We all know the story of the two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year who switched from being a game-breaking quarterback to an explosive H-back, in no small part because of an injury to his throwing shoulder -- the same shoulder that threw for 5,292 yards in three seasons.
Miller was known as the most explosive quarterback in the country and one who fit perfectly in Urban Meyer's run-first spread offense, until he tore his labrum, and played through it, in the 2014 Orange Bowl against Clemson. Most thought he could come back the following season until he re-injured it just a few weeks before Virginia Tech came to Columbus to open the 2014 home slate.
In his place, J.T. Barrett put up historic numbers before getting injured against Michigan, which allowed Cardale Jones to capture Ohio State's first Big Ten Championship Game victory, oust Alabama and bully Oregon for the national title.
Following the title, Urban Meyer faced a problem most coaches would have envied. Three legitimate starting quarterback options who would have all started at 95% of the programs across the country. Each quarterback brought something different to the Buckeye offense, each brought multiple accolades and each would have been a great candidate for the starting job, but at least one would have been glued to the bench this year (barring injury).
But on July 23, 2015, Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel announced that Braxton Miller would be taking his name out of the quarterback conversation and changing positions to H-back, the position that Percy Harvin made famous at the University of Florida during their glory years. Everyone dreamed about what Miller could do at this position, but were there too many playmakers in the Ohio State offense for Miller to fit in?
The best athlete in college football was not worried about it. "It's going to be electric," Miller told SI then. "We had a great season last year, but we didn't see anyone do off-the-wall type stuff. I'm sure guys miss seeing an explosive, 60-yard shake-and-bake run every once in a while."
Fast forward to week one at Lane Stadium, where the Buckeyes seeked revenge on Virginia Tech, their only blemish of the 2014 championship season. Jones was named starter and Miller earned the starting spot at H-back.
At the 2:17 mark of the third quarter, Miller lined up as the quarterback in the Wildcat formation with Ezekiel Elliott flanking him. Elliott pancaked a linebacker and Miller bounced it outside. He outran the Hokie outside linebacker, who was supposed to set the edge, put his foot in the ground, cut up field and found a crease. Buckeye fans were having flashbacks as Miller set up two pursing Hokie defenders, hit them with a vicious spin move that dominated Sportscenter highlights for weeks-to-come, burned the rest of the defense for 51 yards and visited paydirt for the second time (following a third quarter touchdown reception) since the aforementioned Clemson game. Just like that, he was back.
Miller finished his first game as a H-back with three receptions for 79 yards and a touchdown. He also added five carries for 61 yards and a touchdown. If he had rust after being out of football for over a year, it did not show on that Labor Day night.
Inside the numbers
- Miller was targeted or touched the ball in 24 out of the 31 quarters that he has participated in this season (no snaps in fourth quarter vs. Rutgers).
- Miller touched the ball or was targeted at least once for the first 12 quarters of the season, until the first quarter of Western Michigan game.
- Versus Rutgers, the H-back only touched the ball or was targeted in the second quarter.
- Versus Maryland, Miller had four receptions in the second quarter.
- At home against Hawaii, he carried the ball five times in the second quarter.
- The former quarterback is credited with one pass attempt and a completion to Jalin Marshall, but it came on a tap-pass against Northern Illinois. He has yet to throw the ball over the line of scrimmage.
- Only five of his touches have came in the fourth quarter.
- 19 of his 28 carries have came on first down and 11 have came in the first quarter.
- Miller's two receptions on third down have converted the first down 100-percent of the time.
- 11 of his 19 receptions have came on first down.
- Only seven of his 48 touches have came inside the redzone.
- Statistical conclusion: The staff likes to use Miller early and often to get the team into the redzone.
Miller is the de facto Wildcat and change of pace quarterback for the offense. They typically use this formation after a big play, after the defense is gassed and cannot substitute. They use tempo to hurry to the line and basically allow Miller to do what he does best, improvise. Yes, there is usually a designed play, it is not backyard football, but Miller tends to bounce the run outside and makes the play on his own.
When Miller is lined up at quarterback, a zone read or some sort of fake pitch/handoff to Elliott is involved. It may be called a zone read on the field, but I do not think Miller has actually executed a proper zone read this season. He keeps the ball. Every time.
I am surprised that Miller has yet to throw a pass over the line of scrimmage. He was credited with one pass attempt but it was a tap pass. I would look for a jump pass or a play action pass at some point this season, since number one is the defense's primary focus at all times. I also think it would benefit the offense if he executed a proper zone read or option and read the defense to make the correct decision.
Miller's only "completion" of the year, where Marshall came into motion. With the eyes on Miller, Marshall was a shoelace tackle away from going in for six.
Improvising 101: Miller takes a designed quarterback run that is supposed to go in the A-gap, sees nothing inside and bounces it outside for a 15-yard gain.
Everyone knew Miller would have no trouble improvising as a runner, but his consistent hands and decent route running has allowed him to become a viable receiving threat. Miller has shown that he can separate in coverage at the top of his route (below) and consistently catches the ball with his hands, not his body. He is a natural hands catcher. He immediately became the third most trustworthy receiver and I would like to see more targets for Miller in the passing game.
In his first game, he ran a nice banana route and used his elite change of direction to gain separation on the top of his route. This was completed, slipped a tackle and tip-toed the sidelines for a touchdown.
The next three screenshots show Miller's concentration when catching the football. He uses great technique catching the ball away from his body and keeps his eyes on the ball and does not look up-field until he secures the catch.
With Barrett being named starter for the foreseeable future, I expect to see Miller more involved at running back and in jet motion.
Here is Miller lined up in the slot where he ran jet motion across the line of scrimmage and took the tap pass from Barrett for the first down. He followed the nation's best blocking running back, which is a lethal combo. With Barrett at the helm, expect triple option with Barrett, Elliott and Miller, and for Miller to be used more as a decoy for counter action.
Below, Miller is flanked to Jones in the backfield. The receivers clear space for Miller to catch the ball in space and make a play.