Containing the Braxton Miller Show
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Through two games this season, Braxton Miller has rushed for 302 yards on 44 carries. That is the fourth-highest rushing total in the country, and easily the highest total for a quarterback on the ground in all of college football.
The only other non-running back in the top 20: Denard Robinson.
Photo by Dan Harker
Only three players in the Big Ten Conference have carried the ball more times than Miller this season, and all of them are running backs. Michigan State’s Le'Veon Bell leads the conference with 62 carries through two games, which accounts for 67 percent of the Spartans’ rushing attack in 2012.
Wisconsin tailback Montee Ball has shouldered a similar workload for the Badgers early in the season – though Bret Bielema’s rushing attack has gone from best in the Big Ten to worst this season – but not many would have expected Miller to be in that same conversation this early in the year.
“I think part of it, some of the carries are a result of errors at other positions,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said this week.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“For example, someone goes the wrong way. What does (Braxton) do? He runs for seven yards and gets whacked. One guy, we have a design play and we miss two blocks, and instead of pitching a ball, he gets whacked.”
OSU co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner called Miller “the eraser” because of his ability to turn a broken play into potentially big plays for the offense It is just one of the things that makes him one of the most exciting and dynamic athletes in the country.
“He is a hell of a football player now. If you really studied the game with the copies we have, he delivers punishment; he goes hard,” Meyer said of his sophomore quarterback.
“He's a hell of a football player. I mean, I think a hell of a football player. Better than even everybody in this country thinks right now. That's how good I think Braxton Miller is.”
Meyer has coached some excellent college quarterbacks in his decade as a head coach, and most of them have been asked to carry the football quite a bit in his spread attack on offense. Josh Harris averaged 11 carries per game during Meyer’s first season at Bowling Green, but that number jumped to over 15 in year two, when he accounted for 20 rushing touchdowns.
Even Alex Smith, not known for being a running quarterback, averaged almost 18 carries per game at Utah in 2004, when the Utes went a perfect 12-0 under Meyer with a 35-7 win over Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl.
Photo by Jim Davidson
“But we have got to be smart, and he got tattooed a little bit,” Meyer said of Miller, who carried the ball an OSU quarterback-record 27 times against UCF on Saturday.
“But we've all got to take care of him. That's kind of the message I'm giving in the team meeting to the offense here tomorrow, take care of him. Now, he's made some mistakes, too, now, but great problem to have. Hell of a football player behind center. It's a good problem to have.”
Part of the reason Miller ran the ball so much against Central Florida was the injury to Carlos Hyde. With Ohio State’s top two running backs out, Miller was asked to do more as a runner against the Knights than even his 17 carries a week earlier against Miami (Ohio).
He seemed to struggle at times with the read-option plays, which might explain why Ohio State went to more direct quarterback runs in the second half, but the OSU coaches aren’t worried about Miller’s mentality on the field.
“I don’t sense he says, ‘when in doubt, I’m keeping it’,” Warinner said.
“That’s not his mindset and that’s not how he’s coached. He’s trying to execute every play exactly how we want it executed. He’s very coachable. He doesn’t try to ad-lib and make it the ‘Braxton Miller show.’ Some of the stuff that happens out there just happens because of how good an athlete he is, but he isn’t trying to do it all.”
Meyer said, all things equal, he would prefer to run Miller around 12-15 times a game the rest of the year, but that’s a lot easier to say on Monday than it is in the third quarter of a tight ballgame against Cal on Saturday.
“That's what we do (as coaches),” Meyer said.
“That's what we get every morning and try to do, win that damn game, but take care of your guys. That position is going to have to do a lot of things, but we have to play better around him to eliminate some of those carries. And hopefully once again, the job description is to win that game; and also player safety and being smart is a big part of that.”
One good thing about Miller being such a dynamic runner is the fact he can often avoid taking big hits down the field once he breaks contain.
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