NCF Nation: Tom Herman

The last time Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Michigan's Devin Gardner shared a field, the two quarterbacks combined for 10 touchdowns and 747 yards of offense in a wildly entertaining shootout at Michigan Stadium.

It proved to be the end of Gardner's season, as a foot injury sidelined him for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and the first part of spring practice in March. Miller went on to suffer his first two losses under coach Urban Meyer. He injured his throwing shoulder in the Orange Bowl and underwent surgery in Feb. 21, limiting his throwing in spring practice.

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Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesShoulder surgery limited Ohio State's Braxton Miller, but the two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year is still finding ways to improve.
Both quarterbacks have delivered record performances for their teams. Miller owns back-to-back Big Ten offensive player of the year awards and could become the league's first three-time winner this fall. Gardner has been a quarterback of extremes -- prodigiously productive in some games, bafflingly bad in others.

The final chapter for both players arrives this fall. Before that lies a pivotal summer.

Miller's first priority is to return to full strength. But some of his most important work in the coming months will be in the film room.

"In the digital age we live in, video is so easy to come by, so he can study whoever he wants," Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman told ESPN.com. "Preferably, let's study us first and figure out the ins and outs of our offense. And then when you have extra time or want to take a break from that, let's study some defenses that we'll face this season. And beyond that, the next in the pecking order is why don't you study some other offenses, study some other quarterbacks."

Two quarterbacks Herman wants Miller to study likely will compete with him for national honors in 2014: Florida State's Jameis Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and national champion, and Oregon's Marcus Mariota, who might be the best pro quarterback prospect in the college ranks this season.

"What are those guys doing really well?" Herman said. "Is there anything you can glean from watching them on the field that might help your game?"

Herman had a similar plan for Miller last summer, encouraging him to watch Clemson's Tajh Boyd -- "That kid was a really good player," Herman said.

[+] EnlargeQuarterback Devin Gardner #98 of the Michigan Wolverines
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMichigan QB Devin Gardner, coming off a foot injury, struggled in the spring, but still looks on track to start the season opener.
Gardner went through most of the spring at less than 100 percent and struggled in the spring game, completing just 2 of 10 passes with an interception. He's still learning the offense under new coordinator Doug Nussmeier, and head coach Brady Hoke praised his consistency for much of the session.

But Hoke still discusses Michigan's quarterback situation by mentioning two names -- Gardner and sophomore Shane Morris. Many question whether Michigan's quarterback competition is real or imagined. Gardner has 16 starts at quarterback, while Morris has just one (the bowl game).

But unlike Miller, Gardner has to confirm himself as the top option when preseason camp begins in August.

"He has an advantage," Hoke told ESPN.com. "I wouldn't make that mistake. Because of the experience, playing a lot of snaps, being in a lot of big games. But at the same time, Shane, how he handled himself in the bowl game, how he was composed and how he approached the game, is encouraging."

Hoke wants both quarterbacks to not only retain what they learned in the spring but grow as leaders this summer.

"The message is we can't accept the players how they are right now," Hoke said.

The same applies to Miller, as good as he has been at times the past two seasons. His approach to rehab and film study will determine whether he -- and potentially Ohio State -- takes the next step in 2014.

"He's on fire right now, doing a great job with it from what I understand," Herman said. "The things that he is now able to talk to me about on the phone when I'm out on the road recruiting or when I see him in the building, you can tell he's poured himself into it, which is good."
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Whether Braxton Miller was healthy enough to throw a football or not, the first few entries on the spring checklist didn’t require him to do it.

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Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsOhio State QB Braxton Miller will work on the mental side of football this spring.
Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman rattled off the priorities a few days before Miller underwent minor surgery on his throwing shoulder last month. And while there might still be mechanical improvements to be made with his star quarterback, they were almost an afterthought as the two set the course for his last season with the program.

Herman stressed even more dedication to film study. He wanted Miller to know opposing defenses inside and out and be ready to diagram them on the whiteboard whenever he might be prompted to do so. The Buckeyes expect the spread offense to be second nature to him heading into his third season operating the system. Miller tacked one more thing on himself, making it clear that he anticipated becoming a better leader than he has been.

Nothing on this list requires Miller to actually toss a football. So it shouldn’t really matter that he’s expected to be limited physically when camp opens for Ohio State on Tuesday.

“I think probably as improved as he got in the mental side of playing quarterback [in 2013], he still can get a whole lot better,” Herman said. “He can probably make that same leap this year and still have work to do.

“Just the constant studying of the game, studying of defenses and the studying of our plays now that we’ve kind of done the same thing for two years in a row. ... I think he’s getting to that point where all that stuff is slowing down, and he needs to stay on that path.”

Miller has largely made the journey look pretty easy over the past couple pf seasons, steadily improving his numbers, piling up victories and collecting enough individual trophies to fill several mantles in his parents’ house. But for all of his personal success and the 24-game winning streak the Buckeyes put together following the arrival of coach Urban Meyer, there have also been a handful of moments that Herman can point to as evidence that Miller isn’t a finished product yet.

He doesn’t have to go back too far to find tapes to drive the point home. There were a pair of uneven outings in Ohio State’s losses in the Big Ten title game against Michigan State and the Discover Orange Bowl to Clemson, performances where Miller alternated between his trademark brilliance and moments of indecision or uncertainty that proved costly.

The key for Herman, though, is that those losses weren't because Miller didn’t possess the fundamentals to take his game to a higher level as a passer. The Buckeyes emphasized fine-tuning Miller’s mechanics during spring practice a year ago, but even if he was completely healthy now, the focus has shifted to making sure he’s comfortable enough mentally to use them.

“When you know what you’re doing, know what you’re seeing and what everybody else around you is doing, it’s easy to play with great fundamentals because you’re relaxed,” Herman said. “If you’ve ever stood back there and tried to make a decision in 1.9 seconds and see the things that he has to see and process that kind of information that fast, there’s a tremendous learning curve to that.

“I think fundamentally, the more we keep attacking that [mental] side of it, the more consistent he’ll be -- because he knows how to do that.”

Miller doesn’t need to prove anything from a physical aspect this spring, and his surgery will limit the chances to do it anyway. But that might just give him more time to spend on items Herman already had at the top of the camp checklist.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There’s no escaping the history for Braxton Miller.

It was there sitting on a table just off the court at Value City Arena on Wednesday night, another Tribune Silver Football with his name on it to honor the Big Ten’s best player.

