A week ago, no one was even certain Braxton Miller was healthy enough to play in a game.
Now, he thinks he’s still in the Heisman Trophy race.
“The way we keep playing as a team, as a whole, I feel like there’s all type of awards guys can get,” the junior quarterback said after Wednesday night’s practice. “So if (the Heisman) comes upon (me), I’m really grateful for what it is. But I’m just going to keep playing my game, me and the guys. Hopefully I’ll be looking forward to it after the season.”
Ohio State (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) has the nation’s longest winning streak at 17 in a row.
Miller missed more than half of the Buckeyes’ season with a sprained knee ligament sustained in the opening minutes of a Week 2 win over San Diego State.
He didn’t play in the victories at California and back home against Florida A&M while backup Kenny Guiton racked up huge numbers. Guiton had a school-record six touchdown passes, all in the first half, of a 76-0 rout of overmatched FAMU.
It wasn’t until last Thursday that Miller was tapped as the starting quarterback two days later against Wisconsin. Coach Urban Meyer was looking for the shiftiness and change-of-direction that is Miller’s hallmark. When Meyer saw that, he stamped Miller as the starter.
Miller then played as if he had never left, tossing four touchdown passes in a 31-24 victory.
“I didn’t miss a beat,” he said.
He even threw a crunching block when an Ohio State running back changed direction.
“He was chirping about that all day,” Meyer said with a chuckle. “He did a good job. That was a great block.”
Miller had crumpled to the ground in pain on Sept. 7 after being sandwiched between two San Diego State tacklers. Before he was carted off the field, a doctor manipulated his knee and he cried out in pain.
Needless to say, there were a lot of concerns about the three-year starter.
“I was certainly worried,” quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “I don’t know that (the injury set him back). Maybe a little bit mentally just seeing the game over and over again and seeing coverages live and all those things. From a physical standpoint, it didn’t and from a preparation standpoint, it didn’t, but there’s only so much you can do in drills and in the film room. (Facing) live bullets is necessary to gain that experience.”
Herman and Meyer both said Miller made a couple of throws against Wisconsin that he wouldn’t have even attempted earlier in his career.
Miller might actually benefit later on from having been hit less so far this season. But that didn’t mean his return was a breeze.
“Man, after the game I was really sore,” he said. “I just feel comfortable where I’m at. Coming back after the knee injury, I felt pretty comfortable just going out with the guys. It’s just a blessing.”
Another concern was that there might be a split allegiance among the Buckeyes, between Miller and Guiton. Guiton is a popular, gregarious member of the team, while Miller is quieter, more subdued and less demonstrative.
But everyone recognizes Miller’s special talents.
“Braxton’s our guy. At the end of the day, he’s the starter,” said receiver Corey Brown, who had two touchdown catches from Miller against Wisconsin. “No one was really too concerned about that because Kenny’s done a heck of a job in the games he’s played this year. Whatever quarterback went out on the field with us, we were confident with.”
Now Miller leads the Buckeyes against another ranked team, No. 16 Northwestern. Just like last week, it’s in primetime on Saturday night, only this time it’s a road game.
“(Our fans) always kind of take over the stadium,” he said. “Our fans travel wherever we go. It feels good. So a different environment, but it’s always a great feeling.”