LINCOLN — When preparing for a creative dual-threat quarterback, who's improving as a thrower and still running like a halfback, even a confident defensive architect like Bo Pelini is comfortable assuming his plan will contain some element of failure.
Ohio State has so many ways to utilize Braxton Miller's play-making potential. So at some point Saturday night, Pelini figures, the elusive sophomore will gash Nebraska's defense.
Once or twice. Or maybe a few times.
Completely swallowing up Miller's production may not be a realistic objective, the fifth-year Husker coach said.
“He's going to put stress on you, there's no doubt,” Pelini said. “And he's going to make his share of plays. You're not going to shut a guy like him down, from the quarterback position, the whole game. You're not going to just shut him out. I know that going in.”
Miller will carry the ball on zone read and speed options, plus sweep, dive and draw plays. He'll turn traditional dropback looks into high-speed rollouts, scrambling when appropriate or finding receivers on improvised routes.
Last weekend against Michigan State, arguably the league's best defense, Miller completed 16 of his 23 passes — releasing most of them while on the move. One of the few times he remained inside the pocket, he tossed a 63-yard touchdown to Devin Smith.
Backed up deep in his own territory, he once wiggled out of a sack (two Spartans had their hands on him, including star defensive end William Gholston), then found a receiver in the flat for a 24-yard gain.
Miller ran for 136 yards in Ohio State's 17-16 win, carrying the football 21 times and accounting for 82 percent of the Buckeyes' total offense. He did have three turnovers. And he left the game twice because of injury.
But with running back Jordan Hall doubtful this week and Carlos Hyde still working back to full strength, NU doesn't expect Miller's workload to decrease. He has 90 rushing attempts on the year, more than double that of any other OSU player.
“He has the ball in his hands a lot,” Pelini said. “So yeah, he's a big focal point.”
Sort of like another dynamic QB that Ohio State coach Urban Meyer designed an offense around. While at Florida, Meyer used Tim Tebow to fracture defensive schemes.
But, Pelini said, Tebow was a fullback with the ball in his hands. Miller's a tailback.
“Tebow's going to run over you,” Pelini said. “Braxton's going to make you miss.”
Nebraska's players are well aware. They whiffed a few times trying to bring Miller down last year as he piled up 91 yards on 10 carries. Had he not left with an injury in the third quarter, the Huskers may not have completed their memorable comeback.
Asked what stood out about defending Miller in last year's 34-27 win, senior safety P.J. Smith and senior linebacker Will Compton both mentioned poor tackling.
The NU players have seen Miller, at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, make cuts at full speed. Or suddenly reverse field. Or put one foot in the ground and spin out of trouble.
“You definitely don't want to sit there and dance with him,” Compton said.
Smith expects the safeties to be more involved in run support this week. Compton said it's critical that all 11 defenders aggressively flow toward Miller when he escapes. But junior Ciante Evans mentioned that the Husker cornerbacks will have to hold coverage longer than normal.
Miller's comfortable throwing outside the pocket, and his receivers “are going to be trying to run around and make up new routes,” Evans said.
That aspect of Miller's game concerns NU defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski.
While coaching at Iowa, he twice faced former Ohio State star Terrelle Pryor. Miller worries Kaczenski more.
“This guy's even scarier with his feet and his arm,” Kaczenski said. “He's become a better thrower — not only as the year progressed last year, but also every week. The guy's becoming a pretty good quarterback.”
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