Lions' toughest task: Stop Braxton Miller

Braxton Miller has led the Buckeyes, winners of 19 straight games,to a No. 4 national ranking. He ran for two TDs and threw for a third in an Ohio State victory over the Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium last season.
Braxton Miller has led the Buckeyes, winners of 19 straight games,to a No. 4 national ranking. He ran for two TDs and threw for a third in an Ohio State victory over the Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium last season. (AP)
Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller breaks loose against Iowa. "In my opinion he's one of the top five players in the country," Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said.GALLERY: Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller breaks loose against… (Columbus Dispatch )
Posted: October 27, 2013

COLUMBUS, Ohio - He might have been tired after just coming off the practice field, but Braxton Miller couldn't help but laugh at the questions.

"The coaches are saying that they want to stop me?" the Ohio State quarterback said earlier in the week. "How does it make me feel?

"It makes me feel good that they want to stop me but I've got a lot of guys around me that have skills. I've got a lot of weapons. It's tough stopping our offense. It's not just a one-man team."

The Buckeyes (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) are ranked fourth in the nation entering Saturday night's home date against Penn State (4-2, 1-1) thanks to a powerful running attack led by Carlos Hyde, and an opportunistic passing game with a bunch of talented receivers, including Corey Brown, an Upper Darby native who starred at Cardinal O'Hara.

Miller, however, is the catalyst of the unit, the reason that Nittany Lions head coach Bill O'Brien and defensive coordinator John Butler have put in late hours this week. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound junior can send hearts racing with creative runs out of the pocket or a pinpoint pass to an open target.

"In my opinion he's one of the top five players in the country," O'Brien said. "He's got a great grasp of their system. He's throwing the ball well. If he gets outside the pocket, he's a dangerous guy.

"We've got to play hard and with great effort and do the best we can to keep him in [the pocket]. When he gets out, we have to make sure that we understand our scramble rules. But that's the difficulty with a lot of these teams that you face with these quarterbacks that are dual-threat guys."

Miller, who missed two games and part of a third earlier this season with a sprained left knee, has a history with the Lions. He rushed for two touchdowns and threw for a third in last year's 35-23 victory by the Buckeyes at Beaver Stadium. One of the scores, a 1-yard run, always will be remembered, no matter what colors you were wearing that night.

Penn State defensive end Sean Stanley broke through the line and had a shot at tackling Miller for a loss but Miller avoided him. He then put an incredible move on linebacker Gerald Hodges as he retreated back to the 7, ran by Michael Mauti, and plunged in.

"Yeah, I remember it," Miller said. "When I made that move [on Hodges], it was crazy. I remember the whole play but I don't remember how I took the step back and made the guy miss. It was crazy, unreal."

Penn State players saw that play more than once this week, not because they wanted to torture themselves, but because they want to keep it from happening again.

"It was a crucial play in the game," linebacker Glenn Carson said. "That play alone just shows Braxton's athleticism and how important it is to have fundamentals when tackling, to be able to make a solid tackle."

But Miller's game these days isn't strictly improvisation with his legs. In last week's win over Iowa, he had one of his best passing days, completing 22 of 27 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns, one of them coming on a 58-yard throw to Brown.

"I thought about what I should do better and I wanted to get better with my passing, especially my fundamentals," he said. "I'm back healthy again and able to move around on first down and second down. It opens up a lot."

Given Miller's multiple talents, the Nittany Lions have to be focused on their reads and their fundamentals or it could be a long night at Ohio Stadium.


Penn State at Ohio State

When: Saturday at 8 p.m.

Where: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio

Records: Penn State (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten); Ohio State (7-0, 3-0, ranked No. 4 by the Associated Press)

TV/Radio: 6ABC; WNTP-AM (990), WNPV-AM (1440)

Coaches: Penn State, Bill O'Brien (2d season, 12-6); Ohio State, Urban Meyer (2d season, 19-0)

Series: Ohio State holds a 15-13 overall advantage in the series that began in 1912. The two teams are meeting for the 21st straight year since the Nittany Lions began Big Ten competition in 1993, with the Buckeyes boasting a 13-7 edge in conference play. Five Penn State wins have been vacated by NCAA sanctions.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is capable of taking off on an improvised run at any time, so the Nittany Lions defense must be fundamentally sound with its tackling, something that's been an issue at times this season.

Because the Buckeyes are just ordinary on pass defense, Penn State could find some openings, especially with its tight ends. But for that to happen, the Lions must establish the run, and Ohio State is seventh nationally in the FBS in rush defense.

Teams led by Meyer are 19-0 when they block a punt, the last time by Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby in the win three weeks ago over Northwestern. So watch closely to see if the Buckeyes take a run at Penn State punter Alex Butterworth.

THREE THINGS YOU MIGHT NOT KNOW

Ohio State has returned eight interceptions for touchdowns against Penn State since 2002, with three of the pick-sixes coming against Matt McGloin.

Penn State's numbers on third-down conversions, both on offense and defense, are remarkably similar. Offensively, the Nittany Lions have converted 27.8 percent of third-down tries, a lowly 116th out of 123 FBS teams. But their defense allows opponents to convert 28.1 percent, fifth in the nation.

The road team in the Penn State-Ohio State series has won five of the last six games. The Buckeyes have the only home win in that stretch, in 2010.

- Joe Juliano


BY THE NUMBERS

Ohio State during its 19-game winning streak:

11

Big Ten victories.

26

Lowest point total during the streak (in a 26-21 win over Michigan, Nov. 24, 2012).

1,606

QB Braxton Miller's total rushing yards in 16-plus games.


jjuliano@phillynews.com

@joejulesinq

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