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Jamie Sabau/Getty Images Braxton Miller holds the Silver Football awarded to the Big Ten's most valuable player.
It was echoed over the speakers during a presentation at midcourt as the Ohio State quarterback was identified as only the fourth two-time winner of the prestigious award, just before he and everybody else were reminded he could become the first to claim it three times.

Even when he’s not showing up to collect some hardware, Miller only has to walk through the hallways of the practice facility on campus to see where he now ranks among the all-time greats to have suited up for the Buckeyes.

Miller doesn’t need the reminders, though, and it’s what he has yet to accomplish that at least played some part in his decision to return for one more season with the program.

“I walked past a board the other day and my name is right under Troy Smith,” Miller said. “I texted him, ‘Hey man, check this out. I’m right behind you, man.’ He said, ‘That’s a good look. Keep it up.’

“I’ve just got to keep putting in work. … I mean, he’s got the big thing. He went to the [national championship game]. He’s got the Heisman. I’m working towards that, too.”

Those two entries are about the only items missing from Miller’s résumé, and while trophies might not have been the top priority on his list of pros and cons, they are clearly motivating him now that his mind has been made up about his future.

Miller stressed the importance of getting a degree and referenced how much he still has to learn about the mental side of the game as key factors for him. While he declined to specify what grade he received as part of his feedback from the draft advisory board, he called it “one of the best evaluations you can get.”

After struggling down the stretch as a passer as the Buckeyes fell out of national-title contention with a loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game and then dropped the Discover Orange Bowl to Clemson, his professional stock certainly seemed to take a hit. But Miller indicated that he was leaning toward returning all along, and there doesn’t appear to be any shortage of benefits in doing so.

“There wasn’t a big thought about [leaving],” Miller said. “I always knew I was eventually going to make that decision and I was going to come back. … I just sat down with the coaches, observed everything, made sure that I was making the right decision. I went over everything, and it wasn’t too hard of a decision.

“Coming back, you want to accomplish things that you didn’t accomplish in your first three years and I feel like I left some little things out on the field and there’s a lot of achievements I can still go do. I can achieve all of my goals, there’s a lot of things that I think about and that’s why I wanted to come back. I sat down with my coach and my dad and we made the right decision.”

Aside from the chance to rewrite the record books individually, Miller now has a chance to fine-tune his mechanics, improve his grasp of concepts on both sides of the ball and potentially build himself into a high-round draft pick.

For the Buckeyes, the rewards are every bit as obvious. They’ve got a two-time conference player of the year, a multipurpose athlete who has twice finished in the top 10 in Heisman voting and a senior with three years of starting experience returning to lead their high-octane offense as they reload for another shot at a Big Ten title -- or more.

And everybody involved is aware of the kind of legacy they can create together.

“I trusted in the people, including myself and coach [Urban] Meyer and his parents, people that were advising him and the outlets where he was getting his information from, they all kind of pointed in the same direction,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “That was to make sure that he does come back and continue improving on the trajectory that he’s been improving on.

“He’s got a chance, obviously, when he leaves here to set dang near every school record imaginable, every Big Ten record imaginable and win a championship or two. And then, hopefully, he’ll be a first-round draft pick.”

Those potential accomplishments are no secret to Miller, and he’s definitely not shying away from them. If anything, after clutching another Silver Football, the way he’s embracing history appears to be a key part of the reason he’s still sticking around.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer is always chasing the sizzle. What the Ohio State coach needed more than anything this time, though, was some steak.

Like usual, Meyer had skill players with speed in his recruiting class, a prerequisite for his spread offense and perhaps the type of target he annually covets above all else. But on the heels of a class that was light on linemen and with four senior starters walking out the door after last season, Meyer had no choice but to load up on big guys with his third class since taking over the Buckeyes.

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Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesWith four senior starters on the O-line leaving, Urban Meyer knew he had to sign some linemen to help protect Braxton Miller.
And he did exactly that, signing more offensive linemen than any other position. When all the paperwork was filed on Wednesday, Meyer had a group that might not be as flashy as the burners on the perimeter but ultimately figures to be the foundation for Ohio State’s future.

“Last year was a [recruiting] disappointment in the offensive line,” Meyer said. “I’d say two of the five this year have to be in the depth, and we recruited as such.

“Typically you don’t put freshmen in there early, but these guys have got mature bodies and they’re fairly mature men.”

Certainly the newcomers aren’t as physically developed as the veterans who just graduated, and obviously they don’t have anywhere near the experience competing at the Big Ten level. But based on the numbers and the talent on hand, the Buckeyes may have no choice but to plug a couple true freshmen at least into the two-deep depth chart as they rebuild the unit almost from scratch.

Taylor Decker is the lone holdover, and Meyer confirmed that the junior is set to move from right tackle to left as part of the transition. Pat Elflein handled himself well at guard in place of Marcus Hall late in the season, and he’s a safe bet to lock down another starting job. Jacoby Boren has played in reserve and impressed on the practice field, and he will move into the lineup at center. The rest of the rotation is currently written in pencil, which if nothing else at least leaves the possibility open that a fresh face could make a push for playing time.

With such precious cargo at quarterback, though, the Buckeyes would surely prefer to plug in a player who has at least been through a season with the program to help protect Braxton Miller. Their options, however, are somewhat limited after signing just two linemen a year ago, losing one of them before the season and ultimately moving a defender to the other side of the ball to help make up for it.

“I think last year’s smallness in numbers certainly led to an increased urgency to have to go sign those guys,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “But with last year, at Ohio State we’re not just going to sign a guy just to fill a spot. If we don’t think he can help us win a national championship, we’re not going to sign him. Those guys weren’t out there towards the end of recruiting last year, so that put us in a dire need of urgency this year.

“Really the entire staff did a great job coming through with five offensive linemen, and all five of them, none of them are guys who you would think would be reaches at Ohio State.”

Out of that bunch that earned their offers, Jamarco Jones had his name pop up most frequently as a crucial signee and possible option to lend a hand early, with Demetrius Knox not far behind him. Brady Taylor, a late flip from Virginia Tech, caught Meyer’s eye as well after getting up to 295 pounds and could emerge as a guy he said “could sneak in the depth fairly quickly.”

