Links: On Miller's workload, O'Brien's future & more

No doubt, Braxton Miller is a special player, the fulcrum of the Ohio State attack, the straw that stirs the proverbial drink. When a big play is needed, Miller usually delivers. But ten games into the season, he still is having to carry too big of a load. Read about that and other Big Ten topics in my daily links.

Carlos Hyde has emerged as a force at running back in recent weeks, helping to lighten Miller’s considerable load. Still, others need to be more consistent as playmakers.

As Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch points out, Urban Meyer’s challenge to his offensive skill players almost from the day he took the job nearly a year ago was to make plays. His offense aims to get the ball to people in space, then having them do their thing. But that’s not happening often enough and needs to pick up with big games left at Wisconsin and against Michigan. An unbeaten season is at stake with games left at Wisconsin and vs. Michigan. Big plays will be needed from Buckeyes other than Miller for Ohio State to beat both teams.

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It seems the topic of Bill O’Brien being a candidate for NFL jobs won’t fade. Who wouldn’t want O’Brien, given the remarkable job he has done in a short period of time at Penn State under trying circumstances? Couple that with his impressive NFL background, and it all makes him a hot commodity. Teams like the Browns, Chiefs, Eagles, Jaguars and Jets—among others—could have openings, and interest in O’Brien.

Still, I would be shocked if O’Brien bailed on Penn State after one season. He strikes me as a man of integrity and character who does the right thing. And leaving this job unfinished wouldn’t be the right thing to do.

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The emergence of Devin Gardner at quarterback has been one of the interesting late-season storylines in the Big Ten. In fact, the junior has made it look easy in his two starts for the injured Denard Robinson, leading Michigan to wins at Minnesota and vs. Northwestern.

Kyle Meinke of MLive.com points out that Gardner has passed for 520 yards the past two weeks, more than Robinson’s 482 yards in the five previous Big Ten games combined. Impressive.

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Wisconsin fifth-year senior Curt Phillips looked good in his first start last week at Indiana. He also learned a lot. But now, the REAL tests begin with games vs. Ohio State and at Penn State looming.

Phillips hit 4-of-7 passes for 41 yards and a touchdown and didn’t commit a turnover in a 62-14 win at Indiana. But Phillips knows he must play better with Ohio State coming to town. Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel points out that the Buckeyes are fourth in the Big Ten in sacks with 22. Their coaches no doubt will test Phillips to see whether he can recognize the blitz early and escape pressure and make better decisions with the ball.

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Iowa is in the throes of a four-game losing skid that threatens to torpedo the season. But the Hawkeye coaches are doing what they can to elicit change by shaking up things on the depth chart.

In last week’s loss to Purdue, for instance, linebacker Anthony Hitchens—who is No. 4 in the nation in tackles–even was pulled. It’s all about finding answers and trying to end the misery. The Hawkeyes need to win at Michigan and vs. Nebraska to get to a bowl. It’s gonna be difficult.

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Minnesota coach Jerry Kill is doing a great job rebuilding the Gophers, as the team in bowl eligible in just the second season under his watch and for the first time since 2009. Part of the building process for Kill is redshirting players, as more than 20 freshmen are doing so this season. But Kill wishes those players could play in the bowl.

It’s an issue Kill and other coaches have suggested in the past. And it’s one that he thinks makes a lot of sense, when you consider how many schools go to bowls with rosters that are beat up. Plus, the redshirting players could dip their toe into live action for at least one game.

Speaking of Kill, he has had quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski move from the press box to the sidelines so he can offer immediate and face-to-face feedback to true freshman quarterback Philip Nelson. It makes sense.

Sometimes, you can tell a lot more about a man by looking him in the eye rather than by talking to him over a headset.

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Michigan State quarterbacks coach Dave Warner thinks Spartans quarterback Andrew Maxwell has gotten a bad rap this season.

“I think it goes with us as an offense,” Warner told Matt Charboneau of the Detroit News. “More than anything, we probably found out how important experience was at the skill positions overall. We probably took that a little bit for granted last year.”

But facts are facts. And here are a few: Michigan State ranks ninth in the Big Ten in total offense (360.4 yards) and 11th in scoring offense (19.7 points). The best thing for Maxwell and this offense would be to get one more win to become bowl eligible so Spartan offense can benefit from those additional practices.

Lost amid the struggles of Illinois has been the emergence of freshman linebacker Mason Monheim.

Not only has Monheim been productive, but he also has shown leadership traits, says Mark Tupper of the Decatur Herald-Review.

“Before every game he gives a little scouting report, a speech on our opponents,” Illinois defensive tackle Glenn Foster told Tupper. “He has an attitude. He says, ‘We need to go out there and punch these guys in the mouth.’ He’s a very aggressive player with a lot of heart.”


TWEETS THAT MATTER

My take: And there you have it.


My take: If this is true, I would have loved to have seen it.


My take: It has been fun to watch Zwinak seemingly appear out of nowhere. We probably never would have seen this had Redd not left for USC.

BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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