Monday, September 10, 2012

MEYER: MUST PROTECT MILLER

Braxton Miller (TBT/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell)
COLUMBUS — With tailbacks Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde out due to injury, the 12th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes must find a productive replacement in the backfield this Saturday, if they hope to continue with their winning ways

Oh ... and that replacement's name shouldn't be Braxton Miller.

Although Miller has dazzled in the first two contests of the season, rushing for 302 yards and four touchdowns — and setting records in each outing — it's the 44 carries which worries those in Columbus, most notably Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer. 

Sure, it's quite difficult to limit the team's — and perhaps the nation's — most electrifying player. But when he's the quarterback of your team, he can't continue to run more than 20 times per game. The hits will quickly mount up, and that weapon will become less efficient.

Meyer agrees.

"He's a hell of a football player. I mean a hell of a football player," Meyer said of Miller on Monday during his media luncheon in Columbus. "(He's) better than even everybody in this country thinks right now. That's how good I think Braxton Miller is.

"But we have got to be smart. He got tattooed a little bit (against Central Florida). We've got to take care of him." 

With Hyde out at least a game with a sprained knee (more on that below) and Hall still doubtful to return this Saturday with a foot injury, true freshman Bri'onte Dunn may be the Buckeyes' best bet this weekend against Cal.

Dunn, who rushed for 29 yards on five carries in relief of Hyde during Saturday's win against UCF, has the size (6-1, 215), speed and power to be more than formidable in the top two backs' absence.

However, starting a rookie tailback in a game against a PAC-12 foe may not be what Meyer visualized going into the Buckeyes' third game of the season. 

So, how comfortable is Meyer with starting a true freshman at the tailback spot?

"If he has a good Tuesday and Wednesday, very comfortable," Meyer said of Dunn. "He's a good runner ... I think he's got good feet. I think he'll pound you. He's been very productive."

Meyer said that junior Rod Smith will also compete for the starting spot with Dunn in the coming days, basically stating that best man will get the nod against the Golden Bears.

"Tuesday and Wednesday is going to be very critical," Meyer said. "Whoever has the best Tuesday and Wednesday is going to line up at tailback."

With the inexperience in the backfield with Dunn and Smith, Meyer hinted that speedy receiver Philly Brown may also get some run at tailback, as well. 

Brown — who Meyer said on Monday is currently the Buckeyes' "best offensive play-maker" — displayed some flash running the football Saturday against UCF, recording runs of 19 and 14 yards in the win.

"We are thinking outside the box a little bit to get him more involved," Meyer said of Brown."

Meyer also said whichever player or players get the most reps this Saturday, the mission remains absolutely the same ...

Protect Miller.

"That's kind of the message I'm giving in the team meeting to the offense tomorrow," Meyer said."

"Take care of him."

NEWS OF HYDE'S INJURY 'POSITIVE' ... Junior tailback Carlos Hyde left Saturday's win over Central Florida in the second quarter with a knee injury, which at the time, seemed pretty serious. After the game against UCF, Meyer said he didn't know the severity of the injury or how much time the star runner would miss.

On Monday, Meyer said Hyde sprained his knee and the outlook is more "positive."

"It's positive on Carlos," Meyer said. "It's an MCL sprain. It actually did not swell.

"He's a tough guy. I think it's as positive as it can be for a serious MCL sprain."

Hyde may possibly return in the Buckeyes' week four home tilt against Alabama-Birmingham.