On top of that, the Buckeyes also have a pair of true freshmen linemen already on campus in Marcelys Jones and Kyle Trout, potentially giving them a chance to acclimate quickly and make an impression during spring practice as the Buckeyes sort through the candidates on hand. But even if none of them wind up as regulars by the end of the season, the day surely isn’t all that far off when all those speed-burners Meyer is stockpiling are counting on the latest group of beefy blockers to give them room to work.

“Our toys are very useless,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said, “until we take care of that front.”
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The recruiting trail froze over, literally stranding one of Ohio State's top salesmen on the highway in the middle of a business trip.

For a coach based in Columbus, a city that has been rocked with snow and freezing temperatures all winter long, it appears the biggest problems of the recruiting busy season actually came when he was down south.

Offensive coordinator Tom Herman chronicled his experience in the wild Atlanta winterscape on Twitter throughout the evening on Tuesday and into Wednesday morning, an entertaining and almost hard-to-believe account of the impact the weather had on an area not nearly as well-equipped to handle it as Ohio. Eventually there was a happy ending and Herman caught a flight to get back on the trail again, but his full account of the journey is well worth checking out.



MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Ohio State has no reason to apologize for its 12-2 season, even if the Buckeyes did fall short of their goals by losing in the Big Ten title game and in Friday’s Discover Orange Bowl to Clemson.

Still, the Buckeyes are a program that expects to win championships.

“This would be an unbelievable season for some people,” center Corey Linsley said after the 40-35 loss to Clemson. “They would be building statues about it at other universities. This is just another year gone by for us.”

Ohio State should enter next season in or near the top 10, especially with Braxton Miller expected to return for his senior season at quarterback. But as Urban Meyer’s team found out after winning 24 straight games and then losing its final two, that last step toward winning a championship is often the hardest. And significant challenges await in 2014.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesUrban Meyer's Buckeyes will need to replace some key players on both sides of the ball in 2014.
The offseason focus will center around fixing a defense that was dreadful in its final three games of the season. That job won’t include the services of star linebacker Ryan Shazier, who announced on Saturday that he’ll be leaving for the NFL, or cornerback Bradley Roby, who is also bolting Columbus for the pros.

Meyer has given every indication that he intends to keep Luke Fickell on as defensive coordinator, but the departure of co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Everett Withers opens the possibility of bringing in a veteran defensive coach who can offer strong input at the very least.

“We’ve just got to go out and recruit out tails off,” Meyer said. “Got to develop players and work real hard with scheme. We’ll get there.”

The Orange Bowl offered an early look at the future, especially with Roby sidelined by a knee injury. The Buckeyes started six freshmen or sophomores on defense versus the Tigers. While the overall numbers weren’t good, there were encouraging signs of potential.

Sophomore Jamal Marcus got his first career start in place of the suspended Noah Spence and was very active, finishing with six tackles. With Spence also sitting out the first two games of 2014, Marcus could play early next season and, at the very least, create some excellent depth along a still-young defensive line.

“I’m really proud of what Jamal did stepping in for Noah,” fellow defensive end Joey Bosa said. “He had a great week of practice, we had a lot of confidence in him, and he went in there and played his heart out.”

The same could be said of Bosa, who turned in a terrific true freshman campaign and showed loads of toughness in the Orange Bowl despite a sprained ankle. Limping noticeably in the second half, he remained in the game and finished with a sack and a forced safety. He has super stardom written all over him.

“It was rough,” he said of the injury. “It was really hard to plant off it. I was just doing what I could do.”

Meyer called sophomore linebacker Joshua Perry one of the most improved players on the team during bowl practice, and if he can continue to develop, it could lessen the loss of Shazier. But Ohio State’s linebacker play needs to get better.

The secondary was depleted by the end of the season but has some promising prospects. True freshman Vonn Bell made his first start at nickel, and though he got burned early on a difficult one-on-one matchup against Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, he also made a one-handed interception near his own end zone that should be the first of many highlight plays for him. Sophomore Tyvis Powell also made his first start at safety, while sophomore Armani Reeves filled in for Roby.

“We’ve got a lot to build on,” cornerback Doran Grant said. “We’ve got some guys who can really play. I’m excited to see them play next season and see what they’ve got in the spring.”

The offense has its own question marks even with Miller back in the fold. Start with the offensive line, which was the engine of the Buckeyes' attack. It loses four senior starters, with only sophomore right tackle Taylor Decker returning. Senior Carlos Hyde, who ran for more than 1,500 yards in just 11 games, also will be gone. Same goes for the team’s leading receiver, Philly Brown.

The schedule finally toughens up, with nonconference games against Navy, Virginia Tech and Cincinnati and the new East Division that will include reigning Big Ten champion Michigan State. The Spartans, who play host to Ohio State on Nov. 8, may begin the fall as favorites to win the division.

Meyer has talked repeatedly about wanting to field an angry and hungry team. The master motivator shouldn’t need many slogans this spring to push a team that suffered two crushing losses on its biggest stages.

“I hope there’s hunger,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman. “I hope that the guys who are coming back feel the knot in their stomach that I do right now and want to fix the things we need to fix to make sure we don’t feel like this again.”

Ohio State will still have plenty of talent in 2014 and a coach who knows how to use it. The Buckeyes weren’t far off from winning a championship this season and expect to be in position again next fall. This isn't a rebuilding job by any sense. But some repairs are needed.

“I think we’re extremely close,” Linsley said. “Everybody will say the O-line is down, that if Shazier is gone, if Roby is gone, those guys are going to slack [on defense]. But I’m telling you, some of these guys haven't gone through an offseason here before. I’m excited to see what these guys will do next year."

MIAMI -- Ohio State offensive line coach Ed Warinner huddled with his position group in a corner of the team's locker room following a 40-35 loss to Clemson in Friday's Discover Orange Bowl.

Warinner's voice started to crack as he told the players what they'd meant to him and what they'd accomplished. Warinner wrapped it up by saying, "You all are champions in my heart."

Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, they'll have to settle for those kinds of fond memories from their supporters. They've won 24 games the past two seasons, but it's the "And-2" that will haunt them. As in, 24-2.

Those two losses came at the worst possible times, first in the Big Ten championship game against Michigan State with a BCS title-game berth at stake, and then on the wrong end of a wild South Florida shootout. A program that went 12-0 the past two regular seasons managed to end up feeling disappointed at the end an otherwise magical run.

