Braxton Miller’s eyes grew wide in the split second before the Spin Heard Round the World. He must have seen the future: SportsCenter highlights, fawning Twitter posts, Instagram photos galore.
Social media turns amazing plays these days into unforgettable plays. The Wayne High School grad Miller and his Ohio State teammates must have relived his 53-yard touchdown run Monday in the 42-24 victory against Virginia Tech hundreds of times by the time they returned to campus at 3:41 a.m. Tuesday.
Even LeBron James watched it a time or two and saluted Miller on Twitter for paying homage to one his signature celebrations as he celebrated the run in the end zone.
“I see you lil bro @BraxtonMiller5!!!” James wrote. “Hit em with ‘The Silencer.’”
“Yeah, it was only right,” Miller wrote.
Miller could not have scripted his debut at hybrid back any better. In his first game since the Orange Bowl against Clemson on Jan. 3, 2014, Miller rushed six times for 62 yards, caught two passes for 78 yards and scored two touchdowns. The Big Ten named him its offensive player of the week Tuesday.
Miller’s 54-yard touchdown catch on the third play of the third quarter helped Ohio State overcome a dismal second quarter. A 17-14 deficit became a 21-14 lead.
Then on the first play of Ohio State’s last drive of the third quarter, Miller lined up at his old position, quarterback. He rushed left behind running back Ezekiel Elliott, cut back to the Ohio State 43-yard line, beat a defender to the sideline and turned straight up the field.
At the Virginia Tech 42, with defensive tackle Corey Marshall bearing down on him, Miller planted with his left foot and spun to his right. Marshall couldn’t stop his momentum. He fell and rolled toward the sideline. Behind Miller, Elliott leveled a defender, who might have had a chance to chase down Miller, with a block.
“Braxton Miller is loose!” ESPN’s Chris Fowler shouted on the television broadcast. “Spin move! Headed toward the end zone!”
“Wow,” said Kirk Hebstreit, the former Ohio State quarterback turned ESPN analyst. “I think people forgot how explosive Braxton Miller is with the football in his hands.”
Two nights earlier, Miller played a video game and imagined executing just such a move.
“You see it on the game,” Miller said, “and you want to do the same thing.”
Miller’s touchdowns turned the tide in the game. His decision to stay at Ohio State after missing the 2014 season with a shoulder injury rather than find a new school as a graduate transfer student may have saved the 2015 season. Without Miller on Monday, who knows what would have happened?
After the game, an emotional Miller entered the locker room with tears in his eyes. He said he could barely talk. The moment, almost two years in the making, overcame him.
“I just thank God,” Miller said. “I love my teammates. They believed in me. They raised me up since I was injured.”
The love goes back Miller’s way. Coach Urban Meyer raved about him after the game.
“I love Braxton Miller,” Meyer said. “He made a lot of decisions — as young people have to — and he did it for the best interest of his team and Ohio State. When I think about that, that makes you feel good. Obviously, the spin move and the ridiculous athletic ability, but he broke down in there and got real emotional. The negative about football is you don’t see the faces. You see the helmet and the visor, and you don’t get to see what this kid’s all about. This kid’s all about the right stuff. I’m honored to coach him again for the fourth year. I love this guy.”
Asked if he was making up for lost time after watching from the sideline as the Buckeyes won the national title, Miller said, “You could call it that. I was just blessed, doing what I love out and being out there with my brothers.”
One of those teammates, Taylor Decker, the left tackle from Vandalia-Butler, called it a coming-out party for a player hadn’t seen real game action in 631 days.
“It’s been a long time since Braxton’s been on the field for us,” Decker said. “Maybe we don’t necessarily forget, but it’s been a while since we’ve seen those wow plays out of him. We’re just excited to have him back. I can’t say enough about how much respect I have for him being able to humble himself enough to switch positions. To have the type of game he did in his first outing at that position, it was fun to watch.”