Braxton Miller looked into the eyes of Luke Fickell, winked at him, and assured the head coach that the Ohio State football team would be just fine.
It didn’t matter to the freshman quarterback that Ohio State had just blown a 12-point advantage to Wisconsin after the Badgers regained the lead on a 49-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to Jared Abbrederis with 1:10 remaining in the game.
Visions of the Buckeyes’ loss at Nebraska – a game in which the team lost after holding a 27-6 lead midway through the third quarter – had stormed back into the minds of a crowd that had its collective wind knocked out of them.
Miller didn’t care.
Instead, he calmly lead the Ohio State offense back on the field with just over a minute remaining with its season dangling in the balance. Another epic collapse would have been the consequence had Miller failed in his final drive of the game.
As if the freshman had it pictured in his mind when gazing into the eyes of Fickell, Miller connected on a 40-yard touchdown pass with fellow freshman receiver Devin Smith with 20 seconds remaining in the game, completing the emotional comeback that instantaneously brought the life back into a program that was dead just minutes earlier.
The 33-29 win over No. 12 Wisconsin – who had just lost its second consecutive game in heartbreaking fashion – ended with fans storming the field and Ohio State’s prospects of winning a seventh consecutive Big Ten championship very much alive.
Miller came to life right in front of our eyes — So much was made about former quarterback Terrelle Pryor’s confidence and unwillingness to accept defeat and that started in his freshman season when he ran in a game-winning touchdown at Wisconsin to establish himself as a game-changer. Miller, who before his game-winning touchdown pass seemed to seal the deal with a 44-yard touchdown run, may have sported something better. The confidence to look Fickell in the eye and assure the coach that things would work out despite all that has gone wrong in this season is simply remarkable.
Perhaps this is the time where the legend of Miller begins, especially because the freshman has grown immensely in his time as the starter. Though there’s no questioning his natural athletic ability, the quiet/calm demeanor that exudes pure confidence may be the most impressive thing about the freshman quarterback. Perhaps something special is unfolding in front of our eyes because the poise in which Miller competed in this game isn’t something that’s commonly seen. In fact, I am not even sure Pryor had that.
Easy to say now, but not starting Miller from the beginning was a mistake — Obviously it is easy to say after a win like that, but I have a hard time believing this team would have as many losses right now had Miller been the guy from the beginning of the season. Now knowing that Joe Bauserman is the team’s third string quarterback, I am simply baffled as to why Miller didn’t stand out as the best option from the beginning. Perhaps the Buckeyes lose at Miami (Fla.) with Miller as the full time quarterback, but I don’t view it as going out on a limb by saying the Buckeyes would have two or less losses right now had they gone into the season with Miller as their guy. And of course, if Ohio State wins either Nebraska or Michigan State, they pretty much would have a trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game in the bag.
Devin Smith connection could be special — Every single time this freshman receiver is in the game he makes plays. Though it is hard for fans not to enjoy the win over Wisconsin in the moment, there could be some incredible years of Miller-Smith connections. For two freshmen to hook up the way they did and win the game after everything seemed to be crumbling down is very impressive. A year ago they were playing high school football and now with limited experience they are single-handedly knocking off Wisconsin – a former national title contender – with an incredible play with less than 30 seconds remaining in the game. It is almost too unreal to be true.
Dan Herron is the only one who should be carrying the ball — This isn’t an indictment on the other running backs on this team, but the biggest difference between the last two games – both wins – and the first two losses of the Big Ten schedule is the reemergence of Boom back into the lineup. Herron rushed for 160 yards and though his 13-game rushing touchdown streak came to an end, the Buckeyes are now 20-1 in games where he rushed for 55 yards or more. Whether they were handing the ball off to him or he was running out of the Wildcat formation, Herron has an amazing blend of patience, vision and explosiveness that just tends to turn into big plays. He had a 57-yard run that helped Ohio State take control of the game in the second half and the steady dose of Boom is enough to keep the Buckeyes in every game this season.
Wisconsin respected Ohio State’s rushing defense — It was the perfect testament to the Badgers’ respect for Ohio States’ defense when it ran a stretch play in the fourth quarter on 4th-and-2 down by six points and driving. Had it been confident, Wisconsin probably would have attempted to run right at the Buckeye defense. Unlike it has been able to do all season, Wisconsin simply couldn’t get the running game going and it seemed as if it genuinely feared the Ohio State defensive front. And for the second consecutive week lost after not being able to execute its run-first offensive philosophy. This isn’t a typo – Wisconsin had 89 rushing yards and the Badgers were out-gained by Ohio State, 357-342. Put your hands together for Ohio State’s rushing defense, as it was clearly the difference in this game and Wisconsin most definitely respected it.
