UAB contest could be an Air Show

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Last updated: 09/20/2012 7:46 AM

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Air Show

Saturday’s Game Against UAB Could Be High-Flying
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State has largely relied on its running game to this point in the season, with a few key passes from quarterback Braxton Miller to his favorite targets – Devin Smith, Corey Brown and Jake Stoneburner.

That may be changing, however, as the Buckeyes prepare to face UAB on Saturday, and ultimately Michigan State the following week. As opposing defenses get more and more creative in their attempts to limit Miller’s electric running ability, Ohio State’s offensive coaches will have to counter with their own batch of creativity.

Urban Meyer
Photo by Dan Harker
Urban Meyer

“Braxton's going to do what he does, and he makes guys miss and he's one of the most dynamic runners at college football, but I think we have to take shots,” OSU head coach Urban Meyer said this week.

“Defenses are forcing us to do that. That's bad coaching. We've got to do more of that because they're defending the run.”

This past week, Jeff Tedford’s Cal defense came out in something completely different than anything they had played the first two weeks of the season, or really anything they had done over the last two years.

That is about as extreme an adjustment as any coaching staff will ever make in order to slow down one specific player in hopes of forcing Meyer and his staff to completely alter their game plan. But it’s not the first time.

“I've seen defenses in the last three weeks that I've never even dreamed of in my mind to try to stop the quarterback from running the ball,” OSU offensive coordinator Tom Herman said Monday.

Braxton Miller
Photo by Dan Harker

“It's an interesting quandary to be in when you have such a dynamic runner back there that defensive coverages tend to be completely skewed opposed to what you grew up knowing.”

The Golden Bears brought an extra safety down into the box – remember No. 6 who lost his jockstrap in the backfield during Braxton’s 55-yard touchdown run? – to spy Miller throughout the course of the game. It backfired twice, once on the long touchdown run in the first quarter, where Miller stutter-stepped Alex Logan in the backfield, and again on the 72-yard touchdown pass to Devin Smith at the end of the game.

“Teams now are trying to get eight and nine guys in the box to be sound against him pulling the ball and running,” Herman added.

“So the variety of coverages that we see on first and second down is absolutely mind-boggling.”

It’s a similar situation to the one Ohio State was in just a few years ago with Terrelle Pryor. Teams would stack the box with eight or nine guys and dare Pryor to beat them with his arm. Occasionally he did – like the 2010 Rose Bowl – and sporadically he didn’t – like the 2009 game at Purdue.

“Having an athletic quarterback to get you out of trouble sometimes gets you into trouble," Meyer said.

“What is going to happen is we're going to have to be throw the ball, become efficient throwing.

“Since Braxton became our quarterback, he's much better. But we've got a long way to go. It's kind of turning into that kind of a world for us right now that there's a lot of players, people, numbers, committed to stopping the run.”

It wasn’t really until Pryor’s junior year where the OSU coaches felt comfortable game planning for him to throw the ball in order for them to win the game. More often, they would allow Pryor to grind it out on the ground until he could finally pop something open with his legs.

That’s not the way this new staff feels about Braxton Miller.

Braxton Miller
Photo by Dan Harker
Braxtpn Miller

“He’s come a long way. There’s never been an issue with his upper body mechanics. The ball comes out very smoothly, he has a quick release and he has a strong arm,” said Herman, who also serves as Meyer’s quarterbacks coach in Columbus. 

“It’s tying that into his feet and making sure his hips and feet are aligned to the throw on time when that throw needs to be made. When you’re out there on the run, it’s a lot easier to make that throw than trying to fit a dig into a window in zone coverage, where your feet have to be perfectly aligned to that throw.

“He has plenty of arm talent to do that in terms of his release and arm strength, it’s just really settling those feet down. He’s done a good job in practice, it just needs to translate more on Saturdays.”

The Buckeyes likely will not face a serious test this week with 0-2 UAB coming to Columbus for a noon game. The Blazers played Troy close (39-29) in their opener before getting thumped by South Carolina down in Columbia last week.

They are currently ranked 108 in total defense, 111 in rushing defense and 123 (second-to-last in the country) in scoring defense, which means first-year coach Garrick McGee knows he’s going to have to throw the ball against the Buckeyes.

“The thing that concerns us most are plays downfield,” Meyer said on the Big Ten Teleconference Tuesday.

“Especially with some of our breakdowns in the secondary. That worries me. They throw down field a lot.”

The Buckeyes will also be looking to air it out a little bit on Saturday, if for no other reason than to get ready for their trip to East Lansing in two weeks. It’s almost a certainty Mark Dantonio will have his Spartan defense load the box against Miller, who struggled in his Big Ten debut against MSU a year ago.

Luckily, the Buckeyes have found a few other guys on offense who can make big plays when Miller has to use his arm and not his feet.

“The best thing that's happened so far in the first few weeks is we've identified a go-get-it guy on the outside that we did not have a year ago,” Meyer said.

“I was worried about it. I didn't see that develop until this first three games, and that's Devin Smith. Him and Philly (Brown) have now proven to me that we can start to be a little more aggressive down the field.” 

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