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AP Photo/Lynne SladkyBraxton Miller was on his back as much as he was on his feet at times, but his gutty performance almost got Ohio State a win Friday.
"It's bittersweet," linebacker Ryan Shazier said. "We had a great year, and the year before was great. But at the end of day, the last two seasons we haven’t won anything."

It's not hard to pinpoint why Ohio State fell short of earning a championship: a defense that literally limped to the finish line and a still-too-inconsistent passing game.

All of the pregame fears about Clemson's passing attack shredding the Buckeyes proved valid as the Tigers tandem of Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins abused a makeshift secondary. With star cornerback Bradley Roby sidelined by a knee injury and two players starting at their defensive backfield positions for the first time, Ohio State surrendered 378 passing yards and five touchdowns through the air, while Watkins set Orange Bowl records with 16 catches for 227 yards.

Even when they applied solid coverage, the Buckeyes' corners and safeties found themselves almost helpless against the best receivers they'd faced in three years. At one point, Armani Reeves was called for pass interference and tipped the ball out of the hands of the 6-foot-5 Martavis Bryant in the end zone. Bryant still caught the ball for a touchdown.

"I can’t get any closer than that," Reeves said. "That’s what happens when you play great players."

Then again, Ohio State's defense made a lot of people look great down the stretch this season, giving up averages of 38.3 points and 539 total yards (Clemson piled up 576) in its final three games. If there's any optimism to be found there, it's that six players who were either freshman or sophomores started on defense Friday, and the future for guys such as Joey Bosa, Jamal Marcus and Vonn Bell looks bright.

Despite the defensive problems, the Buckeyes still had plenty of chances to win the game. They somehow led at halftime even after yielding 362 yards in the first two quarters. They were up 29-20 and were getting the ball back late in the third quarter when Philly Brown muffed a punt return to give the Tigers new life. That would be the first of four second-half turnovers that would ultimately doom Ohio State, the next three coughed up by quarterback Braxton Miller.

No one could fault Miller's effort. He accounted for four touchdowns while absorbing a severe beating most of the night. He injured his shoulder early in the game. He lay on the turf for a few minutes after taking a late hit on a touchdown pass to Carlos Hyde. Miller said he probably had a cracked rib to go along with his throbbing shoulder.

"That's probably one of the toughest games I’ve played in, as far as being hit-wise and being banged up," Miller said. "Probably the toughest one all year."

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer rightly called Miller "a warrior" for his performance. But Miller also turned the ball over twice in the final 3 minutes, 12 seconds and didn't see linebacker Stephone Anthony slide underneath a post route on the game-sealing interception near midfield. Miller was non-committal after the game about whether he'd go to the NFL or return to Columbus. Friday's game made it clear he still has a lot to work on in college as a quarterback, though he might want to save his body from more punishment with a nearly brand-new offensive line next season.

Miller had come through at the end of big games so many times before in his career that it was shocking to see him not do so against Michigan State and Clemson. Same goes for Meyer. Ohio State had made a habit out of choking out opponents in the fourth quarter in his tenure, and before Friday he was 4-0 in BCS games.

"That's what we train for," center Corey Linsley said. "We train to finish. It's definitely disappointing, because that was our M.O."

Ohio State was not far away from its championship goals this season. Another play or two against Michigan State, and maybe the Buckeyes are in Pasadena, Calif., right now getting ready to play Florida State, an admittedly frightening prospect given the tattered state of their defense. Friday's game went back and forth and could have ended differently if not for the untimely turnovers.

But a team's record tells the story. Ohio State won its first 12 games again this season. Then came the "And-2."

"Those were championship games," cornerback Doran Grant said. "And we didn’t win 'em. Plain and simple."
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Did Clemson’s Chad Morris nearly become Ohio State’s offensive coordinator when Urban Meyer first got to Columbus? Depends on whom you ask.

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Tyler Smith/Getty ImagesClemson OC Chad Morris and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer have exchanged ideas about their offenses.
It was reported at the time that Meyer tried to lure Morris to the Buckeyes in December 2011. Morris said on Monday that he and Meyer had a conversation about the job right before the 2011 ACC title game. Clemson must have thought those communications were serious because the school gave Morris a big raise -- to $1.3 million a year -- the Sunday morning after the Tigers won the ACC championship.

But Meyer said later on Monday that “there was no truth” to the rumors he’d offered Morris the job and claimed to not have any idea where those reports came from.

“I’m going to have to ask Chad: ‘Did you start that?’” Meyer joked.

Whatever the case, this much is true: Meyer and the third-year Clemson play-caller share a mutual admiration. And when their teams face one another in Friday’s Discover Orange Bowl, you’ll see a lot of similarities in the two offenses.

Morris was still a high school coach in Texas when he got to know Meyer. The relationship started when Meyer recruited some of Morris’ players while at Utah. When Meyer went to Florida, Morris took his high school coaching staff to Gainesville one offseason to gather information about the spread offense.

During Meyer’s year off from coaching in 2011, he called a handful of Clemson games as an ESPN analyst. Meyer wisely used his time off to learn from other coaches, including Morris.

“You know Coach Meyer,” Morris said. “He’s definitely always looking to try to find something that separates him offensively. He’s an offensive mind. So he would come out and watch our practice. After practice, we’d sit and talk for a while.”

Morris said he and Meyer struck up a conversation once about how Clemson was using tight end Dwayne Allen. That led to near-weekly talks on the phone about a tight end’s role in the offense.

“I remember watching the transformation from the previous offense to his [at Clemson],” Meyer said. “It was almost overnight. They were doing a great job.”

This past spring, two members of Ohio State offensive staff -- including the coordinator Meyer did hire, Tom Herman -- spent about three days visiting Clemson to exchange ideas. Herman, who spent several years coaching in Texas earlier in his career, knows Morris well.

“I wouldn't say we're best buddies,” Herman said. “We don't go on vacation together or anything like that, but we do spend a lot of time talking football over the phone. It has been a very good, productive working relationship.”

Both Herman and Morris have frequently been mentioned as future head coaches, and with the success of other former offensive coordinators like Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, it’s easy to see why. Of course, neither needs to settle for just any job. Morris is already being paid like a head coach. When a reporter started a question to Herman about both coordinators being on “the cutting edge” of offense, Herman cracked: “Him more than me, if you look at his paycheck.” (Herman makes $550,000 at Ohio State).

