Braxton Miller was sacked about a half-dozen times in the Ohio State spring game Saturday, but the junior quarterback was hindered by having to wear a no-contact black jersey, which meant defenders only had to touch him to register a tackle.
He’s convinced he could have dodged a few under normal conditions.
“I don’t know how many of them would have been sacks,” he said. “They blew the whistle quick.”
The idea of putting Miller in Johnny Cash garb was to reduce the injury risk and make him work on his pocket passing, and he fared quite well while leading the Scarlet to a 31-14 win over the Gray before 37,643 fans at Paul Brown Stadium.
Miller threw for two touchdowns and ran for another while playing three quarters. He finished 16-of-25 passing for 217 yards with no interceptions, and his rushing TD came on a five-yard scramble where he avoided being touched.
“Obviously, with a pass-heavy game — an area we were not very good at last year and have to get better — I thought at times Braxton Miller and a couple of the wideouts, Philly Brown in particular, did very well,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said. “That was a continuation of what started all spring.”
But Meyer didn’t earn a reputation as an offensive guru without having high standards, and those weren’t always met by Miller.
“You see fundamentally (in the pocket) he’s really good. But when it breaks down, that’s when it starts to go,” Meyer said. “I thought today it was pretty good. … He had a couple situations where he didn’t do very good. He went back to the old days, and the old days are taking the ball and running instead of keeping his eyes down field.”
Meyer also still has issues with the receiving corps, although fewer than he did at the start of spring practice.
He called Brown, who had five catches and a TD, “a legitimate all-Big Ten candidate, which we need.” And he raved about Chris Fields, who also had five grabs and a score.
“Chris Fields, I’m going to name him a starter today. I told him I would if he finished the spring (strong),” Meyer said. “Chris Fields has earned a starting spot on offense, which is amazing. He’s a wonderful guy that last year was just very inconsistent. I know (offensive coordinator) Tom Herman feels the same way. He’s earned a starting spot.
“(But) Devin Smith at times is just not consistent and other times makes great plays. You saw that last year. I’m spending a lot of time talking about a part of our game, that if we can figure that out, I’d be disappointed if we’re not the best offense in the Big Ten.”
Defensive end Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence spent much of the time in Miller’s air space, notching four and three sacks, respectively. And the Gray had nine overall. But the negative-yardage plays didn’t prevent the 2012 Big Ten offensive player of the year from getting on a roll.
He completed a 49-yard bomb to a wide-open Evan Spencer on the first play of the scrimmage (Spencer fell down reaching back for the ball). On third down, following a sack, Miller connected with Spencer for a 20-yard score on a deft lob in the corner of the end zone.
Miller connected with Brown for a three-yard TD on a pinpoint back-shoulder throw to take a 14-7 lead on the last play of the first half.
Asked where he’s improved the most since last season, Miller said, “Placing the ball where it needs to be placed.”
Miller caused a stir this spring by wearing a bleached-blond Mohawk like former LSU star Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu. But Miller wants to stand out with his play on the field, not through his distinctive hairstyle.
“This is growing out,” he said. “It’s not going to be here forever.”