Braxton Miller Needs To Improve As A Passer For Ohio State to Contend In 2014

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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

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About J.P. Scott

Owner and editor of Know It All Football, contributor to AthlonSports.com and GridirionExperts.com. Member of the Football Writers Association of America.

2 thoughts on “Braxton Miller Needs To Improve As A Passer For Ohio State to Contend In 2014

  1. Golden_Thunder
    January 29, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    Braxton Miller, under pressure from opposing good defenses, often falls apart. His decision-making is very lousy under pressure, can’t read defenses well, predictable in his passing and to whom he passes, and has chronic faults in passing inherited from his High School days and still there. One more year is not going to make him a good passer. He will NOT do better than 2013 season, and will NOT take the Buckeyes to a National Championship. OC Tom Herman is an average OC, and often does lousy play-calling in crucial games. The Buckeyes will lose 2-3 games in 2014, and will go nowhere.

    1. Giosue
      January 29, 2014 at 9:48 pm

      Braxton Miller under pressure is just like any QB forced to make a decision in less the 3 seconds. Herman’s play calling gave him no intermediate routes to throw to. partially because the WRs inability to get open which was the case vs MSU and a lot of the 2nd half of the season. literally relied and screens and deep balls 80% of the time. thats an Error on Tom Herman. Braxton throws the deep ball and screen pretty well. is he always on target? no but what QB is? there shouldnt be nothing wrong with his throwing a 7 yard slant but there is because his WRs are speedy but don’t run great routes, with crisp route runners like Corey Smith (JUCO transfer), Mike Thomas (RS) and Jalin Marshall (injured FR) finally able to play in 2014 look for his passing numbers to take off. also take a look at that schedule. MSU is there only potential loss at this point and they lost a lot on defense after 2013. and before you mention the OL being new, remember Ed Wariner is the OL coach, the same guy responsible for Reid Fragle, a life long TE turned all B1G RT in 1 year. Pat Elflien RG who filled in for Marcus Hall vs scUM and MSU and played flawless. Pat was unknown by buckeye fans this time last year. Kyle Dodson former 5* LT slated to be the starter after major improvement and the 2014 OL class has 2 guys who can come in immediately and crack the rotation in Demetriiuos Knox and Jamarco Jones. both ranked #1 at their OL positons.

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