Morris said when he and Herman went to dinner in the offseason, they joked about potentially meeting up in a bowl game. And so it came to pass, as two teams that share a lot of offensive principles are about to find out which one works better.

Clemson averaged 40.2 points per game this season, while Ohio State scored 46.3 points per contest. The Buckeyes are a run-heavy team, while the Tigers tilt far more toward the passing game. That’s mostly because that’s where each team’s true strengths lie, as Clemson has Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, while Ohio State has Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde.

But as far as formations, shifting, motions and tempo go, they’re a lot alike.

“We have a lot of common ground,” said Ohio State offensive line coach Ed Warriner. “Especially in the spread things we do in the passing and running games.”

Morris said he didn’t give away all his secrets when Herman visited. In college football, many offenses use the same basic concepts.

“It's funny,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “We say it all the time in our meeting. It's not just them. It's a lot of these offenses that you're seeing. You watch the 49ers with [Colin] Kaepernick. It's like all these boys went to the same retreat, the same clinic and they’re stealing ball plays from each other."

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And whether Meyer and Morris came close to working together or not, their offenses flatter each other.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Drop the Ohio State offense on the scales, and it looks comically imbalanced.

The plan was to find an even mix, blending in the pass as often as the rush after favoring the latter so heavily last year. On top of that, the Buckeyes would take as many deep shots as short throws, with perimeter rushes complementing attempts between the tackles.

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Jason Mowry/Icon SMIAfter sitting out the first three games of the season, Ohio State tailback Carlos Hyde has rushed for 1,290 yards and 14 touchdowns.
But sometimes goals have to be scrapped. And when Tom Herman looks down at the field and sees the No. 2 Buckeyes battering away on the ground against a helpless defense, the offensive coordinator has no problem seeking a different kind of 50-50 proposition in balancing the load between his two most dangerous weapons.

“When you see the productivity of the run game and where that’s taking you, then you continue to call it more until something tells you not to,” Herman said. “Throughout the [Michigan] game, nothing was telling us not to.

“Have you seen [Nos.] 34 and 5 run it?”

That combination of RB Carlos Hyde and QB Braxton Miller, respectively, has been hard to miss during another perfect regular season for the Buckeyes, and the way they’ve been carving up teams on the ground only makes it harder for Herman to dial up a pass play or two.

Miller has looked vastly improved with his arm during his third year as a starting quarterback, but his acceleration and body control as a rusher remain his most dangerous weapon. And with Hyde playing at easily the highest level of his career at tailback, the combination has served at times to make a passing game almost completely unnecessary.

The Buckeyes completed just six passes in the win over Michigan last week, but the backfield tandem rushed for 379 yards and four touchdowns. Ohio State had just 11 completions in a previous win over Indiana and 13 before that against Illinois, but Miller and Hyde combined for 691 rushing yards and nine touchdowns over that two-game span.

But while the passing game appears to be trending down with the potent rushing attack on the rise, that perceived imbalance doesn’t exactly mean Ohio State hasn’t accomplished what it set out to do offensively before the season.

“Balance is not having the same amount of rushing yards or the same amount of passing yards, or the same amount of rushing plays versus the same amount of passing plays,” Herman said. “Balance is being able to win the game either way dependent on how the defense [plays], what the defense is trying to take away. I think we are a balanced offense right now.

“I think [the disparity] is a product of how well we’re rushing. It’s not a concern.”

The Michigan State Spartans, who boast the nation’s top-ranked rushing defense, could turn it into a problem if Ohio State's passing attack isn’t able to carry its weight Saturday with the Big Ten title on the line. During coach Urban Meyer's (and Herman’s) two years with the Buckeyes, the aggressive, hard-hitting Michigan State unit has arguably had more success against the Buckeyes than any other defense, holding them to just 17 points last year.

The Spartans will no doubt be looking to force Miller to put the ball in the air more often, bringing extra help near the line of scrimmage to limit his options as a rusher and to try to slow down Hyde. But Michigan State won’t be the first team to take that approach, and Ohio State will almost certainly wait to see if the Spartans' D can make OSU do something different on offense before doing so on its own.

“It’s a little bit of a concern, especially when you see who's coming,” Meyer said. “We have a lot of respect for our rival's [Michigan State] run defense; if there was some vulnerability shown on defense, it was actually on pass defense.

“But we felt like we're getting some big yards per crack, and both Carlos and Braxton run the ball at a very high level.”

So the Buckeyes just kept doing it against the Wolverines. And by the time they were done, the season total was even more heavily weighed down with rushing attempts, which now has a 63-37 edge in percentage of plays this season.

That approach has obviously worked just fine, and Meyer made it clear that the goal Saturday won’t be to balance the numbers.

“[Herman] and myself got into a little bit of a rhythm as far as some formations and some ways we were running the ball out,” Meyer said. “I just want a W.”

If that means a whole lot of Nos. 34 and 5, so be it.

NFL decisions loom for Miller, Shazier

November, 21, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There are no answers yet, but the two most important players to Ohio State’s 2013 season each have different ways of dodging the question.

Deadly serious and locked into preparation for Indiana, outside linebacker Ryan Shazier stressed several times that he didn’t have time to think about anything else right now.

Playful, smiling and quick with a few laughs, quarterback Braxton Miller acted surprised that the discussion was even happening and refused to take part in it.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsBraxton Miller will think about entering the NFL draft after Ohio State's season is completed.
Eventually, the linchpin of the defense and the centerpiece of the spread offense will have to come to a decision about their final seasons of eligibility in 2014. It will have a significant impact on the Buckeyes a year from now. But neither player is ready to do that yet, and in their own way did everything they could to avoid addressing the possibility that Saturday’s home date with Indiana could be the final time they play at Ohio Stadium.

“Who, me?” Miller said. “Oh, I ain’t talking about that.

“I haven’t thought about it at all. I had that early injury, so you know, I don’t know. Hopefully, I’m trying to get better for myself and my teammates, and we’ll go out there and win games.”

Miller has won plenty of games in the last two seasons during Ohio State’s unbeaten run, and the junior quarterback has clearly made notable improvement as a passer to complement his incredible athleticism as a rusher.

Shazier has been just as integral on the other side of the football, far and away the most prolific contributor across the board defensively while also becoming a respected leader and the glue for a unit that currently has only two other starters from last season in the lineup.

