COLUMBUS — When star quarterback Braxton Miller cried out in pain and crumpled to the ground during No. 5 Ohio State’s practice on Monday, coach Urban Meyer wasn’t certain what had happened.
“Oh, it was devastating. It was a bad deal,” Meyer said glumly Wednesday. “First of all, I didn’t see exactly what happened and I thought someone hit him. I went berserk, saying, ‘What happened?’ (The coaches) looked at me and I said, ‘No one hit him?’”
No, no one tackled or was even rushing the two-time Big Ten player of the year and Heisman Trophy candidate. Still coming back slowly from February surgery on his right shoulder, it took just a 7-yard pass — with no one around — to sideline Miller for the season. This time, he had sustained a torn labrum.
Rabid Buckeyes fans have had a mournful look on their faces ever since word leaked out about Miller’s injury. But tight end Jeff Heuerman wants to reassure them that the players haven’t given up.
“We’ll bounce back. It’s not the end of the world. You’re not going to forfeit any games and you’re not going to just quit,” he said. “We’ve been through adversity before, so it’s just another stepping stone and we’ll get through it.”
The Buckeyes will get through it by replacing Miller — with 8,346 yards of total offense and 84 passing and running touchdowns in his Ohio State career — with redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, who has never taken a snap in a college game.
Barrett has the backing of his teammates.
“He’s very focused,” linebacker Curtis Grant said. “He’s a very mature kid. He’s going to be fine. He just has to get his rhythm down with everybody and keep going forward.”
Still, Miller’s injury was a jolt to a team many had picked as a strong contender for a Big Ten title and a spot in the new four-team playoffs.
It was clear on Wednesday that Meyer was still shaken by the loss of Miller. He referred to the team’s last two practices as “the day after” and “two days after.” For at least a while, every point on the program’s timeline will be judged in relation to the injury.
The Buckeyes say they’ve resolved to do more to make up for the popular Miller’s absence.
“We knew it wasn’t good but at the same time we knew we had to step up and play,” cornerback Doran Grant said. “We all came together and have had some great practices. Some very great practices.”
Meyer said details have not been finalized, but Miller will have surgery within the next week or two. He is expected to need nine months to a year of rehab before returning to the field.
In a statement issued by Ohio State on Tuesday night, Miller said, “My goal is to come back from this injury stronger and better than ever.”
Miller said he is on course to graduate with a degree in Communications in December, then will attend graduate school. He said, at least now, that he hopes to return to the Buckeyes next season after taking a medical redshirt year.
Meyer said the difficult part is preparing for what’s next.
“There’s certain guys who have invested an incredible amount in this program, like Braxton,” he said. “A two-time Big Ten player of the year — it’s a difficult part of sport. It breaks your heart. I mean, like, it shatters your heart. But you’ve got to move on.”
Now the coaches are occupied with preparing Barrett and his backup, Cardale Jones, for the opener on Nov. 30 against Navy. The players also have to adapt and keep putting one foot in front of the other.
“We’re going to have to account for some of the things we’re not going to have with Braxton not out there,” Heuerman said. “It’s no secret or anything. He’s probably one of the most explosive players to ever play this game, especially here at Ohio State. So we’re not naive to that. We’re going to have to make up some ground. But we have the players and the coaching staff that we can do that.”