EAST LANSING, Mich. -- The clock was ticking down after one last snap, and the celebration was already starting around Braxton Miller.
Battered and bruised, exhausted and twice injured during the game that was finally ending, the Ohio State sophomore wouldn't let go of the football.
So it stayed right where the Buckeyes want it, locked in his hands for better or worse.
His teammates swarmed around him, the cameras came crushing in and the well-wishers kept coming up to pat Miller on the back. But he simply wouldn't let go of the prized possession Ohio State had entrusted to him on a sunny Saturday at Spartan Stadium.
At one point Miller set the ball down on the 34-yard line to do a quick television interview after wrapping up a 17-16 win on the road over Michigan State and the best defense in the Big Ten, though he quickly scooped it back up before walking slowly to join the band, the veteran players and a coach who smiled and wrapped an arm around his shoulder and dragged him to the front of the party.
Miller might have been a bit loose with that ball at times during the 60-minute grind before that, but Urban Meyer again left little doubt that his team is going as far as the multipurpose quarterback can take it.
"The toughness -- man, he's banged up," the Buckeyes coach said. "He's banged up, but he just kept coming back, kept coming back.
"There were some good players on that field, but, you know, I'm a Braxton guy."
The Buckeyes were again Braxton's team as they opened up Big Ten play, turning him loose for 23 carries against perhaps the best rush defense they will face all season and then leaning on him for 23 more passing attempts.
He delivered on the ground, returning twice after injury concerns to rush for 136 yards and keep the chains moving.
There were some mistakes along the way. The reads in the option rushing game weren't perfect against a tenacious defense that appeared to frustrate Ohio State at times. A throw was forced into coverage and intercepted. Miller was perhaps too careless with the football and coughed up a costly fumble.
But he bounced back from all of those to make sure he was the one holding the ball when the outcome went final and the record officially stayed perfect for a fifth consecutive week.
"The kid played tough, he played hard, he put the team on his back," offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. "The attitude and effort and ability he has can't be taught a lot of times.
"We had a lot of guys step up today, especially up front. But when you're playing a defense this good and this talented and this well-coached and this aggresiive, it becomes really difficult to find ways to run the football. ... There's no doubt that he's the fuel in our engine."
The machine wasn't always firing on all cylinders against the Spartans, and Miller looked like he needed a tuneup as he made his way off the field once the band stopped playing in a corner of Spartan Stadium.
Making his way up the tunnel, Miller finally let go of that ball he had been holding since the clock had expired and tossed it into the stands. Smiling outside the locker room, he admitted he no longer needed it.
"Nah," Miller said. "I'm not selfish."
Miller had already squeezed everything he could have out of that ball anyway.