The Buckeyes already know they’ll be losing cornerback Bradley Roby to the NFL, but that information has been readily available since spring camp and has given the coaching staff plenty of time to plan ahead as they try to replace him. But if Miller and Shazier decide to follow Roby and forgo their final seasons of eligibility, filling those voids could be a much bigger chore for a program that will again have national championship aspirations -- a goal that would be much easier to chase down with a Heisman Trophy candidate and one of the nation’s best linebackers on hand.

Of course, for three or four more games, the Buckeyes still have Roby, Miller and Shazier. And they remain in the mix for the crystal football, which has the NFL conversation on hold.

“That’s real,” Meyer said. “At some point [we will talk about it], but it's after the season, between the bowl game and end of the season.

“I've sat in a lot of those meetings. We'll probably have a couple this year, but not yet.”

The top candidates for those discussions aren’t hard to identify, and Shazier's draft stock in particular is rising with another dynamic campaign. He leads the Buckeyes with 88 tackles and the Big Ten with 14.5 tackles for loss. Shazier could potentially be a first-round draft pick if he elects to come out, but the opinions on Miller are harder to gauge at this point.

While Miller has been far more accurate this season, completing 68 percent of his attempts, he has been among the first to admit there is still room for him to grow as a passer. And with the 2014 draft class expected to be loaded with talented quarterbacks, that crowded marketplace might provide an incentive to return for another year of seasoning with Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman.

But the coaches aren’t making a pitch for that at this point, and neither Miller nor Shazier are giving anything away publicly.

“Honestly, I’m not being coy. I hadn’t given it two thoughts,” Herman said. “I’m sure with some of the juniors that the discussion is happening with, we’ll talk about it after the bowl game and advise them.

“I haven’t given it any thought.”

If either Shazier or Miller have been mulling it over, they each have a unique way of disguising it.

Miller-Guiton combo worthy of Heisman

November, 5, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Heisman Trophy campaign was effectively over before it could even really start.

With the starter and a preseason awards favorite on the sideline, the backup made his own push for some hardware and was seemingly well on his way to making a case as the next-best quarterback in the Big Ten when given the stage.

Like Braxton Miller’s bid for the biggest prize in college football, Kenny Guiton’s run for individual glory was short-lived as well when the centerpiece of Ohio State’s spread offense returned from a nearly three-week absence due to a knee sprain. But imagine voting committees having the option to put them together, and there might not be a bronze statue safe from the one-two punch the Buckeyes have unleashed this season.

Certainly the contributions of both have been integral in the 21-game unbeaten streak Ohio State has put together, and the two friends have gone out of their way to praise each other and stress that team goals come first. And while Guiton’s recent cameos in the same formation as Miller and increased playing time in blowouts may have improved his chances of sneaking onto an All-Big Ten team in some capacity, if it were possible to put the production of the two together, a combined resume with nearly 2,800 yards of offense and 36 touchdowns would stack up with just about any quarterback in the country.

“We’ve not seen all the teams yet,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. “But I’ve got the two that I like.

“I have a lot of respect for the other quarterbacks in the league, but if we’re drafting, I’ve got the two that I like.”

Meyer would almost certainly need two pretty high picks if he was going to keep his tandem together in a hypothetical Big Ten draft, with Guiton again receiving some chances to show how valuable he is to the Buckeyes and how useful he might have been to a large handful of teams around the league as a full-time option.

After more than a year of kicking around the idea, Ohio State has also finally found a way to put Guiton and Miller on the field at the same time, with the former taking the snap and the latter lining up as a receiver. That package has already produced a pair of touchdowns in the last two games, with Guiton scoring on a designed rush against Penn State and then throwing a jump pass for a score in the blowout last weekend of Purdue.

But with Miller sitting out the entire second half of the laugher against the Boilermakers, Guiton also had a chance to pad his stats outside of the red zone, rushing for 98 yards, throwing for 59 more and picking up right where he left off during his unforgettable September. Both the absence due to injury and the recent lopsided scores have impacted Miller’s personal numbers, leaving him on the outside of the Heisman conversation despite clearly playing the best football of his career.

But assuming Miller would have been able to match the statistics Guiton has put up when he was on the sideline, imagine an awards contender who has completed more than 71 percent of his passes for 2,065 yards with 29 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions, rushed for 717 yards and 7 more scores and also guided a team to a perfect record and a No. 4 ranking.

Those stats would match up quite well with current Heisman front-runners Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston, even if they don’t really mean much and there’s no such thing as splitting an individual honor like the Heisman among two players at the same position. But they can at least offer another reminder of just how prolific the Buckeyes have been at quarterback, regardless of which one is actually on the field.

“I haven’t watched enough of the other [Big Ten] guys, so it would be too hard for me to say,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “I like our No. 1 guy, and I’d put our No. 2 guy up against anybody.

“Now, whether he’s better than them or not, I’m sure there are other guys that may do certain things better than him, but when it comes to managing the game and being a leader and all that, you’d have to do a lot of convincing, a lot of lobbying for me to say there’s a better one out there in this conference.”

Put the two together, though, and that lobbying might have to go to the national level.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The target was going to be the same regardless, but there were two different ways to think about hitting it.

Looking at Braxton Miller's completion numbers a year ago compared to where Ohio State wanted them to be this season, the percentages might have made the expected improvement seem somewhat daunting.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsBraxton Miller has raised his completion percentage from 58.3 percent last season to 70.6 in 2013.
But rather than focusing on trying to turn himself from a quarterback with 58-percent accuracy into an efficient 70-percent passer, there was a another option as the No. 4 Buckeyes approached an offseason overhaul of their junior quarterback and his mechanics. Rather than worry about making what might have seemed like a significant statistical jump, Miller instead could think about completing just one more pass out every 10 throws if that helped simplify the issue.

"You think you go from 58 to 68, you're talking about 10 more completions out of 100 attempts," offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. "One out of every 10, just one more completion.

"Our goal would be 70 percent at the end of the day. I think that's fairly realistic."

At his current rate, maybe the Buckeyes actually should have asked for a little more.

Known during his first two seasons with the program primarily as a rushing threat with the ability to mix in the pass, Miller clearly has developed into a much more balanced and far more dangerous weapon at quarterback this year, hitting his statistical and literal targets with a completion percentage of 70.6 in his six starts.