A tad concerned with the defense at the end — Ohio State fans may not want to hear this, but there has to be some major concern for the Buckeyes’ defense late in games. I am not sure what the problem was at Nebraska, but it reoccurred against the Badgers. The defense, who had dominated the entire game, simply laid down at the end and allowed Wisconsin to score two quick touchdowns in two minutes. I am not sure if it is a lack of heart or focus – remember there were some broken plays – but Jim Heacock needs to take a long look at the breakdowns occurring at the end of the games and try to figure out how to keep his squad strong. Had the Buckeyes’ offense not completed a miraculous last-minute drive, we’d be sitting here talking about the defense blew it again. That’s not something that should sit well heading down the stretch of the season.
Defensive lineman earning recognition - I mention both Jonathan Hankins and John Simon each week in this piece and yet again they had great games. This time around I think it’s important to mention Adam Bellamy because he was just as impressive as the other two. Constantly in the opposing backfield, it was probably the most impressive performance of Bellamy’s career. If he can continue to be a constant menace for opposing offenses for the rest of the season – combined with the play of Simon and Hankins – this Ohio State defense will be hard to score on.
Ryan Shazier is a stud in the making — He has been making plays on special teams all year, but it was a blocked punt that was recovered by Curtis Grant at Wisconsin’s 1-yard line that really helped Ohio State set the tone in the second half. All season Shazier has been making big hits on special teams and playing with reckless disregard, so it was only appropriate that he was the one who helped Ohio State block its first punt since they did it at Minnesota in 2010. Shazier has been one of the most consistent playmakers on Ohio State’s special teams and it leaves one to wonder – how much longer can the defense play without the speed and energy in which Shazier plays with. He is a star in the making and I am just dying to see him with a major role on the defense.
Fickell gets the big win — It was almost a straight disaster for Fickell had the team lost the game in Nebraska form. Not only would Ohio State fans have to relive the epic meltdown, but the taste of being back in the Big Ten hunt would have instantly been ripped away from them. Though it didn’t come as easy as it seemed when the Buckeyes took the 12-point lead with less than five minutes to go, Ohio State has bounced back in a bigger way than anyone could have imagined just three weeks ago. You have to put your hands together for Fickell, who kept this team together during one of the toughest times in program history and now the Buckeyes could be making a run at yet another Big Ten title. For not having any experience, Fickell is putting together one heck of a coaching job right now.
FINAL QUICK THOUGHTS:
• After Ohio State gave up a quick score late in the fourth quarter and had its lead cut to just six, the Buckeyes got the ball back with just over three minutes remaining in the game. I know it is hard to imagine the Buckeyes throwing the ball, but with first downs separating the team from the win, is it too much to ask to get a little creative there instead of running three runs up the gut and punting? Screen. Shovel Pass. Draw. Slant. Quick hitter to the tight end. The list goes on and on and on. Win the game with the offense, don’t settle for three-and-out while giving the opposing team a chance to complete a game-winning drive. We have seen how that movie ends too many times and we almost saw it again.
• Jordan Hall had a miserable game in my opinion and he muffed two punts – one of which turned into a turnover and a Wisconsin touchdown. But he deserves props for returning the football near midfield before Ohio State’s last offensive possession to set up the game-winning touchdown pass. That was a huge play that can’t go unrecognized.
• Christian Bryant seemed to struggle with tackles today. Sometimes I wonder if he is more concerned about making big plays that are Sports Center worthy before making the simple plays that win ballgames.
• Andrew Sweat played a pretty productive game. Not only did he get pressure on Wilson on the last play of the game, he finished the game with eight tackles and a few different pressures early on.
• Ben Buchanan is probably having the most efficient season of anyone on the team. It isn’t a popular position, but Buchanan has been very reliable and his punts have put Ohio State in good field position all year.
• It’s pretty incredible how much of a turnaround this team has enjoyed this season. Two weeks ago this team was written off and now it is hard not to imagine they’re the favorite to win the Leaders Division to play in the inaugural Big Ten title game. It’s truly amazing how the feel of a season can shift.
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