Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller has been a pain in the neck for opposing defenders all season, so maybe the neck pain he’s currently dealing with is a little bit of karma.
The soreness is Miller’s neck is the result of an injury he sustained against Purdue last week that landed him in the hospital, but he passed all concussion tests and was released.
“I saw him this morning. He worked out and once again passed all his tests [Monday], and he'll be good to go for practice,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said Tuesday in regards to Miller’s health. “There will be no contact. Our biggest concern is how sore he is.”
Penn State coach Bill O’Brien said he still expects Miller to make some plays against the Nittany Lions’ defense Saturday.
Miller has rushed for more than 100 yards per game in 2012, and passed for more than 150. He averages nearly three touchdowns per game. What he’s going to do with the football often remains a mystery until it’s too late for opposing defenses to respond.
“He's the best,” O’Brien said, “and with all due respect to all the others because there's some good ones there, too, believe me, but this guy's an excellent player.”
O’Brien didn’t specify “best,” but Miller is a Heisman Trophy candidate in the same league as Geno Smith from West Virginia and Collin Klein from Kansas State.
The last quarterback-Heisman candidate Penn State squared off against was Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson in 2011. The now-Seattle Seahawk placed ninth in the Heisman voting that year. If the season were to end today, Miller would likely be a finalist.
The Lions do have an advantage in the fact that many of their defensive players have seen Miller play before, notably linebacker Gerald Hodges and defensive tackle Jordan Hill.
Hodges said the Braxton Miller the Lions will see Saturday has improved from the freshman whom Penn State sacked three times in 2011.
“He’s definitely a threat, not just in the Big Ten but in the whole country as a quarterback,” Hodges said. “We definitely have to make a big emphasis on making sure someone is there as the quarterback spy for the whole game.”
Last season against Penn State, the Lions held Miller to just 83 yards in the air, but they did let him run for 105 yards. The 2012 Penn State defense — the second best in the Big Ten at stopping the run — is more geared toward Miller’s ground attack.
Penn State’s defensive backs still do not have an interception this season, and they may very well be tested by Miller’s arm.
“He definitely likes to throw the ball,” safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong said. “He’s definitely a good passer. He has a strong arm. He’s not afraid to let it go.”
And to make matters worse, Ohio State’s receivers can also wreak havoc downfield. Miller likes to find junior Corey Brown, who is second in the conference in receptions to Penn State wideout Allen Robinson, and Devin Smith, who is also second to Robinson in receiving touchdowns.
Furthermore, junior running back Carlos Hyde complements Miller in the backfield. Hyde has 545 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.
“They have a lot of playmakers on their team,” Hodges said. “They have wide receivers, and they have running backs. We can’t just put the whole game around [Miller] because they do have those playmakers. Like I said, he’s a great athlete and a great quarterback, but we definitely need to focus on playing the whole Ohio State team and not just Braxton Miller.”
O’Brien said the defense’s mindset will be to limit Miller’s damage and quickly rebound if he makes a big play. He said Miller’s success will depend largely on the discipline of Penn State’s defensive line.
The front four can’t go after Miller like they would a slower quarterback or even a quarterback just as fast but with fewer options. If Miller scrambles, it’s less likely they will be able to catch him.
“He’s an elusive player,” Hill said. “One of the best in the country. As long we keep our containment and do our jobs, we should be able to make plays.”
Hill added that Ohio State’s offense is similar to the offense Meyer ran through Tim Tebow at Florida. He said Miller’s year of starting experience makes him dangerous in that setup, even when a play breaks down.
But Hill said Miller is nothing like Tebow, nor any other player in college football.
“There’s not much to compare to him,” Hill said. “He’s a running quarterback, but he’s definitely a special player.”