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Defenses bracing for Braxton

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The formations might not be all that familiar to Tom Herman, but he has no problem understanding the intention.

Defenses are loading up to stop the run in ways the Ohio State offensive coordinator has never seen before, a direct response to the early success quarterback Braxton Miller is having as a rusher and perhaps an indirect challenge to his passing ability.

But whether or not Herman has faced many teams willing to load the box with nine guys against his attack, he and the Buckeyes know one way for sure they can make an opponent think twice about that approach. If teams are going to focus on stopping the Buckeyes on the ground, then they'll simply take to the air more often.

"I've seen defenses in the last three weeks that I've never even dreamed of in my mind to try to stop the quarterback from running the ball," Herman said. "It's an interesting quandary to be in when you have such a dynamic runner back there that defensive coverages tend to be completely skewed opposed to what you grew up knowing.

"Teams now are trying to get eight and nine guys in the box to be sound against him pulling the ball and running, so the variety of coverages that we see on first and second down is absolutely mind-boggling."

The response to it might not be nearly as complicated for the Buckeyes, who aren't opposed to getting more aggressive with their passing game and attacking downfield.

Given the emergence of receivers Devin Smith and Corey "Philly" Brown, who have earned the trust of the coaching staff and established themselves as legitimate playmakers, Ohio State might have been inclined to throw a bit more often either way.

But if those guys or senior tight end Jake Stoneburner are suddenly getting more one-on-one match-ups in the secondary while teams focus on Miller in the backfield, they definitely won't be shy about letting their quarterback use his arm instead of his legs.

"I think we have to take shots," Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. "The best thing that's happened so far in the first three weeks is we've identified a go-get-it guy at the outside that we did not have, that they did not have a year ago, and that I was worried about. I didn't see that develop until the first three games, and that's Devin Smith. Him and Philly have now proved it to me that we can start to be a little more aggressive down the field.

"That's what I saw Saturday [against California] -- a couple of those plays were dynamic."

Smith was responsible for a pair of them, making another highlight-reel reception for a touchdown by leaping and adjusting in the air for a back-shoulder throw from Miller and then turning a busted coverage into a game-winning, 72-yard score in the fourth quarter.

Stoneburner presented another option with an explosive play that covered 40 yards down the middle of the field, an area the Buckeyes might look to exploit more often as safeties creep up to spy on Miller and the rushing attack.

But as Miller proved yet again in just his third game in the new spread system, even if defenses devote extra attention to slowing him down as a runner, that doesn't mean they'll be able to do it when he jukes in the hole and accelerates down the sideline for 55-yard touchdown runs, as he did against the Golden Bears.

"Defenses are forcing us to [take shots], and that's bad coaching by me," Meyer said. "I think we've got to do more of that because they're defending the run.

"But I think Braxton is going to do what he does. He makes guys miss, and he's one of the most dynamic runners in college football."

Perhaps sooner than later, that ability might give him a chance to find out where he ranks among the best passers.