- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The trend is easy to identify, and Braxton Miller didn’t even bother trying to spin it a different direction.
Figuring out the significance of his recent slide as a passer is a bit trickier. But the Ohio State quarterback doesn’t seem all that concerned about that, either.
If he wanted, Miller has plenty of legitimate explanations at his disposal, from the weather to his own success as a rusher to maybe just an off game against perhaps the nation’s best defense. Instead, though, Miller just acknowledged that his numbers down the stretch appear to suggest the same thing to him about the passing game for the No. 7 Buckeyes as it does to anybody else -- and then went back to work trying to turn it back around.
“I think it was down, down,” Miller said after a recent practice for the Discover Orange Bowl. “I feel like we just have to get better on the outside. That’s what we’re doing right now, that’s why we work so hard in practice.
“We’re fixing mistakes that we made in the game and we’ll be all right.”
If there had only been errors throwing the football against Michigan State in the Big Ten title game, there probably wouldn’t be enough evidence to raise any concern for the Buckeyes. Even the uneven outing in the passing game the week before against Michigan might only qualify the rough patch as a blip on the radar and a coincidence.
But tacking on an outing against Indiana when Ohio State barely bothered to put the football in the air and a 13-for-29 performance in the wind against hapless Illinois might provide a sample size meaningful enough to spot a trend.
Is it merely a product of Michigan State’s destructive defense and a handful of drops by Ohio State receivers? Did the lack of ideal conditions playing outdoors in the Big Ten in November skew the numbers? Considering how well the Buckeyes had been rushing the football, was it really that much of a hindrance to the spread offense?
Or does the dip in accuracy, completing less than half of his throws in three of his last four starts with 14 total completions in the last two games, suggest that Miller isn’t ready yet for the NFL? Have the strides he made mechanically been undone by the extra hits he’s taken as a rusher? Can the Buckeyes keep a defense like No. 12 Clemson’s honest if Miller isn’t a consistent threat with his arm?
Of course, none of these questions might be popping up if the Buckeyes had just come up with a victory in Indianapolis. And in some ways, they’re a reflection of how far Miller had clearly come as a junior, particularly since they come on the heels of what was unquestionably the hottest stretch of his career in October and a clinical first-half operation against Purdue to open November.
But regardless of how much importance Miller or Urban Meyer put on those final few games of the season, they both know how critical it is to find some answers moving forward.
“We’ve got to throw the ball better,” Meyer said. “ ... I think he did OK. I think it was a combination of things. Played a couple pretty good defenses, one game we were running the ball and getting a lot of yards per carry and that game dictated that, the one up north against our rivals. We did have one weather game, and the other one was a pretty good pass defense.
“We’ve just got to play better, and Braxton has got to play better, but the guys around him do too. We just have to get better. It’s not Braxton.”
Miller is at the center of it all, though. And he’s clearly doing everything he can to buck the recent trend.
3dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
4dTom VanHaaren and Erik McKinney