- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The ability to make all the throws was always evident.
Tom Herman had seen the impressive arm strength plenty on the practice field, and for some of the criticism the Ohio State offensive coordinator’s prized pupil has taken for his accuracy, Braxton Miller is more than capable of fitting a football into a tight spot.
But even if a quarterback has the necessary skills to deliver any pass in Herman’s playbook, it won’t mean much without the confidence to actually pull the trigger when the time comes. And with one perfectly-placed, back-shoulder touchdown throw on a secondary read against a stout defense, Miller provided a perfect example of the difference it makes when those two traits are combined into one dangerous package.
“I think it’s a throw he wouldn’t have made,” Herman said. “He could have made it, absolutely could have. He wouldn’t have made it, because he didn’t trust himself.
“He didn’t trust what he saw, he didn’t trust when he saw it, he might have seen it a split-second too late, he might not have trusted the fact that what he was seeing was reality. But the kid physically is not much different than he was last year.”
Miller was no slouch as a sophomore, and he’s got plenty of hardware from the Big Ten, a fifth-place finish in the Heisman Trophy race and a perfect record from a year ago to show for it.
But there was also clearly room for him to grow and develop as a passer after completing just more than 58 percent of his passes with 15 touchdowns against six interceptions. Herman and Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer delivered that message to Miller early and often in the offseason after defenses had started to adjust to his threat on the ground late last season by loading the box and daring him to throw.
A knee sprain suffered on the opening drive of the second game this season had largely kept him from showing off his improvements in that area, but three first-half touchdowns against the Badgers put it on full display in front of a national audience in primetime, each touchdown showcasing the strides in his game.
There was a bullet thrown across his body on a play-action rollout for a 25-yard strike to Evan Spencer, which was followed up working through his progression to Devin Smith on the second touchdown of the game. And just before halftime, he looked off the coverage to the right, stepped up in the pocket and fired a bomb to the left for a 40-yard connection with Philly Brown -- the throw that Miller himself pointed to as one he wouldn’t have made a year ago.
“I probably would have checked it down to Carlos [Hyde] or something like that,” Miller said. “Just going through my reads and being comfortable with the offense and knowing where everybody is at, that’s a big advantage.
“Last year, we didn’t really know how to run routes, I really wasn’t comfortable with the playbook as much as I am right now. It just takes time, offseason working with the guys to get time and placement with the ball and outcomes like that in the game can happen all the time.”
That’s obviously the plan, and if Miller can continue to put up efficient, productive outings like he did against the Badgers with his arm, an already explosive rushing attack could become even more of a handful.
Even for all those positives, though, the work still isn’t done. Miller made at least one throw that could have been an interception, wasn’t flawless with his decisions and also left some yards on the field by scrambling horizontally instead of looking to get down the field.
But the overall progress was hard to ignore.
“Graded out well, but not great,” Herman said. “Certainly better than probably what I had expected, which was a positive.
“Mentally and consistency with his mechanics and footwork, all that is 10 times better than it was.”
Now he’s got some throws on film to prove it.
3dDan Murphy and Mitch Sherman
3dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
4dMitch Sherman and Dan Murphy