Thanks in large part to all the work he has done to fine-tune his mechanics, absorb the playbook and dedicate himself to breaking down defenses, Miller has turned himself into the ideal dual-threat in Urban Meyer's offense. The polish he has added to the passing attack makes it close to impossible to defend him since he has gotten healthy after an early-season knee sprain.

"Fundamentally, he's a much better player than he was a year ago and [has more] knowledge of the offense," Meyer said. "Those two things, I see it every day.

"You've got to figure up to this point where Braxton was. Last year was his second system in two seasons as a quarterback, and now he's in the same one with the same coach. Same system for two years, you should be better.

"But he's really better. I anticipated he would be better. He's better than better."

Even while exceeding expectations since returning from a nearly three-game absence and carving up the Big Ten, throwing for 11 touchdowns against one interception and increasing his passing yardage in every successive outing, the Buckeyes still see more room to grow.

Miller had a few indecisive moments in the pocket against Penn State on Saturday, which Meyer was quick to point out on film. There were a handful of occasions where he wasn't able to find his check-down option and get the football out of his hands.

But the good definitely outweighed the bad, as he completed 18 of his 24 attempts for 252 yards and three touchdowns. Although, the Buckeyes already know it doesn't hurt to ask for a little more from Miller.

"I'm very comfortable right now," Miller said. "I know what I'm doing. Reading the defensive coverage, I know where the guys are going to be, I know how to adjust the routes sometimes. You know, it's just exciting to get the ball in the hands of those guys and see them do something with it.

"Getting a year under coach Meyer and the offense, I'm just learning. With the little mistakes I make, every game I'm just trying to improve myself and show everyone what I've got."

One extra completion at a time, that improvement is getting pretty hard to miss.

Healthy Miller keeps title hopes alive

October, 20, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Style points might slip away.

The Heisman Trophy conversation might move on to hotter topics.

But as long as the wins keep coming and Braxton Miller keeps himself on the field, Ohio State doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon in the race for what really matters.

The Buckeyes have looked vulnerable at times since opening Big Ten play, the defense has had a couple of sluggish starts that have forced critical halftime adjustments, and there was even a spell where turnovers and shaky play from Miller gave reason to think about making a change at quarterback.

But at least that last issue appears to have been resolved with the junior simply getting healthy and confident on the knee he injured in the second week of the season. And while that sprain may have knocked him out of consideration for the Heisman, healing from it has kept his team right on track to contend for a bigger prize after another vintage performance in a 34-24 win over Iowa on Saturday at the Horseshoe.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsOhio State quarterback Braxton Miller ran for 102 yards in leading his Buckeyes to a 34-24 victory against Iowa.
“I didn’t feel this well since the first game of the season,” Miller said. “The knee injury set me back a little bit, but I felt pretty good out there, had a good week of preparation.

“Running, strides -- it feels pretty good.”

His movement as a scrambler and footwork as a passer looked pretty appealing for the Buckeyes, too. And it was also much more familiar and comforting for a team that relies on his uncanny athleticism as both a passer and a rusher after a couple of weeks in which Miller clearly didn’t have all of his tools available.

Gone was the guy who was inconsistent with his accuracy and coughing up a couple of fumbles against Northwestern, briefly making coach Urban Meyer think about going to his bench to find a spark. In his place was an improved version of the versatile weapon who carried the Buckeyes to an unbeaten record a year ago, completing 22 of his 27 passes for 222 yards and a pair of touchdowns with his fine-tuned mechanics and adding 102 yards with legs that no longer provided any limitation to his rushing ability.

Ohio State had used plenty of caution in bringing Miller back from the injury that knocked him out for two games and almost all of another, and Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman have stressed that he was fully ready to go when he returned for the conference opener against Wisconsin. But there was something missing when they watched the film of those two outings, and compared to the high standard he set a year ago and matched again in carving up the Hawkeyes, it’s certainly easy to see the difference in hindsight.

And in case anybody had forgotten what that means to Ohio State’s offense, his sideline-to-sideline, field-reversing, backfield scramble for a crucial third-down conversion to set up the game-winning score offered a helpful reminder.

“He had a fantastic [passing] game against Wisconsin, but I don’t know that he was called upon to run the football maybe as much as tonight,” Herman said. “Against Northwestern, I probably saw it a little bit on video, a little bit of tentativeness.

“But he looked like his old self tonight in that phase of the game.”

The Buckeyes might still have some work to do in the phases that don’t include Miller, and another sloppy first half on defense will again command Meyer’s attention as he looks to extend his 19-game winning streak with the program next week against Penn State.

Already missing starting safety Christian Bryant due to a broken ankle, a struggling secondary was stretched even further when star cornerback Bradley Roby was ejected for targeting in the first quarter. A defensive line that had been solid all season against the run was gashed for 101 yards before halftime, and collectively the Buckeyes looked baffled by Iowa’s play-action passing game as they fell behind going into the locker room for the second consecutive game.

But just as it did against Northwestern, the defense made a few adjustments to slow down the ground game, came up with a key turnover with a late interception from Tyvis Powell, and the pass rush ultimately showed up to collapse the pocket and disrupt the passing attack.

And with that work under control on the defensive side of the ball, an unencumbered Miller took the controls once again to get a high-powered offense humming on the way to yet another victory.

“I can always tell when he’s feeling good,” Meyer said. “When he’s running, carrying out fakes, those types of things, I can see it now.

“He looks better. He looks like he feels great.”

As long as he stays that way, Ohio State’s title chances are likely going to stay healthy as well.
On occasion Saturday night, Ohio State lined up with quarterback Braxton Miller in the shotgun, flanked by running back Carlos Hyde and receiver Dontre Wilson.

If you're a defensive coordinator, that might qualify as a special kind of torture. Think of all the possibilities with that trio. There's Hyde, the 235-pound power back who at times couldn't be tackled by Wisconsin. There's Wilson, still just a freshman but already one of the fastest players in the Big Ten who's fulfilling the Percy Harvin role for Urban Meyer's offense. Then of course there's Miller, who can beat you with his arms or his legs.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Hyde
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsCarlos Hyde's full-time return added another dimension to an already diverse Ohio State offense.
That particular offensive grouping didn't create a ton of damage in the Buckeyes' 31-24 victory. But it showed that, like sideline observer LeBron James, Ohio State now can do a little bit of everything now when it has the ball.

