COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There is a reality sinking in about Braxton Miller’s situation at a new position that is either sobering or encouraging for Ohio State depending on the perspective.
On the one hand, Urban Meyer seems almost pained with each passing game that doesn’t include double-digit touches and numerous chances for the former quarterback to flash his breathtaking athleticism. Force-feeding opportunities for Miller just hasn’t worked, though, no matter how tempted the Buckeyes might be to keep trying it.
On the other hand, even while he was racking up yardage, scoring a couple touchdowns and setting the social-media world on fire with a spin move in his debut at wide receiver, Miller wasn’t entirely meeting expectations when the ball wasn’t in hands. But without the touches last weekend, Miller graded as a champion, earning essentially the highest possible praise Meyer can give to one of his players.
So, the good news is Miller has officially made it as a wideout. Which also might be the bad news.
“I want him [involved] as bad or more than he does,” Meyer said. “But the defense directs where the ball goes. You can't just say, ‘Throw it to him.’ You just can't do that. What if he's covered?
“It's frustrating, but you know, he graded a champion. The Virginia Tech game he did not. So think about that. ... Offensive football is not a one-man show. It's 11 guys getting their jobs done. So the positive is that he's heading in that direction to be a full-time receiver.”
The negative for the Buckeyes is that his elite speed, head-turning acceleration and one-of-a-kind juking ability aren’t getting used nearly as much as they used to be, prompting Meyer to jokingly ask for input from the media on how to get him more involved last week.
The suggestion box must have been empty, as Miller got his hands on the football just twice, with the first one coming on the opening play of the game. The play, a push pass on Ohio State’s first drive, was botched and ended up costing the offense 9 yards, leaving them well behind the chains, out of rhythm and quickly forcing to punt. It was more proof that forcing the ball to Miller isn't prudent.
Miller would later break a 14-yard rush on his only other touch and was close to breaking free for more than that. But the rest of his afternoon was devoted to running routes without the ball coming his way and proving run-blocking on the perimeter -- though he did get graded down for an illegal block that negated a touchdown.
Considering Miller still ranks third in the nation among active rushers with more than 3,000 yards in his career, looking at a box score that only shows him handling the ball twice can be puzzling. For his part, Meyer is still working overtime to prevent that from happening again, particularly with Ohio State having lost a second wideout (Corey Smith) to a season-ending broken leg and now in even greater need of production from Miller.
The days of him impacting the game on every snap are obviously gone, and growing pains should have been expected even after his breakout in the opener at Virginia Tech. But somewhere between that performance and the current 3-game stretch that's included just 50 yards is a consistent, champion wide receiver. If the Buckeyes find that guy, good luck slowing him down.
“He touched it twice, and we've got to give him more touches, direct touches,” Meyer said. “He almost came out of one ... and the other one is just a bad call by me.
“But, no, he deserves touches. He's an electric player with the ball in his hand. We just have not got him loose the last couple of games.”
Those dry spells can happen to wideouts. And for better or worse, Miller has officially built himself into one.