STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Braxton Miller might no longer be on the short list of Heisman candidates, but Bill O'Brien said Tuesday afternoon that he's still one of the nation's five best players.
"It's a very difficult challenge playing a guy like Braxton Miller -- in my opinion one of the top five players in the country," the Penn State head coach said. "He's improved immensely since being in the system."
O'Brien praised the Ohio State quarterback throughout his weekly 30-minute news conference, saying it takes a special player to lead a team to a 19-game winning streak and to a No. 4 ranking in the BCS.
PSU will travel to Columbus, Ohio, for an 8 p.m. showdown against Miller and the Buckeyes on Saturday.
"I don't know Braxton Miller, but I do know that he's throwing the ball very well," O'Brien said. "He's accurate. He's making plays on third down in the passing game. He obviously understands coverage, and he's just doing a really, really good job of running that offense in all facets of that offense. It's a very difficult challenge."
O'Brien received a close look at Miller last season, when he strolled into Beaver Stadium and wreaked havoc on the Nittany Lions' defense. The dual-threat signal-caller accounted for nearly three-quarters of the offense, rushing for 134 yards and two TDs and throwing for another 143 yards and a score. (Tailback Carlos Hyde managed just 55 yards on 22 carries.)
The Buckeyes won that game, 35-23, and O'Brien knows it won't be any easier this weekend since Miller's enjoyed another year in Urban Meyer's system. And, on the flip side, O'Brien has fewer defensive players to work with this season.
"I thought they played really well offensively against Iowa. And, if he gets outside of the pocket, he's a dangerous guy," O'Brien said. "We've got to play hard and play with great effort and do the best we can to keep him in there and, when he gets out, we have to make sure that we understand our scramble rules."
Miller missed two games this season after suffering an MCL sprain in Week 2. He's completed nearly 70 percent of his passes, thrown for 831 yards and has eight touchdowns compared to two picks. On the ground, he has 335 yards and is averaging 4.5 yards a carry.
He boasts the highest quarterback rating (160.0) and completion rate (69.6) in the Big Ten.