Since arriving in Columbus, Ohio State’s Braxton Miller has lived up to the hype from a recruiting standpoint. As the successor of Terrelle Pryor since 2011, he has shown flashes of potential greatness for the Buckeyes throughout his career. Three years, a 26-8 record and an undefeated 2012 season later, Braxton is postured to finally be the crown jewel of college football — but it is imperative that he improve as a passer. Part of that means Buckeye offensive coordinator Tom Herman will need to allow him to play beyond what the tape says is his ability.
In Urban Meyer’s power spread offense, Braxton was the focal point of the attack in 2012. Big Ten defenses showed the inability to slow him down as a runner throughout the season. He passed for 2039 yards while rushing for 1271, leading the Buckeyes in both categories.
2013 was different, with Carlos Hyde becoming the focal point of the power attack and Braxton Miller playing foil to the defense. While he once again hit the 2000/1000 passing-rushing plateau, he relied heavily on his superior mobility — although not as much as the year before. The Miller/Hyde tandem shredded defenses down the stretch, and in my opinion, the 2013 Ohio State offense was one of the most explosive and effective attacks in recent memory in the Big Ten.
In 2014, the Buckeyes may not achieve the same success unless Miller improves as a passer. While the defense got the brunt of the criticism over the last few games, Miller contributed his fair share of mistakes with his inability to pass the ball effectively. One of my biggest gripes with Miller the last two seasons was how he couldn’t complete passes that either needed to be made or passes that, given his overall talent, seemed easy to complete.
One example came on the second play of the game against Michigan. Miller missed a wide open pass to Devin Smith. Although Smith dropped it, he had to adjust his body to even attempt to make the catch. The missed play also displayed the effectiveness of the power spread, because the fake-read opened lanes for Braxton to throw to the open Smith. It may come off as nitpicking, but missed throws like that have become common themes for Miller over past two years. The power spread is a unique offense that the Big Ten hasn’t seen much of and may have trouble with down the line. Miller becoming an elite passer will only make it more effective.
When I looked at the Michigan and Michigan State games, I didn’t see evidence to back up some of the criticism that circulated throughout the media. One example of such a quote was “the Buckeyes were an overrated team whom benefited from a weak schedule.” What I saw was a quarterback who wasn’t used to relying on his arm to start the game. Granted, the fault can be shared with the offensive coordinator for deviating from the normal team objective and subsequently placing his quarterback in unfamiliar territory on the grandest stage of the season. But it’s also a glaring sign that the quarterback can’t make throws without the benefit of the running game. In those games, Miller went 14-36 passing, a 39% completion rate. In the Michigan game, he struggled throwing the ball, as the play calling required him dropping back without the play action.
In 2014, Miller has to show that he can make effective throws in the pocket while under pressure rather than looking to run away from swarming defenses. Looking closely at the Clemson game, Miller showed that he didn’t have faith in his ability to deliver passes while under pressure, which in turn lead to sacks.
If I were Tom Herman, I would look to balance out this year’s offense – something that could benefit Miller greatly. With a balanced attack, the Buckeyes wouldn’t have to rely on either running or passing but rather adjust their approach with the ebbs and flows of the game. Ohio State successfully ran the ball 63 percent of the time in 2013, but against Michigan State, the ground was taken away from them early in the first half. This flustered Miller, as he was now charged with moving the Buckeyes down the field using his arm. This season, I feel the Buckeyes should focus on establishing a 50-50 ratio of rushing and passing, allowing them to use either one effectively as the situation demands.
It is evident that Braxton Miller is a gifted athlete, but there is also evidence to the fact that he is a talented passer. What has yet to be proven is whether he is an elite decision maker. The question marks in his game contribute to why he was considered not ready to make the leap to the NFL. With the Buckeyes again heavily favored to compete for a Big Ten title and a spot in the new College Football Playoff, Big Ten teams will have all off-season to formulate game plans to constrict and debilitate Miller and the power spread. What will prove to be the difference maker is the consistency of Miller in the pocket and continued success of Miller on the ground.
The Michigan State game exposed some of the holes in Miller’s passing and decision making under pressure. His inability to consistently make throws cost his team a chance to win. Though this can be cause for concern, as his mobility continues to evolve, I have full confidence that so too will his passing game.
Braxton Miller’s talent is great but his potential is far greater. Let’s hope he makes the changes that will help him become a deserving Heisman front runner in 2014.
BY BRAD WASHINGTON ON JANUARY 28, 2014