Ohio State QB a threat through the air and ground


Freshman quarterback Braxton Miller leads the Buckeyes in passing yards and rushing yards this season. (The Associated Press)

Published: Friday, December 30, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 29, 2011 at 11:40 p.m.

JACKSONVILLE — Ohio State's offense has pretty much been the same as Florida's this season.

Stagnant.

But while the Gators have stayed stuck in this stalled state for most of the year, the Buckeyes have found a promising spark here in the latter half of the season.

His name is Braxton Miller.

The true freshman quarterback from Huber Heights, Ohio, has pumped life, points and hope into the OSU offense with his arm and his legs.

“He definitely can change the game,” Florida middle linebacker Jon Bostic said. “He's one of those guys who can keep a play alive, play after play after play. He can wear down a defense with his ability to run all around. He's a good player.”

Statistically, OSU's offense looks just as impotent as UF's. The Buckeyes are averaging a mere 319.8 yards a game, only 124.1 through the air, and have struggled to sustain drives and score points.

But Miller has brought an element of danger — the home run threat — to the offense down the stretch.

Like many true freshmen, he can be erratic at times, especially with his passing accuracy. But he also has the ability to turn potential negative plays into big plays and touchdowns.

“He certainly provides some challenges for us,” UF defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said.

Miller took over as the starting quarterback in the fourth game of the season, and showed his playmaking ability from the very beginning. The Big Ten freshman of the the year has thrown for 997 yards and 11 touchdowns and leads the Buckeyes in rushing with 695 yards and seven touchdowns.

Miller comes into the Gator Bowl on a roll after producing the best performance of his young career in a 40-34 loss to arch-rival Michigan in the final regular-season game. He rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown and had a career-high 235 yards passing, including a 54-yard TD pass on a scramble play.

He's definitely got Florida's attention.

“This guy's really got something to him,” Quinn said. “It's like having an athletic, shifty running back who can also drop back and pass it (effectively). Florida State (QB E.J. Manuel) is probably similar in terms of a mobile quarterback who likes to run and move.

“This guy is an effective runner and passer that we have to be ready for, and we are. He's not unlike a lot of quarterbacks who are mobile and can throw effectively on the move.”

The UF defense has had mixed results against dual-threat quarterbacks this season. The Gators shut down the strength of Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers, holding him to 20 yards rushing on 13 carries. But Rodgers hurt UF with his arm, throwing for 297 yards and two touchdowns.

A week later, South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw rushed for 88 yards and two touchdowns.

No disrespect to Shaw, but Miller is a faster, more dangerous threat with his legs.

“We have to contain him. Everyone has to be gap sound,” Bostic said. “Everybody has got to keep contain, know who's got the quarterback when they're running the option. Everything.”

Adding to UF's challenge is the fact Miller has improved and his confidence has grown over the course of the season. Bostic said you can see it when you watch tape of the Ohio State offense.

“Each game you see him getting more comfortable,” Bostic said. “He's starting to make more reads. The first couple of games, he was a one-read guy. Now, he's starting to be able to check down the ball when he needs to, and take off when he needs to.

“He keeps stuff alive. He can change a game.”

To prevent it from happening Monday, Quinn said the Gators will have to play with discipline and great effort.

“They have a really good running game,” Quinn said. “When you add quarterback runs into it, it adds a whole new element to their run game. It's really important to take care of the edge.

“Even when he drops back to pass, there are going to be some times when he can create and get outside the pocket. It's a challenge, one we're looking forward to.”

Miller has struggled at times with consistency. But even when he had a hard time moving the OSU offense earlier in the season, Quinn said his playmaking talent was obvious.

“You could see the athletic ability come out, and the big plays come out, when he first came on the scene,” Quinn said. “I thought he was a really talented guy. You see that when you watch him play now.”

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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