Ohio State football: Braxton Miller, the evolution of a passing quarterback

Kirk Irwin

Expect big things from the Ohio State quarterback, because he plans to deliver.

Aside from the bowl ban, Ohio State's 2012 season went pretty much as well as one could possibly expect. Who can argue with an undefeated season? Plus, quarterback Braxton Miller certainly made an impact on the collective consciousness of college football, emerging as a Heisman favorite heading into the 2013 season.

But, despite the Buckeyes' undefeated season, Miller's statistics highlight that he was more successful running the football than he was as a pocket passer. Miller completed 58.3% of his passes last season for a total of 2,039 yards and 15 touchdowns, for an average of 169.9 passing yards per game, and the Buckeyes' passing offense was ranked eighth of 12 in the Big Ten, whereas Miller's 1,271 rushing yards on 227 attempts last season, the most on the team by more than 300 yards, helped elevate Ohio State to the top rushing attack in the Big Ten for the 2012 season.

Miller's legs will likely continue to be a factor in the offense, but Urban Meyer's offensive philosophy involves a successful passing attack. Miller's stated goal is to aim for 30 passing attempts per game, compared to last season's average of 21 attempts per game. Expectations are high for Miller to complete more passes as well. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman says the goal is for Miller to complete 70 percent of his passes in 2013, a significant jump from his completion percentage last year. There are a few things that must happen on the field for Miller to increase his completion percentage by more than 12% and make Ohio State's passing game as dangerous as their rushing attack.

One factor that is already established for the Buckeyes is that it is Miller's second year in this offense, so his comfort level and understanding of the scheme and plays should be significantly improved. As Miller put it, according to the Toledo Blade, "Dang, I actually know what I'm I'm doing." Part of Miller's development as a quarterback has involved a great deal of time in the film room to address lapses in fundamentals, particularly his footwork, when passing. Correcting those fundamental issues should make Miller more productive as a passer.

While Miller has been very successful running the football, he is not your stereotypical read-option quarterback. He has been deadly on called runs, but has not been an adept scrambler. Despite Miller's reputation as a running threat, just 87 of his 1,271 rushing yards last season came from scrambles after a called play broke down. Tom Herman has worked with Miller this offseason on learning when to scramble on a called passing play. Considering Miller's elusiveness on called rushing plays, not to mention his speed, added to him developing his ability to effectively read coverage and make good decisions on when to scramble, makes Ohio State's offense that much more difficult to defend across the board.

Miller's weak passing numbers in 2012 were not solely his fault, which was evidenced by Urban Meyer famously referring to last year's receiving corps as a "clown show," and if Miller is going to increase his completion percentage so significantly, production out of his receivers will be necessary. Ohio State's top two receivers in 2012, Philly Brown and Devin Smith--the only two who exceeded 300 receiving yards for the season--both return for the 2013 season, and junior Evan Spencer's performance in fall camp suggests that he could be a breakout star for the Buckeyes this season. Wide receivers coach Zach Smith says that his players have learned from last year's mistakes and have matured up and down the entire depth chart.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Braxton Miller's development and the great potential of the Buckeyes' offense in 2013 is Miller's emergence as a true leader on and off the field. Miller organized voluntary offseason workouts for his teammates, worked on his chemistry and timing with his receivers, and got his teammates to spend time in the film room with him. Miller was thrust into a starting role in 2011 after the departure of Terrelle Pryor, and did what he could during a season of uncertainty, and while vocal leadership is not his style or his personality, it's a skill he's developing for the good of the team.

Braxton Miller is not known for idly talking about himself or his abilities, so when he says he plans to throw the ball 30 times each game and complete 70% of those passes, we can expect that he intends to do exactly that. Given the investment Miller has made in correcting mistakes, settling into the offensive scheme and maturing as a quarterback over the course of the offseason, those goals seem to be within reach. Forcing Miller into the role of a pure pocket passer would be a waste of his talents, but if he has developed as a viable passer in addition to his rushing abilities, Ohio State's offense will be very difficult to contain.

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