In preparing for its game on tonight against No. 21 Nebraska and quarterback Taylor Martinez, Ohio State found the perfect surrogate.
The 12th-ranked Buckeyes (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) didn’t have to go far to find someone with Martinez’s acceleration, vision, lane-changing speed and knack for lengthy touchdown runs.
He was just across the line of scrimmage: quarterback Braxton Miller.
Their styles may be slightly different, just like their body types. But there are also a lot of similarities between the two players, starting with how fast they are.
“The defenses will not be shocked by the speed,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said of the lightning-fast signal-callers. “They’ve seen it in practice.”
The game will be a matchup of run-first, pass-later quarterbacks who are closer to Usain Bolt than Dan Marino.
Miller is second in the Big Ten in rushing and 13th in the nation at 115.4 yards per game. Martinez tops the conference in efficiency and is 11th in the country. With better running backs to hand off to, Martinez is only averaging 60 yards on the ground.
The area where they are most similar is in their ability to create big gainers. Martinez has scored on runs of 92, 38 and 27 yards and has completed TD passes covering 68, 42, 36, 35, 29, 27, 27, 26 and 26 yards. Miller has found the end zone on runs of 65, 55, 37 and 33 yards and has thrown scoring passes of 72, 63, 44, 40, 38, 35 and 25 yards.
Defenders who have grown accustomed to chasing down their own QB benefit from facing someone who is just as fast.
“There’s not many quarterbacks out there that run sub-4.4s, or high 4.3s,” Ohio State linebacker Etienne Sabino said of both quarterbacks’ neck-snapping speed in the 40-yard dash. “Braxton’s obviously one of them, but so is Martinez. I think it definitely helps us going against Braxton every day.”
By extension, it must also help Nebraska’s defense to be chasing Martinez so much.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, a former Ohio State player (1986-90) and captain, was the defensive coordinator at LSU when he coached against Meyer who was in a six-year run at Florida that included two national titles.
“I think there are a lot of similarities from when he was at Florida,” Pelini said. “They have a different style of runner at the quarterback position, so we’ll see some different plays. There are a lot of similarities there, too. He had success with it at Florida, so why wouldn’t he have success at Ohio State? It makes sense.”
Comparisons have been drawn between Miller and Meyer’s Heisman Trophy-winning QB with the Gators, Tim Tebow. But Tebow was more of a fullback compared to Miller, who is a sprinter in shoulder pads.
Huskers middle linebacker Will Compton said Miller was more like Michigan’s jet-fast Denard Robinson.
“When you face guys like Denard and Braxton, you have to get an extra set of eyes on them. You have to get an extra guy to the party,” he said, and by party he meant gang-tackle. “You can’t leave guys one on one with him. You have to get off blocks, rally to the ball. If he makes one guy miss, the second guy has to be there to get him.”
OSU defenders are following those same identical instructions to bring down Martinez.
“(The key is) not over-pursuing, and breaking down and tackling him,” linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “And letting everybody else pursue to the ball. You put him in a circle, he can’t go anywhere.”
Of course, the QBs aren’t the only threats for the teams. Nebraska (4-1, 1-0) also has speedy tailback Ameer Abdullah, averaging 97 yards a game rushing, and a prototypical, punishing ’Huskers back in Rex Burkhead, going for 91 a game.
NOT AN ACADEMIC
ESPN.com reported on Friday that unused Ohio State QB Cardale Jones made his feelings about attending class clear.
On his Twitter account, Jones said, “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL classes are POINTLESS.”
Multiple media outlets picked up the tweet before it, and Jones’ entire account, were deleted.
Jones, who has not played this season, isn’t listed on the two-deep chart.