Most dress rehearsals are closed to the public, which is why the open Ohio State spring game should attract a crowd about the size of the population of Dublin and Pickerington into the Horseshoe today.
The game/scrimmage/glorified practice, which is forecast to be played under fall weather conditions, gives Buckeye Nation a sneak peek at the offensive monster that coach Urban Meyer has been building from a mix of superior pieces and spare parts in his laboratory off Olentangy River Road.
On display will be more of a vanilla version of the passing game. The sprinkles arrive on Sept. 1 in the opener at home against Miami University. Still, curiosity seekers will get a first view of Tresselball 2.0, which retains the previous boss’s heavy emphasis on defense, kicking game and forcing/avoiding turnovers, while moving the offense from the Ice Age into the Spread Era. No longer will the delayed quarterback draw qualify as outside-the-box gadgetry.
Central to the new-look offense is Braxton Miller, the sophomore quarterback who last year showed an ability to avoid taking direct hits, except when the pocket collapsed, which was often. When on the move, Miller mostly was magnificent. His arm strength was well above average, his accuracy less so (54.1 completion percentage). As one would expect, his mental processing improved along the way but remains a work in progress.
Which brings us to today. Conventional wisdom contends that the biggest jump a player makes occurs between his freshman and sophomore seasons. This line of thought has Ohio State fans frothing, since Miller is making that very step this season. It goes like this: If Miller was “getting there” after stepping in for Joe Overthrow Bauserman in 2011, just imagine how swanky he will look after spending a year reading defenses.
But while fans think that way, Meyer doesn’t buy it. Say this for the Urbanator, he likes to set things straight. Question his recruiting methods, he bares fangs. Call him out for showing favoritism to his top players, he extends claws. His predecessor went through less-direct channels to correct inaccuracies (real or imagined), but Meyer falls more in step with Sister Mary, the matriarch of a certain northern Ohio elementary school who — so I’m told (ahem) — stressed her point by stabbing an index finger into the sternum of those who suggested something other than her brand of reality.
But I digress. Meyer said it is misguided to think that Miller will take a huge leap forward simply because he has left the freshman bewilderment behind.
“The stereotypical thing where the biggest jump is between the first and second year? I don’t agree with that,” Meyer said, without — to his credit — poking anyone’s chest. “It depends on their background. How have they been coached? If not coached well, that’s when it’s a huge jump.”
From all indications, Miller was taught well. His high-school coach at Huber Heights Wayne, Jay Minton, knows his stuff. The Warriors twice (1999 and 2010) have been Division I state runners-up under him.
“Here’s the difference,” Meyer said. “Kids who come from great high-school programs are more game-ready. The kids who come from where they haven’t been coached, that’s the biggest difference. It’s not just the age but the experience.”
In Meyer’s thinking, Miller should continue to make strides without making a giant leap. Meyer also is not worried that his starting quarterback will take a step back, because Ohio State’s new offense is more complicated than what Miller learned last season.
“Theoretically, I think the kids who played in the spread style (in high school), you’ll see them accelerate past the kids who have no idea what we’re talking about,” Meyer said.
Miller oversaw a modified version of the spread at Wayne. He should be comfortable with the concepts in Meyer’s offense, but it might take him until late summer to sort through the multitude of formations and options.
For now, Miller’s mind likely is racing. Today, that collection of positive and negative thoughts will be on display in the ’Shoe, where the spring game offers a glimpse of the fall games to come.
Rob Oller is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.