Braxton Showing Tangible Progress in Practice
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Braxton Miller completed only one pass against Illinois.
It was a big pass, a 17-yard touchdown to tight end Jake Stoneburner, but it was the second time this season the Buckeyes have completed fewer than five passes in a game.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“There was a lot more passes than that in the last plan,” Offensive Coordinator Jim Bollman said after Wednesday’s practice.
“We’ve been working at that, we always do. Always have been.”
It doesn’t always look like it.
Ohio State is currently ranked 115th in the country in passing offense.
Senior Joe Bauserman still leads the team in passing yards despite the fact he has been demoted to third-string since losing his starting job after the Miami (Fla.) game in week three.
Miller has struggled to throw the ball in two of his four starts, but the coaches are seeing the right kind of progress from their freshman quarterback.
“He’s working at it very steadily, and obviously there’s a marked improved from day to day, week to week. From yesterday to today,” Bollman said Wednesday.
“I hope I see that kind of improvement again tomorrow.”
For how good he looked in the first three quarters of the Nebraska game, Miller has also been shaky at times. He hasn’t thrown the ball with the same command on Saturday’s this fall as he did last season as a high school senior at Wayne.
That’s understandable, if not predictable. Miller is only a freshman. He wasn’t supposed to be in this position—not this early—but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s here just the same.
Even his teammates have a seen a noticeable change in Miller since the Michigan State game four weeks ago.
“You can just tell. When guys are coming out of their breaks or when they’re open, the ball is there when it’s supposed to be there,” tight end Jake Stoneburner said.
“He’s hitting his reads, more confident in his footwork and his throws, where the ball has to be. That comes with experience. Each growing week he’s going to be better.”
Stoneburner joked that earlier in the year it was good any time Miller’s passes didn’t land on the ground. A lot has changed.
“I feel like the ball is there when I’m coming out of my breaks. It’s right there where it’s supposed to be,” he said.
“He’s putting it in the right places away from defenders. Especially last week I noticed it when we were going against the ones or the scout team, he seemed to be on point with his passes.”
There are only five more weeks in the regular season. That’s not a lot of time for Miller to make significant improvements, but the middle of the season is always when the coaches start to look for those lights to turn on, one by one.
“You see consistency. That’s the first thing,” Bollman said.
“You’re seeing the ball going out quickly, you’re seeing it go where it’s supposed to go. You see it with more confidence and more accuracy and it reflects on the whole football team.”
This team will only go as far as Miller can take them. That’s not very fair for a true freshman, but that’s the hand he was dealt after Terrelle Pryor decided he could not longer handle the heat in Columbus.
The Buckeyes beat an undefeated Illinois team two weeks ago with a steady dose of Boom Herron and Jordan Hall. Despite just one completion, the Buckeyes racked up 211 yards on the ground in a 17-7 victory in Champaign, but Wisconsin presents a much different test for Ohio State this week.
“That’s a really good football team we’re playing,” Bollman said.
“You have to go in there with the idea that you have to throw the ball around some. You have to have some balance, no question about it.”
Bollman insists the Buckeyes had plans to pass the ball more than four times—they did call for 11 pass plays in the game—but the wind and field position dictated they stick to the running game.
They also got a boost from Miller, who carried the ball 12 times for 34 yards against the Fighting Illini.
“The good thing he does when he goes back there, pass or not, when he is unclear and doesn’t have confidence in what is going on, he doesn’t put it up for grabs,” Bollman said.
“He takes off and he has made some very sizable plays doing that.”
Now he needs to take the next step, which is making plays with his arm. It’s not an easy step for young quarterbacks to make, just ask Pryor or Art Schlichter.
The improvement is there in practice, but games are an entirely different story.
“We can all see it, we can all feel it,” Bollman said.
“It’s got to transform onto the field, but if you don’t see it on the practice field it isn’t going to go on the field very often.
“I feel like things moving along in the right direction.”
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