The Buckeyes Too Shall Pass -- Eventually
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State freshman quarterback Braxton Miller got his first start for the Buckeyes on Saturday and threw the football just thirteen times.
The history of Ohio State football has always seen the Buckeyes run the ball more than they throw it, and the Colorado game was no exception.
As a team, Ohio State threw the ball 17 times and ran it 47 times, but that much disparity is not where the coaching staff wants to be right now, and certainly not in the future.
Miller delivers one of his 13 pass attempts against Colorado.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“Obviously the whole goal of an offense is to be balanced,” said head coach Luke Fickell.
“I think that's the number one most important thing. To me you don't want to lead the nation in rushing, because if you lead the nation in rushing you probably can't throw the football. If you lead the nation in passing, you probably don't run the football too well. So we've got to continue to figure out how we can be a little bit more balanced in everything we do.”
It's extremely typical for a true freshman quarterback to be much more comfortable handing the ball off, or taking off with it, than standing back in the pocket and surveying a defense. Having the right feel for the pocket and the ability to progress through the proper reads takes time—and sometimes seasons.
Thus far Braxton Miller appears to be more comfortable as a runner than a passer.
Photo by Dan Harker
A true freshman quarterback that is also your starter is almost always going to skew the balance towards the run, unless the offense is a pass-first offense.Having the ability to run the ball as a team is the best way to help a young quarterback grow comfortable and take some of that pressure off of him. Fortunately for Miller, he has a solid running game behind him.
“Put yourself back there (in Braxton's place),” said Buckeye offensive coordinator Jim Bollman. “There's got to be a little relief sometimes to be able to take a snap and just go back and hand it off.”
That relief has been with him against Miami and Colorado, as both Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde have done consistently well, and it isn't a coincidence. When Miller is in the game, he is as much of a threat as the tailback behind him to carry the ball. It creates questions in a defense's mind, which can make them a step slow.
However, if the passing game isn't eventually part of the Ohio State gameplan, then defending the run becomes easier by the week.
Right now, Miller is obviously more comfortable pulling the ball down than looking for a second or third receiver, but the offense will need to become more balanced as the season progresses. That doesn't mean the coaches will want Miller to stop using the gifts that he has been given, but it does mean that along with the balance in play calling, they'll also want balance in what Miller does on any given play.
“When he pulls it down and makes those exciting runs [it's nice],” said Bollman.
“But I'll be just as excited when he sits back there in the pocket and drills one down there like he should too. But he's doing a good job and I'm very happy with the way he performed.”
What most consider balance and what Bollman considers balance, however, might be two different things.
“I think it's important that you have a threat of balance. Not necessarily that you have to be balanced, but you should have the threat of balance.
"Whether that threat in the passing game is him pulling it down and running it, versus the execution of passes down there, we'll have to flip a coin and see how that evolves, but the bottom line is we have to keep getting better and improving at it.”
But that improvement takes time, and knowing what you have to do and actually doing it are two very different things. Miller needs to be able to do the things in the passing game that the coaches are going to be asking of him in the very near future. Bollman has confidence in Miller's abilities, however.
“The question of how long it can take is up in the air,” he said.
That's an individual case for every single person.
"Braxton has had success in the past doing those kind of things, and he'll have more in the future. But when he's conservative with the ball and doesn't really feel comfortable, then he's going to pull it down. Defensively it's another aspect that people have to prepare for.
“I think I've got a pretty good feel of where we're headed, but you don't go from A-Z. You gotta kind of grow into things and kind of evolve through things. And we're in that process.”
“You can see we're not quite as balanced as we want to be yet, but it will come,” said left guard Jack Mewhort.
“Braxton is a young guy but we have confidence that he'll do everything that's asked of him. I think we'll get there eventually."
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