Miller will start at quarterback for Ohio State

Published 1:21 am Friday, September 23, 2011

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS — An 18-year-old true freshman is being given the keys to the Ohio State offense.

Interim coach Luke Fickell made it official on Thursday when he announced that Braxton Miller would take over as the starting quarterback against Colorado on Saturday.

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Fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman had started the first three games for the Buckeyes (2-1), but the passing game — with Bauserman and Miller splitting time — was almost nonexistent in Saturday night’s 24-6 loss at Miami. The two quarterbacks combined to hit just 4 of 18 passes for 35 yards with an interception (by Miller), with all four completions going to running backs.

“It’s a ’give him a shot,”’ Fickell said moments after disclosing the decision on his weekly radio show. “The reality is it is a big thing. But we need both of them. The way we handle it is key. But it’s time to give him a chance.”

The switch comes at a symbolic crossroads for the Buckeyes, who climbed as high as No. 15 before stopping a late Toledo drive to pull off a narrow 27-22 win and then falling flat in their first regular-season game ever in Florida.

Ohio State fans have been clamoring for more of Miller — a five-star recruit from just an hour down Interstate 70 in suburban Dayton — since he enrolled at the school last January.

Earlier this week, Colorado coach Jon Embree said far too much emphasis is put on who starts at the position.

“I hate cliche, but too much credit is given to the quarterback when it is good and too much blame when it goes bad,” he said. “It takes a lot of people. I don’t think it is just a one-guy problem with the passing game (at Ohio State). The other games they were doing OK with it, so I’m not buying the sky is falling in Columbus.”

Miller, who is listed as 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, received one-quarter of the snaps in spring ball, with Bauserman, redshirt freshman Taylor Graham and third-year sophomore Kenny Guiton also getting equal playing time in workouts.

Shortly after preseason camp opened in early August, Bauserman and Miller were separated as the top two and they’ve been dueling ever since. The depth chart has listed them as co-starters all season.

Bauserman had spent the last two years watching from the sidelines as Terrelle Pryor played almost every down for teams that went 11-2 and 12-1.

But everything changed during a tumultuous few months during which decadelong coach Jim Tressel was forced out of the job, several players were suspended and Pryor gave up his senior season to jump to the NFL. All or much of that was a result of an NCAA investigation that found that players had accepted cash and tattoos from a local parlor, and that Tressel had knowledge of it and yet played players who he had reason to know might be ineligible. (Ohio State has since vacated the 2010 season, in addition to other sanctions, with still others possibly on the way.)

With Pryor — who also made his first start as a true freshman in the fourth game of the 2008 season — suddenly gone, the Buckeyes were left with inexperienced quarterbacks who had seen almost no action under pressure.

The 25-year-old Bauserman had a banner opener, hitting on 12 of 16 passes for 163 yards, while Miller was 8 of 12 for 130 yards in the second half of a rout over Akron. Even though Fickell and offensive coordinator Jim Bollman asserted Bauserman and Miller would share the job, Miller curiously never left the sidelines against Toledo while Bauserman did just enough (16 of 30 of 30 for 189 yards and a touchdown passing) to get the Buckeyes a victory.

But in high heat and humidity against an active Hurricanes defense on Saturday night, nothing went right. Bauserman hit on just 2 of 14 passes for 13 yards, while Miller had his only two completions (in four attempts, for 22 yards) on the final two plays.

Bauserman and the offense were booed by Ohio State fans during the Toledo game because he elected to throw the ball away rather than chance a turnover. Ineffective at times, he still had no interceptions and no fumbles this season.

Miller, however, has lost two fumbles and thrown an interception in far less playing time.

But with the offense stuck in neutral — or maybe reverse — during the Miami game, Fickell — whose job is not guaranteed beyond this one season — came around to thinking that maybe the time was right to sink or swim with a young player.

“He’s got a lot of ability,” he said of Miller. “We’re going to give him some opportunities to play with his ability. But, again, it’s what we think right now the team needs and the way we’ll continue to move forward. There’s some things, obviously, that Joe could still do and we need him to do. So, we’re not focused on just one guy.”

He stressed that the problems at Miami were spread throughout the whole team and on both sides of the ball and special teams. But at the same time, he felt the move to a new quarterback was necessary — even though Bauserman will still play.

“I’ve said it a million times — we have a plan,” Fickell said. “But this is where we are right now. And we know that Braxton is the guy who’s going to start this game.”


Rusty Miller can be reached at