Football Herman Sleeping Better With Ohio State’s Passing Game Starting to Click
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — He knew it wouldn’t happen over night. Things like this never do, but when the installation of Urban Meyer’s new offense stalled early last spring, Ohio State’s new head coach became increasingly displeased.
He started throwing around phrases like “most unprepared group I’ve ever been around and the now-famous “clown show" reference – not to be confused with Bryce Harper’s “clown question, bro" comment.
Tom Herman Photo by Jim Davidson
It was hardly a laughing matter for newly-hired offensive coordinator Tom Herman. Meyer had a taken a chance on an unsung offensive coordinator at Iowa State, so watching the ball end up on the ground more often than a receiver’s hands was not the way the 36-year-old Herman had hoped to start his new job.
Especially working for one of the most no-nonsense coaches in the business, Herman was probably wondering if he made the right move leaving Ames for the pressure of calling Urban Meyer’s offense.
“I’m not frightened to call a pass play anymore. The thought of that sent shivers down my spine at times last year," Herman admitted Wednesday in the players lounge at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
“Are we where we need to be? Absolutely not, but at least I don’t lay awake at night and get night sweats because I have to call a pass tomorrow."
Herman called a bunch of them during Ohio State’s Scarlet and Gray spring game over the weekend. 43 to be exact, although only 34 of those actually left the quarterback’s hand.
The Scarlet offense, coached by Herman and led primarily by quarterback Braxton Miller, was bogged down by nine sacks. Some of that was caused by the absence of left tackle Jack Mewhort and center Corey Linsley – who Herman called the two best leaders on the offense – but there were also a lot of good things that happened out there at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
“We were watching some film of spring practice and I was telling the staff it’s refreshing, Herman said.
“In the spring game, it was like 100 percent pass for the Scarlet and it felt OK. We did that last year in the spring game and it was a disaster.
Most of what the Buckeyes did last year in the passing game was a disaster. Miller’s final numbers were actually quite respectable, but Ohio State finished 11th in the Big Ten in passing yards and dead last in completions a year ago.
All of which led to a lot of sleepless nights for Ohio State’s young offensive coordinator.
“That’s probably the biggest thing, it felt OK to call pass after pass after pass," Herman said of this year’s spring game.
“To say that’s who we’re going to be, it’s not but at least you don’t clench up and say, ‘there’s 12 guys in the box, I guess I have to call a pass here.’ You’re OK."
Miller completed 16 of his 25 attempts in the spring game for 217 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while backup Kenny Guiton was 13-of-22 for 151 yards and a score. Miller did a few things he would not have been capable of last season and threw a few nice balls down the field that led to big plays for the Scarlet offense.
The first big play came on the opening snap of the spring scrimmage. Miller lobbed a pass out in front of receiver Evan Spencer, who had gotten behind the defense for a 49-yard catch down the middle of the field.
Two plays later, Miller connected with Devin Smith in the corner of the end zone on a 20-yard touchdown strike to give his team an early 7-0 lead against the first-team defense.
“It was all his feet. A little bit of body lean up top," Herman said of his star junior.
“There were times towards the end of spring he was missing high on some throws and we had him tuck his left shoulder down a little bit more. That seemed to help a little bit, but 95 percent of it was his footwork."
That’s an area Miller has worked hard to improve this offseason. It started back in December, with his trip to California, where he worked out for a week with famed quarterback ‘guru’ George Whitfield Jr.
“I think (people) like to make a lot bigger deal out of it than we do," Herman clarified.
“He did a good job of taking it upon himself to go and work for a week when we don’t have bowl practices. That was good. I encouraged that. That’s great, awesome, pat on the back, job well done."
But not job done. Miller’s mechanics may have been slightly improved when he returned from his trip out West with Los Angeles native Michael Thomas, but he was still nowhere near where the Ohio State coaches wanted him to be.
“I think where it helps the most, to be honest with you, is mentally," Herman said of the trip.
“He feels like, ‘hey I gave myself an advantage. I went out and improved myself by going and doing this and paying my hard-earned money to get myself out there.’ Mentally, he comes back and feels better about himself and probably more confident."
That confidence is a big part of Miller’s ability to throw the football. According to Herman, almost everything wrong with his mechanics stems from his footwork, but everything wrong with his footwork stems from a lack of understanding.
“When he’s confident with his memory of the play and where he’s supposed to go if the defense does this or does that, and the confidence in his receivers, it’s all tied together," Herman added.
“Throwing and catching the football is really, really hard because there’s so many different things the defense can do. The more mental reps he gets putting himself in different scenarios against different defenses, the calmer we’ll see his feet."
And the calmer Herman will be every time he signals down a pass play for Meyer on the sideline this fall.
“We tried a little bit last year and it was a famously quoted ‘clown show,’" Herman said of passing the ball.
“That was the biggest ‘Aha! moment,’ like OK we can get there. We’re getting close. We’re capable of doing this. Do we have to get better? Yeah, but it’s a little bit of a relief to be able to call that and not be so frightened."
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