Ohio State's Braxton Miller Has Gone from Athlete to Quarterback This Season

Andrew Coppens@@andycoppensContributor INovember 1, 2013

When Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer spoke of Braxton Miller before this season, the first thing that came to mind was one word—athlete. 

"Number one is an incredible athlete, and number two, he is a competitor," said Meyer at Big Ten Media Days earlier this year. "Those two things separate him. He's an incredible athlete." 

The challenge to Miller from Meyer and his critics was to become more than that; to become a quarterback that happens to be an athlete. 

It's what drove him to work with a quarterback guru in the offseason in the hopes of adding to his athletic ability at the position.

As we head into the final month of the regular season, some may say mission accomplished. 

So far this season, Miller is completing 70 percent of his passes for 1,083 yards and, most importantly, 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions. He is averaging 180.5 yards a game through the air. 

Miller has added 403 yards with two touchdowns on 83 carries for an average of 67.1 yards a game. 

Add it all up, and Miller is first on the team with an average of 247.7 total yards a game this season. That average is nearly identical to the one he put up last season, 275.8 yards a game.

Yet, when you break it down, Miller has gotten there in very different ways in 2013.

The real story is in the improvements Miller has made in the passing game, and they have been dramatic. 

Last season, he completed just 58.3 percent of his passes for 2,039 yards and an average of 169.9 yards a game throwing. He also averaged 105.9 yards a game on the ground in the process. 

Miller has led his team to victory in each and every game he has played in this season, but it hasn't been all smooth sailing for him after coming back from a sprained knee earlier this season. 

He hit a speed bump in the Northwestern game, one that nearly got him pulled in favor of the hot hand of backup Kenny Guiton. 

Miller finished the game with his first 200-plus yard passing performance of the season, going for 203 yards through the air. 

However, he also threw an interception and fumbled the ball twice in situations where it nearly cost his team the victory. 

Instead of folding, Miller has rebounded with two of his best overall performances in a Buckeyes uniform. 

Against Iowa, he completed a career best 81.5 percent of his passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for 102 yards. 

Last week, in the blowout win over Penn State, Miller threw for a career high 252 yards while completing 75 percent of his passes and throwing for three touchdowns. 

He added two more touchdowns and 68 yards on the ground, as well. 

So, what has clicked for Miller? Why has he become a quarterback and not just an athlete with the ball in his hands this season?  

The reasons are two-fold. One, he has committed himself to his craft as a quarterback, and two, he has a surrounding cast that can help him out a lot more than last season. 

Last season, the cast of playmakers wasn't there or weren't ready, and that resulted in Miller having to do more on his own than he or Meyer would've liked. 

"Well, I think if you evaluate the first five games last year, he was really the only guy I trusted," said Meyer. "We had some very close close games. We were not very good, and we used him because he was our best player, and we had to win those games. I'm hoping that this year, we kind of space the ball around a bit."

Oct 26, 2013; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller (5) hands the ball off to running back Carlos Hyde (34) against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State won 63-14. Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sp
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

This season, Miller has gotten a ton of help from running back Carlos Hyde, who was a secondary option most of the time last year. 

It's been a breakout year for Hyde, who has 590 yards on just 88 attempts after sitting out the first three games of the season. He already has seven touchdowns to his name as well. 

Opposing teams have had to prepare for Hyde as a major player in the game plan and not just an option should Miller get bottled up. 

That has freed Miller up to concentrate on being a better passer. 

The final piece to the puzzle? Braxton Miller isn't learning a new offense. 

Last season, it was Tom Herman's spread offense being installed for the first time. That means Miller could focus less on learning a playbook and more on fine tuning mechanics and nuances within Herman's system (h/t to ESPN.com). 

I'm very comfortable right now. I know what I'm doing. Reading the defensive coverage, I know where the guys are going to be, I know how to adjust the routes sometimes. You know, it's just exciting to get the ball in the hands of those guys and see them do something with it. Getting a year under coach Meyer and the offense, I'm just learning. With the little mistakes I make, every game I'm just trying to improve myself and show everyone what I've got.

Add it all up, and Miller has gone from freak athlete with an arm to a bona fide collegiate quarterback. 


*Andy Coppens is the lead writer for the Big Ten. All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise noted. You can follow Andy on Twitter: @ andycoppens.


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