FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — After games against Heisman Trophy quarterback Jameis Winston and running back Todd Gurley, there’s not much point in asking Clemson players if quarterback Braxton Miller is the best player they’ve faced.
Still, said Ohio State center Corey Linsley, when things break down, Miller can make a banquet out of chicken bones. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, he brings a powerful, electric running style and a huge arm to the table. Think Michael Vick 2.0.
“It usually happens if there’s good coverage or one of us messes up,” Linsley said Tuesday. “You see him zigzagging, so we’ll rewind to watch again. ‘Did he really do that?’ ”
Asked for an example, Linsley initially begged off — “too many to count” — then quickly recalled one against Indiana and an 80-yard run against the team from Up North — that’s Buckeye Speak for Michigan. “I could go on for 20 minutes.”
In a sense, Miller has become the wild card in Ohio State’s game plan because he’s capable of doing what you can’t diagram. His improvement as a passer has been marked, completing 63.5 percent for 22 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also ran for more than 1,000 yards for a second season, many off improvisation.
“There are a bunch of variables we try to isolate that make you unable to account for them,” Linsley said. “You don’t even plan for him. It’s just there.”
Admittedly it’s comforting to have a player of Miller’s creativity, particularly with a defense like Clemson’s that can generate pressure from any place along the line. End Vic Beasley enters the game tied for third nationally in sacks and seventh in tackles for loss. Tackle Grady Jarrett, a tree stump 6-foot-1 and 295-pounder, plays like a Sequoyah with 10 tackles for loss, a sack and 13 quarterback pressures.
Jarrett particularly impressed Linsley and Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde.
“Explosive guy,” Hyde said. “He moves well, gets off blocks well and is pretty impressive.”
As the season began, Clemson coaches thought the front seven would be the team’s greatest asset.
“To say that they’re the strength of the team, I wouldn’t be surprised at all,” Linsley said. “I know everybody talks about their defensive end, but I can tell on film that both of Clemson’s inside guys are extremely good players.
“I can tell they’re well coached just by how they use their hands and how well they use their hands. As an offensive lineman I can appreciate that. Players you face either don’t use their hands well or only use their hands in a certain manner. They’re very good, they’re technically sound.
“I don’t think we’ve faced a team that’s better with their hands.”
Ohio State’s offensive line is experienced with four senior starters. Hyde can be a load but Georgia’s Gurley didn’t break their backs.
“He’s probably the fastest quarterback I have ever seen,” Jarrett said, “the way he breaks out from guys and don’t get caught from behind. You’ve just got to get him before he gets going.
“It’s going to be fun going against him,” he said. “When you play college football this is what you want, going against the best players.”
So, Grady, Jameis or Braxton?
“I don’t know,” he said, fumbling to be honest but polite while weighing the question. “That’s tough.”