Last Saturday’s game against Colorado wasn’t a flawless first start for quarterback for Braxton Miller, but it was definitely a step in the right direction for the freshman and the Ohio State Buckeyes as a whole.
It was evident that coach Luke Fickell and the Buckeyes coaching staff were going to let Miller rely on his athleticism as much as his developing arm in his first start. The freshman had as many passing yards (83) on just 13 attempts as he did rushing yards.
While the Buckeyes would be wise to slowly introduce Miller to the offense that he will run in the future, the most important thing is that he was on the field for the majority of the game.
Miller did seem uncomfortable at times in the pocket, opting to tuck it and run on many plays that hadn’t completely broken down. In addition, it is disheartening to see a quarterback with the ability to escape pressure get sacked three times.
However, there were instances where Miller showed flashes of brilliance. On two different occasions, Miller found receiver Devin Smith in the end zone, once on a 32-yard gain and again on a 17-yard reception.
Against stronger defenses, the Buckeyes will likely encounter trouble. They are one-dimensional, and will have a hard time scoring quickly if necessary.
Buckeye fans have seen this before. In 2008, after suffering a lopsided loss to top-ranked USC, the Buckeyes handed over the keys to true freshman Terrelle Pryor after it was clear that senior quarterback Todd Boeckman did not give the team a better chance at victory.
Like Pryor, Miller is in the game to do one thing: gain experience. Wins, for what they’re worth to a team that is no longer in the Top 25 and would seem to have a very difficult path to the Big Ten Championship Game, are secondary.
To some Buckeye fans, this is a difficult pill to swallow. For others, it is confirmation that when an announcer says that a team “reloads” instead of rebuilds, it really just means that a team had a smooth transition from one set of core players to the next. As evident in the Miami game, Ohio State was not going to experience a completely smooth transition.
Miller is not as big as Pryor and doesn’t have the same speed, but throws a better ball. Already it is clear that Miller is better in the short passing game than Pryor, who frequently underthrew open receivers.
With that said, Miller has the chance to help this Ohio State team become just as good as it would have been with Pryor behind center.
That bodes well for interim head coach Luke Fickell, with whom many fans were upset after the way the quarterback situation was handled in Miami.
If Miller continues to start at quarterback, and the Buckeyes manage to beat Michigan and whoever they draw in bowl play, Fickell is as good as any bet to be Ohio State’s head coach in 2012. It’s funny how things in Columbus can be forgotten so quickly with a win over the team up north.
The Buckeyes' 37-17 win over Colorado said very little about the team in general or Miller’s progression. This Saturday’s game against Michigan State will be far more telling.
However, at least fans can take solace in the fact that the coaching staff has realized the most important goal of the 2011 season.
Put simply, it’s preparing for the next one.