Herman Fighting Temptation to Cut Braxton Loose
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — How many times should Braxton Miller carry the football?
It’s a simple question with a not-so-simple answer; at least for Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman. His system, which was developed by OSU head coach Urban Meyer over the last 10 years, is predicated on having an athlete at the quarterback position.
Miller might be the best one Meyer has ever had, at least in terms of his dynamic athletic ability. It’s different than Tim Tebow, but could become equally as dangerous over the course of the next two-and-a-half years.
“He’s by far the most dynamic kid I’ve ever coached at that position,” Herman said Monday after Miller led the Buckeyes to a come-from-behind victory against Cal over the weekend.
“So you get tempted, because he’s so elusive with his feet, you’re tempted to say let’s just get in empty and run him. When they pack the box, we’ll throw it.”
Ohio State fans have certainly seen that philosophy before. The Buckeyes won back-to-back BCS bowl games with Terrelle Pryor basically running a stripped down version of what Herman is talking about.
In other words, spread the field and let Pryor take over the game with his sensational athletic ability. It worked, for the most part, except for the couple times when it didn’t. That’s when the Buckeyes ran into issues because they didn’t have much else to fall back on.
“You hope you can temper that temptation throughout the game planning stages every week,” Herman said.
“You say, ‘what can he handle and what’s the right time to do it.’ I think we did a decent job of managing that against Cal.”
Photo by Dan Harker
Miller ran the ball a career-high 27 times in week two against Central Florida. It was the most carries by any Ohio State quarterback in a single game, and six more than Pryor ever had in a game during his three years as the starting quarterback in Columbus.
“Twenty-seven carries in one game would be too many, but I think in this game you saw him do a better job of throwing the ball away when he needed to and getting down,” Herman said this week after Miller ran the ball only 12 times during Ohio State’s 35-28 win over Cal.
“He’s more cognizant of going out of bounds rather than trying to lower his shoulder. Quarterbacks take hits, that what they do in this offense. Is 27 in one game too many? Absolutely. Is 12? No. If we have to go win the game, we have to win the game.”
Therein lies the dilemma that will face Herman and Meyer, likely for the rest of Miller’s career at Ohio State. When the chips are down and the game is on the line, who else do they want with the football in his hands?
In that case, there isn’t much of a decision to be made.
“Not hard, go win the freaking game,” Herman added.
“It’s not hard in that situation. It’s a lot easier when you’re up by 21 in the third quarter, but he’s our go-to-guy. When we need plays to be made, he can go take them.”
Miller has the ability to make something out of nothing, to turn what looks like a tackle in the backfield into a 55-yard touchdown run the way he did against the Golden Bears on Saturday.
The key for him is going to be limiting the big hits he takes over the course of a game, especially once the Buckeyes start playing against physical Big Ten defenses in a couple weeks.
“He’s a tough kid. When he lowers his shoulder and tries to get that extra yard or two, if the situation warranted it, you’d give him a thumbs up and pat on the back,” Herman said.
“If you say, ‘hey now, let’s be a little bit more situationally-smart here with how we take care of our body’.”
Of his 12 carries against Cal on Saturday, five of them ended with hard hits on Miller as he was being taken to the ground. Most of those came in the fourth quarter, on Ohio State’s go-ahead touchdown drive with less than nine minutes to play.
Miller took a couple of shots near the goal line, including some contact to his facemask, where he was forced to stiff-arm the defender while throwing the ball away. He came up limping slightly after that play, but ran the ball two more times before the coaches dialed up that jump pass to Jake Stoneburner on third down.
It was made possible because the entire Cal defense was anticipating another run from Miller, which is just another reason Miller is so important to Ohio State’s running game this season.
“You go into the game saying he can really help you win the game with his feet,” Herman said, “but you have to then be cautious with how often you ask him to do that.”
At some point, however, they know they will have to throw caution to the wind.
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