UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- The best player on Ohio State's roster, the one Penn State must stop, has experienced various health problems the past four games. The worst was last week against Purdue when quarterback Braxton Miller left Ohio Stadium in an ambulance because of a neck injury.
For his biggest game of the season so far, Miller will play with a sore neck or, at the very least, the memory of that injury and trip to the hospital. Healthy or not, he has Penn State's full attention.
"He's an elusive player, one of the best in the country," defensive tackle Jordan Hill said. "It won't be easy to stop him."
Penn State has played other dual-threat quarterbacks this season. Ohio's Tyler Tettleton rushed for 47 yards on nine carries in the season opener. Since then, the Nittany Lions have had greater success against them. Nathan Scheelhaase of Illinois had 7 yards on 11 carries, and Northwestern's Kain Colter, the best running quarterback Penn State has played so far, had 24 yards on five carries.
But the Lions haven't played one like Miller. Bill O'Brien, overly diplomatic like any coach, even admitted this.
"He's the best," O'Brien said. "And with all due respect to all the others -- because there are some good ones, too, believe me -- but this guy's an excellent player."
Last year against Penn State, Miller rushed for 105 yards on 18 carries. This season he has run for 959 yards and passed for 1,384. If only he could stay healthy.
Incidents in the past four games have created a lingering fear that Miller could sustain a crushing blow on any given run. Against Michigan State he was knocked out for a couple of plays by a late hit two minutes into the first quarter. After a hit knocked him out of bounds against Indiana, he had to sit. Against Nebraska, he landed awkwardly on his hip after a big run and missed some time.
Purdue was the most serious. Late in the third quarter, he suffered a neck injury and left the stadium. He later was told he had no serious problems, was cleared to play and reportedly began practicing in non-contact drills Tuesday.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said he has talked to Miller about the hits. He told him there comes a time when he needs to make the safe play and go out of bounds rather than try for extra yards and risk getting hurt.
"He's a competitor," Meyer said. "He's done better. You can see a couple of other times he knows when to get down and step out of bounds."
Meyer, on Monday, said he was concerned for Miller's well-being, as well as the load he carries for the team. Miller averages 293 total yards per game, more than half of Ohio State's 438 yard average. Meyer said he's trying to balance the offense.
Penn State prepared for Miller this week by having freshman wide receiver Eugene Lewis portray the quarterback. At practice Wednesday, the Nittany Lions ran sweeps and option plays with Lewis.
Hill said the key to stopping running quarterbacks is all about containment. The defense must identify the play quickly and maintain its ground. Doing so is the best way to neutralize Ohio State's best player.
"At the end of the day, he's going to make plays," O'Brien said. "And when he makes a play, we have to play the next play. We have to keep him out of the end zone the best we can."psusports
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter @mdent05.