Looking from the inside, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is hardly surprised by Braxton Miller’s development into a complete quarterback and the most efficient passer in the Big Ten.
Meyer has seen the way the junior interacts with offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman and with senior backup Kenny Guiton, and how that interaction has changed in the past year. The synergy is obvious, Meyer said.
“It’s a direct result of the way he prepares and the way he practices,” Meyer said.
Miller was viewed last season as a terrific runner who could throw a little. He nevertheless was named the Big Ten offensive player of the year while setting the Ohio State record for total offense in a 12-0 season. But now he has evolved into a quarterback who picks his spots as a runner while throwing with proficiency.
Despite missing most of three games because of a sprained left knee, Miller is sixth nationally in passing efficiency in addition to leading the Big Ten in that category. Having completed 108 of 149 passes for 1,316 yards and 15 touchdowns with three interceptions, he has come of age as a passer.
It’s in direct contrast to how Miller was perceived during his freshman season of 2011 under one-year coach Luke Fickell and the leftover offensive staff of Fickell’s predecessor, Jim Tressel. Against Illinois, Miller had his most infamous game when he completed just one pass. On Saturday, the third-ranked Buckeyes (9-0) return to Champaign for the first time since then.
“I know that we threw one touchdown, I think I completed one ball,” Miller said of his memories of the day. “I can’t remember after that.”
As far as the passing game goes, there really was nothing else to recall. Miller completed a 17-yard touchdown pass to Jake Stoneburner to ice a 17-7 victory. Miller threw just three other times, partly because of the wind and partly because of the lack of trust in him and the passing game after he was thrust into the starting job to replace Joe Bauserman.
Meyer was hired after that season with a reputation of running high-powered offenses. One of the main projects for him and Herman was quarterback.
Miller has been the direct beneficiary, but “I think Kenny Guiton had a lot to do with that,” Meyer said. “The way these two quarterbacks are now preparing — with all due respect, when Braxton was a freshman, he didn’t really have anyone to look up to say, ‘This is the way to prepare for a college football game.’
“Last year, we were still trying to teach Kenny, because Kenny didn’t know. Now, they are both operating at a very high level. They practice very hard, they prepare very hard, much different than a year ago.”
Miller, who completed 58 percent of his passes last season while throwing for 15 touchdowns with six interceptions, is at 72 percent this year in just six full games. The statistics are coming because he’s not making one read and then running like he often did last season. He is surveying the field, finding the second, third and sometimes fourth option on a pass play.
“The last four or five games, he has played really well as a quarterback,” Meyer said. “So it’s night and day right now where he is as a quarterback” compared with a year ago.
Miller said he notices the difference every time he goes to throw because of the time he puts in studying the opponent.
“It’s being comfortable with the offensive system,” Miller said. “It’s day in, day out, you’ve got to prepare for things that will appear on Saturday, and that’s what I didn’t do last year, because I really didn’t understand how the preparation has to be as a quarterback. I learned that from coach Meyer, he really put that as an emphasis, and coach Herman. That’s what I’ve been doing.”