Comparing Urban Meyer Offenses: Tim Tebow's Gators vs. Braxton Miller's Buckeyes
Urban Meyer and Ohio State could be one of the top BCS championship threats to the SEC in 2013, and if they are it will be largely thanks to the play of quarterback Braxton Miller. Meyer has already stated he believes Miller can be better Tim Tebow, one of his former players and a Heisman Trophy winner, so the comparisons between the two are fair game heading into the 2013 season.
But can we look at Tebow's time at Florida as a predictor for what is to come for Miller as a legitimate Heisman hopeful in 2013?
Before diving too deep into the comparisons, it should be worth noting that Meyer has a different offensive philosophy playing out right now at Ohio State than what he used at Florida.
With the Buckeyes, Meyer is forced to relay a bit more on a power offense, typical of Big Ten programs over the years. The recruiting done at Ohio State prior to his arrival left Meyer with, for him, less than an ideal talent pool to utilize, but he has found ways to adjust while he manages to build a roster conducive to his style.
At Florida Meyer had a wider assortment of dynamic players that forced defenses to defend the entire field. It was Meyer's use of speed players on special teams and offense that baffled Ohio State when the two programs colliding at the BCS Championship Game at the end of the 2006 season, and it is that style that Meyer intends to bring to Columbus and the Big Ten.
To put things in perspective, take a look at the sophomore seasons of Tebow and Miller, with each representing the first season in which the quarterbacks were a full-time starter under Meyer.
Tebow, not especially known for his passing skills, put together his best season throwing the football in 2007 by passing for 3,286 yards and 32 touchdowns. He completed 66.9 percent of his pass attempts during his Heisman Trophy season and threw just six interceptions. Considering he passed a career high 350 times that season, completing 234 of those attempts, that is impressive.
On top of all of the production Tebow accounted for in the passing game for Florida that 2007 season, he also added 895 rushing yards. In all, Tebow accounted for 70.34 percent of Florida's offense in 2007. As Florida fell out of the BCS title picture that year, the focus shifted in part to Tebow's Heisman campaign, but Meyer cannot be accused too much of padding Tebow's stats to make that Heisman push. Tebow's game-by-game numbers both in passing and rushing remained fairly consistent throughout 2007.
Now take a look at the first season with the Miller and Meyer combo in operation in Columbus, a season that produced a 12-0 Ohio State team ineligible for postseason play.
While Tebow's passing numbers surpassed those of the Ohio State signal-caller, Miller has a debatable edge running the football. Miller rushed for 1,271 yards last season, adding 13 touchdowns on the ground in the process. In all, Miller accounted for 65.09 percent of the Ohio State offense in 2012, which is somewhat comparable to Tebow's percentage of Florida's 2007 offensive production.
Miller completed just 58.3 percent of his pass attempts and piled up 2,039 passing yards and 15 touchdowns for the Buckeyes. Out of 254 pass attempts, nearly 100 fewer than Tebow in 2007, Miller was picked off six times.
Tebow also has the edge in passing yards per attempt, 9.4 to 8.1. Tebow ended up on average throwing six more passes per game than did Miller (27 to 21), and Tebow averaged 83 more passing yards per game.
At this point, it should be stressed that Tebow had one of the top playmakers in recent memory lining up on the field with him, Florida wide receiver Percy Harvin. Harvin averaged 14.5 yards per reception in 2007. Andre Caldwell (13.6), Louis Murphy (14.8) and Cornelius Ingram (14.9) also contributed to the success of the passing game.
Miller played the 2012 season with a couple of deep ball threats, with Devin Smith averaging over 20 yards per reception and Jake Stoneburner averaging 16.8 YPR. But Tebow may have enjoyed greater receiving depth, and having those reliable options made a difference.
So what lies ahead for Miller and Meyer in 2013, and can Meyer's previous work with Tebow be any indication of what will happen in Ohio State's offense? If we can rely on history for some foreshadowing, expect Miller's workload to be lightened with more players getting involved.
Tebow was accountable for 3,419 total yards of offense in 2008, or 54.87 percent of the offense. Meyer and Florida saw more production out of the running game by using Harvin and Chris Rainey more often out of the backfield, although Tebow ended the season leading the team in rushing with 13 more yards than Harvin.
Does Ohio State have the options in the ground game to help protect Miller more this fall? Carlos Hyde has 1,000-yard potential and Jordan Hall could be ready for a more important role this season as well.
One of the biggest differences in how Tebow and Miller have been used under Meyer is in the running game. Miller brings more speed and elusiveness to Ohio State's running attack, while at Florida Tebow's running was emphasized more in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
Meyer is not hesitant to use Miller in those situations, but it is much more to his advantage to be able to have Miller moving around in the backfield looking for the right opportunity to break open a big run or find an open receiver. With Tebow, the confidence was there for the rock-solid quarterback to be able to muscle out a yard or two.
The difference is evident in the numbers. Miller carried the football 17 more times for Ohio State than Tebow did during the 2007 season. Miller rushed for nearly 400 more yards and a higher average but it was Tebow who recorded 10 more touchdowns. It all comes down to the situations in which each happened to be running the football.
Tebow offered many great memories for Florida during his 2007 Heisman season, and during the BCS championship run the following season. A big, strong arm was not one of Tebow's most prominent features, though. He could be accurate on short passes and hope for his receivers to use their speed after the catch.
Miller gives Meyer a strong arm to count on. While he works to improve his accuracy, Miller is a threat to launch a deep ball. Just ask Wisconsin, who was beta on a Miller throw as a freshman to decide the outcome of the game.
Make no mistake about it: Although Tebow's overall influence on the offensive numbers may have dipped after his Heisman Trophy season, he was still the key component of the Gators championship success the following year.
The same could happen in Columbus as Miller's passing skills continue to evolve and the supporting cast steps into larger roles as needed to make a championship push.
All stats courtesy College Football Reference.
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