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October 17, 2013

Hold onto the ball or else

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- To drill the idea of ball security firmly into Braxton Miller's head, Ohio State's coaching staff is having him gently nestle it in his care during warmups in practice.

"They had me hold a ball throughout the whole stretch," Miller said Wednesday.

"Just hold it tight."

Which -- for a quarterback like Miller who began the season with very real Heisman hopes -- shouldn't (and, really, hasn't) be much of an issue.

Against Northwestern, though, the junior fumbled twice -- first on what looked like a promising drive and again on the goal line.

It nearly cost the Buckeyes in Evanston before escaping with a 40-30 win.

"Watching film on it, I really wasn't holding the ball correctly when I was cutting through the holes and wasn't holding the ball real tight," he said. "It's an easy fix, it's part of football."

So naturally, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer's expectations of Miller against Iowa Saturday are rather straightforward.

"I expect him to be Braxton Miller," he said. "With better ball security."

For a squad gunning for its 19-straight win, the Buckeyes will likely need that against a Hawkeye run defense that ranks among the best in the nation.

"(It's a) pretty good defense. Probably the best we've faced so far," Miller said.

In particular, Iowa has been suffocating opposing team who try and run the ball.

In one corner, the Hawkeyes have yet to surrender a rushing touchdown this season and are allowing just under 89 yards per game and three yards per carry.

In the opposite corner, Ohio State's ground game is amassing 281 yards a contest and has scored 17 touchdowns.

While such production will start to fall largely on the broad shoulders of senior running back Carlos Hyde, Miller seems to still certainly be a key component when the Buckeyes run the football.

"You know, playing a team like that make you want to play even harder," he said. "You want to play to your amount that they got to reach to."

But for Ohio State to do that, it likely needs Miller to run the ball like the guy who put up 1,271 yards last year and less like the guy coming off an MCL sprain that sidelined him for the better part of three games this season.

Against the Wildcats on Oct. 5, Miller seemed especially tentative with the ball in his hands.

"I wasn't fully myself throughout the whole game," he said. "Playing on grass a little bit just wasn't my old self I felt like."

It didn't help the contest was marred by soggy, stormy weather either.

Miller's knee, he said, is healthy. But that doesn't mean it always feels 100 percent -- especially when he tries to cut with the ball in tow.

"Sometimes it aches a little bit in the back," he said. "But other than that it's good."

It's reasonable to think that Miller's injury is partly to blame for his struggles against Northwestern.

But the quarterback was still 15-of 26 for 203 yards passing and chipped in another 68 yards running the football.

"You take away those two fumbles, he played actually pretty good in that game. Real good," Meyer said. "But that's like saying take away a bad golf shot on the 18th hole. It's the way it is."

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