A few days ago, we posted our first annual OSU football spring primer, and asked a few questions. Those answers will go a long way towards determining the overall success of the 2013 football team. The first question we ruminated on was whether or not Braxton Miller can raise his game from merely very good to the pinnacle of the sport.
The short answer is yes; but the long answer is obviously a bit more complicated than that. Miller's growth from 2011 to 2012 was notable and impressive, but if Ohio State is going to make a serious run at another undefeated season, he'll still need to improve in several key areas.
1) Consistency in the passing game
Although Miller's stats between 2011 and 2012 improved in every major passing category, there were still times, in almost every game, where Ohio State's running game struggled to be consistently effective, and Miller was unable to jump start things in the vertical passing game. The issue wasn't as acute in games like Miami and UCF, but consider the following examples:
OSU 35, Cal 28: After jumping out to a 20-7 lead Miller went 3/10 for 15 yards from midway through the 2nd quarter until early in the fourth quarter. During that time, Ohio State turned that 20-7 lead into a 21-20 deficit, and what should've been a blowout with another touchdown drive became an effective nail biter.
OSU 29, Purdue 22 (OT): I think most everyone would agree this was his worst game. Under 50% passing and playing from behind all day due to defensive and special teams breakdowns, Miller could not get the offense untracked before ultimately he was injured and was unable to finish the game.
So what has he done to improve on that?
Miller has spent part of the off-season with famed QB guru George Whitfield, Jr. (an Ohioan of Massillon fame, as Urban Meyer's pointed out) at his QB camp, and it was Miller who sought him out. When Miller showed up, he brought a list with him:
Miller showed up soon after the Buckeyes’ season ended with a list, which began with his footwork in the pocket and also included weight transfer in the throwing motion and being able to extend plays without "pulling the rip cord," as Whitfield calls it, "and taking off on a 60-yard run through the park." Miller also wanted to work on touch passes.
Since the season ending game against That School Up North, Miller has not been able to work with the OSU coaching staff. But while they're just getting their first look at him now, the extremely early reviews are promising. Meyer said Miller's footwork was wrong the majority of last season, but in Tuesday's inaugural spring practice, praised it as one of the highlights of the session.
2) Find a balance between running the ball and running the ball too much
Miller ran 227 times for 1271 yards and 13 TD's last year, and quite frankly some of his improvisations were works of football art:
But at times in 2012, Miller's legs were the only offense the Buckeyes had, and he was dinged up a little bit too much for the fans and coaches' tastes alike last season. The Purdue game was the most notable injury, but he was also hurt against Michigan State and dinged up several other times for brief periods of time over the course of the year. Part of the reason Miller had to rely on his legs, however, is because he couldn't consistently rely on his arm, as noted above.
Had he been able to make two or three more plays per game with his arm last season, he wouldn't have needed to make as many plays with his legs. If he doesn't have to make as many plays with his feet, maybe he doesn't get his bell rung against Purdue. It's all hypothetical, of course, because an injury can happen on any play, but even still – as dynamic as a runner as Miller has established is, he needs to stay healthy for the entire season. He's still an explosive playmaker, and that part of game is still an important part of who he is as a player, but he needs to find a balance between effective running and effective passing.
3) Be the leader of this team
The time is now for Miller and the 2013 Buckeyes. He has been put in some demanding spots since he has been the quarterback at Ohio State – 2011 was an ongoing train wreck, and in 2012 he had to guide a team with little-to-nothing to play for but themselves. With the departure of John Simon, the acknowledged locker room and spiritual leader of the 2012 team, there is somewhat of a leadership void with this current group. It was understandable for Miller to be more of a leader by example, but now that he's an upperclassman (and the starting quarterback no less), the opportunity is there for him. That standing is important on every team, but doubly so at a group with the kind of aspirations of an Ohio State. It's time for Miller to step up and become the heart and soul of this team, both on the field and off it.