By RUSTY MILLER
AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - 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.
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
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
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
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."