|Braxton Miller (5) returns from injury to lead Ohio State to a 31-24 win over Wisconsin on Saturday night in Columbus (AP)|
COLUMBUS — After missing the past three games with an MCL injury, Ohio State star quarterback Braxton Miller — donning a noticeable brace on his right knee — returned to action on Saturday night in front of an electrified crowd of nearly 106,000 at Ohio Stadium.
When Miller was finished doing his thing, it was the Wisconsin defense that limped off the gridiron ... battered, bruised and utterly defeated.
Miller finished the night with 281 total yards and a career-high four touchdown passes, as he led the No. 4 Buckeyes (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) to a 31-24 victory over No. 23 Wisconsin (3-2, 1-1) — extending their winning streak to an FBS-best 17 games.
The junior signal caller showed no ill effects following the nearly month-long hiatus, firing passes with extreme precision and velocity in the win, as well as displaying the elusiveness on the run which has made him one of the most dynamic players in all of college football.
"I felt good," Miller said following the win. "It was a good crowd. Always a great crowd with the Buckeyes. I felt good. My legs felt good energy-wise. I wasn't out of shape. Felt really good."
During the week prior to the game, some were wondering whether there would be a quarterback controversy in Columbus, following the record-setting play of backup Kenny Guiton in Miller's absence.
Of course, Miller squashed all of that talk on Saturday night with a memorable prime-time performance.
He did point out, though, how Guiton has been his biggest supporter throughout the entire process.
"I am proud of Kenny and the way he led the team while I was out," Miller said of Guiton. "I look at him as a big brother. So no controversy with that ...
"Like I said, he's been my big brother ever since I got here. We've had a connection. We roommate every game. We talk about things outside of football. We hang out all the time.
"I am just happy to see him happy for me to be back on the field with the team."
Urban Meyer — who is now 17-0 as the Buckeyes head coach — was pleased with what he witnessed out his starting quarterback on Saturday night, especially going against the best defense they have faced thus far this season.
"I think (Miller) played very well," Meyer said. "He threw for 200 yards, four touchdowns. Played against a very good defense. Didn't realize how many seniors there were on the defense — well coached, hard playing outfit. I don't think I said that in the beginning of my statement, but I think the team we played is very good. Should be undefeated except for some ridiculous call (against Arizona State).
"Two Big Ten teams going at each other. Incredible environment. Boy, Braxton did have a heck of a day."
Miller wasted little time showing those on hand that he was back to his old self, leading the Buckeyes on a four-play scoring drive during the opening series which culminated on a 25-yard laser-beam touchdown pass to Evan Spencer.
Two offensive series later, Miller was back at it again, carving up the Badger defense with passes of 7, 7, 22 and 26 yards — the final one being another vapor trail strike in the end zone to Devin Smith.
Miller was phenomenal for much of the first half, but it was the final seconds before intermission when the superstar out of Huber Heights (OH) showcased why he's known by his teammates as "Magic."
After missing on a deep attempt to Smith on third-and-long — with less than 10 seconds to play in the second quarter — Miller glanced over to Meyer on the sideline and seemingly communicated telekinetically with his boss that he wanted another chance to test pay dirt.
Meyer granted his quarterback another shot on fourth down, and Miller delivered the "magic," firing a tight spiral 40 yards to the back of the end zone, connecting with Philly Brown for a touchdown ... with one second remaining on the clock.
"It slipped out of my hands," Miller said, about the pass he missed Smith on prior to the touchdown to Brown. "I can't make excuses. It's on me. I told coach: Let's throw it again.
"I made up for it the next throw."
"He doesn't really get discouraged during the game," Smith said of Miller. "He's a strong kid, but I think the touchdown before the half was cool."
Miller added a fourth touchdown toss (to Brown from one yard out) late in the third quarter.
The sky wasn't the only way of transit for the Buckeyes on Saturday night, as they rushed for 198 yards in the win — nearly double the output of Wisconsin, who came into the game with the nation's top rated running attack.
Senior tailback Carlos Hyde — who made his first start of the season Saturday night — was a beast in the backfield for the Buckeyes, especially early on in the contest, rushing for 52 of his game-high 85 yards in the first quarter.
Miller added 83 yards on the ground in the victory, as well.
Defensively, the Buckeyes looked solid against the run, holding the nation's top running team to just 104 yards on the ground — 250 yards less than their per game average.
The Badgers were able to move the ball through the air against the Buckeyes, though, as quarterback Joel Stave finished with 295 yards and two touchdown passes in the defeat. Badgers wide receiver Jared Abbrederis hauled in a game-high 10 receptions for 207 yards and a touchdown.
BRYANT LOST FOR THE SEASON ... Ohio State safety Christian Bryant suffered a broken ankle during the win against Wisconsin on Saturday night, and will undergo season-ending surgery.
The loss, according to Meyer, is a monumental one.
"We just got news we lost our captain. Christian Bryant has a broken ankle. And that's just tough news," Meyer said. "Just love that kid. I just want to ask you to keep Christian's family in your prayers and that darn kid has done so much for our program, come so far. Incredible leadership skills. And he's going to be even more valuable outside of football. I love that guy.
"Doggone it. Hard part of the game, boy."
Bryant finishes the season with 22 tackles (currently third on the team), an interception and five passes defended.
ANOTHER PRIMETIME TILT ... The Buckeyes will head to Evanston, Illinois next Saturday night to take on No. 17 Northwestern (4-0) at 8 p.m. (ABC).