch over on the other side, though. It seemed like the officials didn't quite think so on that one. Everyone upstairs kept telling me, 'it was a catch, it was a catch.'"

Fickell said he didn't want to use a challenge at that point in time.

Cath or no catch, Miller stated there is a connection brewing between he and Smith.

"We've gotten comfortable in practice in the things we do," Miller said of the freshmen duo. "We take time out to throw the ball to each other. So, I guess we're getting a connection on the field (because of it)."

Miller, who had a rough start on the opening series, said he just settled down and let the game come to him the rest of the way after receiving a pep talk from Hall on the sideline following the first drive.

"I just told him, 'this is your huddle, son. Now take over,'" Hall said about what he told Miller. "He did a good job of that today."

"He gave me confidence," Miller said of Hall. "Pssh ... I just felt confident when he told me that, especially from coming from Jordan. I've got to lead the team. Everybody looks at the quarterback, so you have to do the things they want you to do."

Miller led the Buckeyes on 11 offensive series in the win, scoring on seven of them.

"Braxton did a good job," Hall said. "He was calm. He's going to be special, man. You saw how he makes people miss when the blocking breaks down."

Hall, who also got his first start of the season Saturday, ran with authority once again. The junior tailback racked up 84 yards and a touchdown in the win, and also added some big plays via the return game.

Hall added 135 yards on kickoff returns in the win Saturday, including a 90-yard ramble to the Colorado 5 in the third quarter. The return set up a five-yard touchdown run by Carlos Hyde one play later to put the Buckeyes on top 34-10.

Hall said he took a little ribbing for getting caught from behind, but pointed out that it eventually resulted in a score.

"They got on me on the sidelines," Hall laughed. "But hey, we scored ... so I was cool with it."

Fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman, who was unseated by Miller as the team's starting quarterback, only played one series in the game — the final one of the day. He finished 2-of-2 passing for 27 yards.

Fickell said after the game that Miller is the Buckeyes' starting quarterback going forward.

"Braxton's our quarterback," Fickell lamented. "We're going to continue to compete in practice and try and figure out what it is he does best and what he can handle."

DEFENSE SET THE TONE ... One of the goals coming into the game Saturday for Ohio State was to avoid starting slowly on defense, something that was an achilles heel the two games prior against Toledo and Miami (Fla.)

Mission accomplished.

The Buckeyes held Colorado scoreless in the first quarter, and gave up just seven points in the first half, forcing two turnovers before halftime. Colorado could only manage four first downs in the first half, and zero in the opening quarter of play.

"We came out really physical and we were well prepared," cornerback Travis Howard said. "Last week against Miami we left with a bad taste in our mouth. We jumped out to a great start today."

Christian Bryant, who got most of the playing time Saturday at strong safety, led the Buckeyes in tackles with six. Linebacker Storm Klein added a sack in the win.

KICKIN' IT WITH BASIL ... Sophomore kicker Drew Basil had an outstanding afternoon in the win, going 3-for-3 on the day with a long of 47 yards.

Basil — who began the season by missing his first two attempts — has made five straight field goals since.