Ohio State Football: Inside Look at Braxton Miller's Strengths and Weaknesses
Braxton Miller is an excellent football player.
Miller is one of college football's most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks, and he has spent a majority of his three-year career tormenting the teams tasked with defending Ohio State's offense.
What's scary, though, is that he could be a whole lot better in 2014.
Looking Back at 2013
Despite missing most of three games with a sprained knee, Miller had an exceptional 2013 season—notching career highs in completions, completion percentage, passing yards and passing touchdowns.
He's always been an elite running threat, but in 2013, Miller began taking steps to become a more well-rounded quarterback. This process started in the winter, when he enlisted the services of quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr.
With Whitfield's tutelage and Urban Meyer pushing him to be "the best fundamental quarterback in the country" (per Ethan Day of The Lantern), Miller showcased better mechanics and footwork en route to a career year.
That said, he was far from the best, which is a big reason why he returned for his senior season. According to Jeremy Fowler of CBS Sports, Meyer said that Miller lacks some qualities that NFL quarterbacks need.
I've talked to some general managers and some good friends of mine that are coaches. I've gone through every quarterback I've had, Alex Smith, I've seen what they do to those quarterbacks in those meetings as far as knowledge of the game. Same with Tebow. I had Cam for a while but not that long. They are going to grind him. [Miller] doesn't have the concepts yet. He's working real hard.
Consistency should be Miller's top priority.
There were stretches during Miller's junior season when he looked like an NFL-ready quarterback. Those moments were interrupted by lapses of inefficiency, something that almost got him benched at one point in the season.
Miller was sensational in the friendly confines of Ohio Stadium, completing 72 percent of his passes. In road- or neutral-site contests, however, Miller's completion percentage dipped to 55.8 percent.
Granted, even the top quarterbacks struggled with this, but not nearly as much as Miller. In 2013, Teddy Bridgewater completed 73 percent of his passes at home and 72 percent on the road. Johnny Manziel threw 71 percent at home to 68 percent away from Kyle Field.
Bridgewater and Manziel are just two months away from (likely) becoming first-round NFL draft selections. If Miller wants to join that fraternity next year, he'll need to find a consistency that's evaded him throughout his career.
Looking strictly at pass completion, Miller's best two games in Ohio Stadium came against Iowa and Penn State. His two worst games away from Columbus came against Michigan and Michigan State.
Here's an enhanced look at what those games tell us about Miller's development.
He's Better on the Perimeter
When Miller—and by extension Ohio State's offense—is operating at a high level, the Buckeyes are countering their nearly unstoppable rushing attack with quick strikes to the perimeter.
The circles in these passing charts represent where Miller targeted his intended receiver. Against Iowa and Penn State, 35 of Miller's 51 passes attacked the perimeter 10 yards from (or behind) the line of scrimmage.
With how effective Ohio State's running game is, defenses need support in the middle from their linebackers. With so much attention being paid to what's happening between the tackles (note the lack of circles in the middle of the field), Miller can pick the defense apart on the edges.
Making a commitment to the perimeter helps Miller find a groove, which extends to more advanced elements of Ohio State's passing game. Against the Hawkeyes and the Nittany Lions, Miller completed 25 of his 28 passes off play-action plays (89.3 percent) for 288 yards and three touchdowns.
“I love where Braxton is at right now,” Meyer said. “He’s acting like a quarterback. He’s not an athlete acting like a quarterback but a quarterback acting like an athlete.”
Struggles Tied to Play-Calling
As productive as Miller was against Iowa and Penn State, he was equally unproductive against Michigan and Michigan State.
Miller is never overly careless with the ball. He hasn't thrown more than seven interceptions in a single season, and even when he was most erratic (against the Wolverines and the Spartans), he only threw one pick.
A combination of poor execution and bad play-calling took Miller away from Ohio State's perimeter game.
Only 33 percent of Miller's passes went to the shallow edges. Miller threw the same percentage of passes 25 yards or further down the field, and as the passing graph indicates, it wasn't effective. Miller threw 10 passes beyond 30 yards against Michigan and Michigan State, producing one touchdown and nine incompletions (including an interception).
Unable to find a groove, Ohio State's passing attack withered. Miller completed just 7 of 18 passes off play action, and against the Spartans, that contributed to the Buckeyes falling one game short of playing for a national title.
Room for Growth
Miller's shortcomings last season weren't limited to the occasional lack of a perimeter attack.
From learning to read defenses at a faster rate to showing more composure in the pocket, there are clearly a lot of areas where Miller needs improvement. That, in short, is why he's back for his senior season. Despite being held out of spring drills as he recovers from shoulder surgery, Miller has an offseason checklist he's working through, according to Eric Seger of The Lantern.
Get more polished in the pocket … I think the game is changing now. There’s a lot of things that tie into that. But I just (have to) work leadership-wise, and just learn the whole aspect of the game from the shoulders up. Just make sure I know everything.
If he can do that, there won't be nearly as many red dots on these passing charts in the future.
All stats via NCAA.com.
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