In fact, Meyer's biggest lament about the offense after Saturday's game was that he couldn't find playing time for Jordan Hall and Kenny Guiton. Hall, who leads the team with 427 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, got one carry against the Badgers. Guiton -- who leads the Big Ten in passing touchdowns with 13 -- never saw the field.

Miller quickly showed why the "debate" over whether he or Guiton should start was always silly, because he simply can do so many more things. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman said Monday that Miller still made some mental mistakes and needs to do a better job scrambling straight up the field. But Herman praised Miller's back-shoulder throw to Devin Smith for a touchdown, and Ohio State has now incorporated a vertical passing game to go along with its strong rushing attack. Receivers Smith, Corey "Philly" Brown and Evan Spencer are drawing praise not scorn from Meyer these days, and the trio has combined for 13 touchdown catches.

"They use their weapons well at every position," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said Monday. "They can get the ball to anybody, and they can score on any given play."

Fitzgerald should know exactly what that looks like, because he has built the same thing with his team. In fact, when Northwestern hosts Ohio State on Saturday night in Evanston, we will see arguably the two most versatile offenses in the Big Ten.

The Wildcats, of course, employ a two-quarterback system with Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, the former excelling as a runner and the latter serving as something like a designated passer. Offensive coordinator Mick McCall can use the option game with Colter or spread the field with Siemian and a deep group of wide receivers. The two quarterbacks are completing 69.8 percent of their passes.

In fact, Northwestern is fourth in the Big Ten in both passing and rushing yards, the only team to rank in the top four in each of those categories. The Wildcats have accomplished that almost entirely without star tailback Venric Mark, who has dealt with an unspecified lower body injury all season. But Mark, who ran for 1,371 and was an All-American punt returner last season, is listed as a co-starter on the team's depth chart this week.

Fitzgerald said Monday that if Mark gets through practice without issue, "we will have him in some capacity" on Saturday. Treyvon Green (404 rushing yards, five touchdowns) has filled in nicely for Mark and brings a bit more power, but Northwestern's offense takes on a different dimension with Mark's speed, especially when paired with Colter.

Northwestern will likely need every available weapon against Ohio State, which managed to shut down Wisconsin's running game on Saturday while allowing some big plays through the air.

All coaches talk about being "multiple" on offense, but the Wildcats and Buckeyes truly embody that this season. Nebraska can also do just about everything, though the Huskers' offense sputtered against UCLA, while Penn State can keep defenses guessing with many formations and plays. Just about everybody else in the league is looking for a consistent passing game (Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin), a dependable running attack (Indiana, Illinois) or both (Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue).

Ohio State and Northwestern both have inexhaustible options on offense. The trick will be finding which ones work best on Saturday night.
Braxton MillerAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarBraxton Miller may not reach his full potential in '13, but he still could be the best player in the nation.
You saw last season what Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller could do in an offense more suited to his skill set.

Remember this? And this? And this?

But it's what Miller didn't do that builds his case to be the nation's best quarterback in the 2013 season.

Take his scrambling skills, for example.

"Awful," Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. "Just awful."

We'll come back later to how a quarterback who rushed for 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns last season can be such an awful scrambler.

For now, let's move onto Miller's grasp of the Buckeyes' offense.

"We went 12-0 last year, he finished fifth in the Heisman [voting] and he couldn't draw you where all 11 guys were going to be," Herman said.

Scrambling and system knowledge are just two of the areas Miller will set out to improve in his junior season in Columbus. He led Ohio State to just the sixth unbeaten, untied season in team history, won Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Silver Football (league MVP) honors, recorded a team-record 3,310 yards of total offense and had 26 runs of 20 yards or longer.

But he hasn't come close to reaching his potential as a college player. And that, more than any other reason, is why you should believe in Braxton. Herman does.

"He hasn’t fought me any step of the way," Herman said. "The kid, he wants to be the best in the country, so I need to give him as many tools as I can to allow that to happen."

Miller's evolution as a quarterback starts, somewhat surprisingly, with his feet. He has worked throughout the offseason to be more consistent with his footwork on passes, both in the pocket and on the run.

Herman also wants Miller to remember his feet while going through his reads.

"It's more pocket presence, pocket awareness, getting from read to read, resetting your feet," Herman said. "He's had really good footwork, he's always shown glimpses of it, but [he needs] to be much more consistent with it."

Miller completed just 58.3 percent of his passes in 2012, a number Herman wants to see between 67-70 percent this season. Herman admits he needs to do a better job calling high-percentage passes for Miller, who will have a deeper group of pass-catchers at his disposal, not to mention the Big Ten's best offensive line.

The coaches condensed the passing playbook this spring so Miller could get more comfortable with Ohio State's core routes.

"He did a very good job of figuring out where all the pieces of this puzzle are going to be," Herman said. "The thing with Braxton is you could probably quiz him right now in a sterile environment, and he'd tell you all the right answers. Last year, he couldn't even do that. Now it’s getting out there with all the chaos and conflict, for him to be able to snap the answers right back to you."

Miller also is getting more comfortable as a leader. Although the introverted Buckeye differs from Tim Tebow, Urban Meyer's last Heisman-winning quarterback -- "We're maximizing as much vocalism as he’s got," Herman said -- he has taken greater initiative this summer, calling teammates to gather for workouts and making every rep count.

"You have to see it from when he was a freshman to now," slotback Jordan Hall said. "It's just crazy how he grew over the years."

Part of that growth is learning when to scramble. Herman estimates that of Miller's 1,271 rushing yards in 2012, only about 200 came on scrambles. If Herman called a pass, Miller believed he had to throw one, even when the window wasn't there.

Herman would like to call fewer designed runs for Miller, and more passes that Miller could turn into big gains on the ground if the opportunities are there.

"You're the best athlete on the field, you've got the ball in your hands, you've got open space, go take off and run," Herman said. "We've done a better job as a staff of making him aware of why we want him to do that. It doesn't make him less of a quarterback because he scrambles."

Miller's offseason to-do list is long, but his ceiling as a college quarterback also is very high. He won't reach that ceiling during the 2013 season, according to Herman, but he still could hoist the Heisman in December and the crystal football in January.

"It will be really hard, because of some of the rudimentary and remedial things we still had to work on, for him to reach his full potential this season," Herman said. "But I think he can be the best in the country, which is scary to say that not at his best, he can still be the best in the country.

"That's a legitimate goal."
 

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