Ohio State Football Week 10: Something Like That

I have often thought of a Tim McGraw song when picturing how Urban Meyer views Braxton Miller, and Saturday was another reminder of why as the scintillating sophomore did some more things “a heart don’t forget”…

What we learned last week: Players trump momentum, and it doesn’t hurt to be lucky sometimes, either.

We already should have known these things, of course, but sports has a way of providing us with reminders on a regular basis.

Braxton Miller struggled early in the game last Saturday night at Penn State. There is no denying it. He looked uncomfortable in the pocket, and he had a hard time finding running room as the Nittany Lions smartly sold out to stop the powerful Ohio State rushing attack.

The Buckeyes’ quarterback also flirted with disaster on more than one occasion as a pair of throws were nearly intercepted and returned for touchdowns by Penn State defensive backs.

Miller also cost his team six points when he missed a wide open Philly Brown on a vertical route in the first quarter, but as they often have this season, eventually Miller’s “dids” overcame his “wouldas” and his “couldas,” and the Buckeyes never looked back.

It’s funny how that happens to the freakiest of athletes more than anyone else, isn’t it?

With a few tweaks from Urban Meyer and Tom Herman, Miller suddenly found some room to run, and he did not waste it.

He also got some help from Carlos Hyde, a running back who has already proven he is a difference maker with his size and speed, and Rod Smith, one who is reputed to be able to do the same thing and gave more glimpses he really is in Happy Valley.

Add it all up and a good half of defense went up in smoke for the Nittany Lions, who looked as helpless against Miller in the third quarter as they did dominant in the first and for most of the second.

When he gets locked in, he is just about impossible to stop. Nobody has as much magic in his feet as Miller, and he’s dangerous as a passer despite his inconsistency.

It really is a marvel to watch him grow up on this stage, to see how much he can accomplish on instincts and a sense of what he’s being taught by a new set of coaches. Dare to imagine how he’ll look by the start of next season after he has had more time to digest it all? I’m sure you probably already have, but feel free to do it again.

Of course, it wasn’t only Miller whose ability could change a game. Saturday night was another affirmation that Ohio State has better players than the rest of the Big Ten at this point in time.

Even with injuries biting a few positions, the Buckeyes have a lot of guys that can play. Not enough to be considered national title contenders yet, but enough to continue to carry the conference as we wait to see what the ceiling of Brady Hoke’s Michigan program is going to be.

What we can expect to learn this week: I hate to go back to this well, but the question is how the Buckeyes handle prosperity because at the end of the day, they still only have so much to play for.

Last week, I wrote that the biggest factor was going to be Ohio State’s mood. It has been that way all year as the Buckeyes have lost focus at times and made mistakes that cost them in the points column.

Some of the letdowns were understandable even though they are never acceptable. Human nature tells us getting fired up to face Indiana isn’t automatic. The same could be said for all of the nonconference games, truth be told, because none were brand names. Even Cal’s best recent success came when the current players weren’t very old.

But then going to Penn State was another matter. Not that the Buckeyes view Penn State much differently than any other conference foe, but the Nittany Lions seemed to be developing a bit of swagger while winning five in a row. They looked sharp on film dispatching Iowa a week earlier (though the Hawkeyes had a hand in that, to be sure), and the game was at a place that has caused opponents fits in the past. Beaver Stadium was also one that the Buckeyes could look at and be confident they could win because they had done it on their past two visits, but actually being there can be energizing if handled correctly, something the few veterans on this squad have seen first hand.

And so history repeated itself, and talent won out. Ohio State’s very good offensive line outplayed Penn State’s very good front seven. Matt McGloin made some plays, but not enough for his team when the game was still in doubt. Miller made them, too, and he got help from his buddies in the backfield. They also managed to provide enough of a run threat to create opportunities in the passing game, and they hit one of those when they needed it late. Jake Stoneburner’s 72-yard touchdown catch was another example of superior skill, too, as he simply won a one-on-one battle with a safety.

So where does it leave Ohio State now? The Buckeyes seem primed for another letdown with an emotional win in the rearview, a weak opponent front and center and a week off around the corner prior to two matchups that should get everyone’s blood pumping again. While I’ve said clunkers are inevitable, I still think this team has tended to turn in too many uneven efforts.

Winning out would be a great source of pride, but it probably wouldn’t result in much more than that.

And this week’s opponent is a terribly disappointing squad from Illinois, another that has given the Buckeyes plenty of fits in the past few years but that looks awful so far this season.

Before the season, this looked like a trap game, but I’m not sure the Fighting Illini are good enough to spring it, so how will the Buckeyes react? Will they smell blood and finally put a team away early, or will they mess around and wait for someone else to do the job until things really start to get dicey?

Eventually, this team needs to iron out some of its mental issues. Motivation is a constant struggle with the age group, but by next year they will need to bring a more consistent effort to the park every week because style points will matter, maybe more than going undefeated in and of itself. And the schedule might not be so kind, depending on how things develop in Ann Arbor and Madison.

The need for Miller to share the burden of moving the ball is real, too, as is avoiding big plays in the secondary.

But for now this particular ride continues, and the chance to go 10-0 is less than a week away.

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