Wednesday, September 21, 2011

READING THE TELLS ... TELL ME THIS SATURDAY IS BRAXTON MILLER TIME

Braxton Miller
The Buckeye Times/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell
COLUMBUS — I pride myself on being a formidable poker player, you know, having the ability to read people's body language, hearing the differing pitches of their voice, identifying the nervous ticks, shoulder shrugs, eye contact, mixing of words, etc ...

After listening to and watching Ohio State interim head football coach Luke Fickell speak on Tuesday afternoon — as well as some of the current Buckeye players who were on hand to meet with the media — I believe that Saturday will be the official beginning of the Braxton Miller-era in Columbus.

And it's about darn time.

The true freshman quarterback out of Huber Heights (OH) — who has been playing behind fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman — hasn't been afforded many opportunities this season to display the skills which made him one of the most highly touted high school signal callers in the nation last year.

Miller has seen about three quarters of work total this season thru three games, and to make matters worse, it's been so here and there with the playing time that he has yet to find any real flow to his game.

During the season opener against Akron, Miller played just one series in the first half — where he had a pass dropped by his tight end and a poor snap from his all-American center in the shotgun — before getting pulled by Fickell. He wouldn't be reinserted until the midway point of the third quarter.

Miller didn't see one snap in the narrow escape against Toledo in week two, and then had to cut his teeth in limited — off and on — action against Miami (Fla.) in a nationally televised, primetime showdown on the road. In fact, Fickell had such a tight leash on Miller in the 24-6 loss to Miami that he was pulled on a first down play in the third quarter after a botched handoff attempt.

"We had a plan that series and then we got behind the 8-ball," Fickell said, about why he pulled Miller after just one play. "We didn't want to put him in a situation where he wasn't comfortable."

Now that's interesting.

It seems to me that's all Fickell has done to Miller thus far is put him in uncomfortable situations.

Back to the poker tells.

Fickell wouldn't commit — verbally — to naming a starter on Tuesday, but he made it really easy to read between the lines.

"We've got to practice," Fickell said. "We have some ideas on how we need to go about it ... we'll find a way to get our best 11 guys on the field. We want to see how those guys compete, how they respond and we'll make a decision as we move forward."

Sure, it was coach speak, but you could tell by the pitch in his voice and the nervous ticks he exhibited that change is his "idea."

"We could (possibly name Miller the starter), if he would go out and make some plays throwing the football ... Yeah, we will." Fickell said/slipped.

Miller got the majority of the snaps in practice following the Fickell-presser Tuesday.

When it came to the players' thoughts on the quarterbacks, you could tell by their body language and wording that change is coming. In fact, each player that spoke seemed to use Miller's name first when describing the situation.

Sure, it may seem like I'm reaching here, but Bauserman's name was always first on everyone's lips during camp and thru the first three games of the season, so hearing Miller get top billing was noticeable, even to a non-poker player.

The fact is, Fickell doesn't have much choice than to start Miller. He realizes, whether he'll admit it verbally or not, that he's handled the quarterback situation poorly thus far. He realized this about midway through the Miami game, and had it confirmed afterwards by comments and actions of the two passers.

Miller's take after the game: "I know I let people down. I want to come back harder."

Bauserman's take(s) after the game: "We were running the ball well there for a little while, so there's no point in passing. We got down to the goal line and tried to throw the ball in there and it didn't work." ... "We shot ourselves in the foot. We didn't execute, plain and simple."

You see, leaders take the blame, and they take losses personally. Miller said "I" failed ... Bauserman said "we" failed. Fickell has said numerous times that "nothing goes unnoticed."

Trust me, Fickell noticed his quarterbacks' actions and words following the loss.

The coach also notices the Buckeyes have one game to play before the Big Ten schedule begins, and he must find his quarterback/leader if he's to hang on to his job.

Fickell is certainly behind on the chip count, and is realizing that he must go all-in with Miller if he has any hopes to avoid going bust.

Look for his chips to be moved to the center of the table this Saturday against Colorado.