A Golden Opportunity

By Kyle Rowland on July 30, 2012 at 10:00a
It's his time to shine. 

Last Thursday night in Chicago, Urban Meyer didn’t go to a famous local pizza joint or scarf down multiple Chicago-style hot dogs. Like any football junkie awaiting the season, he sat in his hotel room at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place and tuned into Big Ten Network’s replay of the 2011 Ohio State-Michigan game.

What he saw left him horrified.

Meyer called the offense “inadequate” with a “non-functioning passing game.”

“We have to be able to throw the ball,” Meyer said at Big Ten media days in Chicago. “We won a game last season (Illinois) and had one completion. You lose more than you win if you can’t throw.”

The man in charge of turning Ohio State’s passing game around, a unit that ranked 115th out of 120 teams a season ago, is sophomore Braxton Miller. The dual-threat phenom started 10 games as a true freshman and was wildly inconsistent. For every highlight from the Nebraska and Wisconsin games, there were missed open receivers by the dozen against Michigan and Florida.

Miller did show a penchant for stepping up at crucial moments, though. His 40-yard scoring heave to Devin Smith in the closing seconds against the Badgers is a play that will be talked about as long as football is played in old Columbus town. Miller orchestrated another miracle finish at Purdue when, on fourth-and-goal late in the fourth quarter, he scrambled and threw across his body to Jordan Hall in the end zone. A missed extra-point and subsequent loss in overtime nullified Miller’s heroics.

“Braxton Miller is dynamic,” Meyer said. “He’s the most dynamic athlete I’ve ever coached. What I just said, people should go, ‘Whoa!’ And he is, by far. That’s how good an athlete he is.”

Keep in mind Meyer’s past quarterback crop includes a No. 1 overall draft pick (Alex Smith), a Heisman Trophy winner and two-time national champion (Tim Tebow) and a one-time national champion (Chris Leak). Not to mention Josh Harris, who, at the time, was one of only two quarterbacks (Antwan Randle-El) to pass for 40 touchdowns and rush for 40 touchdowns in a career. 

“Braxton Miller has a lot of the skill set that (Tebow) didn’t have,” Meyer said.

"...Miller has a lot of the skill set that (Tebow) didnt have."

A 4-6 career record as a starter wouldn’t leave many head coaches overflowing with praise of their quarterback. But Meyer is astutely aware of the tools Miller exhibits and his more seasoned supporting cast.

“I’m hearing that it’s better,” Meyer said of the wide receivers. “I’ve heard Devin Smith has had a very good summer. He looks different to me, much more mature. I think he realizes the urgency. Philly Brown looks better to me. His grades are much better, which is a good sign. He hit a 3.8 GPA his last quarter, so there are signs of some positive things. Evan Spencer has had a very good summer. Verlon Reed is coming off his knee surgery, but I understand he’s doing well. All indications are they’re better, that they’re getting to the level that we expect.”

That wasn’t the case last season when Smith’s 14 receptions and 294 receiving yards were team highs. Freshman Michael Thomas almost topped that total with 12 catches in the spring game.

“There are probably a dozen reasons,” said Meyer, when asked about the low production. “I think the whole program expected the other quarterback (Terrelle Pryor) to come back. They got caught with a true freshman and a backup (Joe Bauserman). The quality of skill players didn’t perform. When we played in ’06, they had two first-rounders in Teddy Ginn and (Anthony) Gonzalez. Last year, they didn’t.”

But just as the offense was starting to take form, following spring practice and over the summer with player-organized drills, disaster struck. In a freak accident, Jordan Hall, the Buckeyes’ do-everything hybrid running back/wide receiver stepped on a piece of glass outside his apartment.

Hall suffered a torn tendon in his foot and underwent surgery to repair the issue. He’ll likely miss anywhere from one to four games, with the later more probable. The injury has stunted Ohio State’s offense and left Meyer feeling scorned.

“It hurts,” he said. “You have to put the brakes on. It’s not just the play. Plays are good because of guys. A play might not look as good with another guy. If you had to say what our offense is trying to do, we’re trying to stress the defensive ends. We want to take their best player, which is usually the defensive end, and we want him to put both feet in the ground and (stop). When we have extremely fast people and extremely strong people doing that (it’s hard to stop).”

Meyer’s football philosophy – play great defense, limit turnovers, score in the red zone and win the special teams battle – sounds awfully similar to something termed “Tresselball.” And like the former Ohio State head coach’s penchant for giving the quarterback added responsibility, the new guy in charge does the same.

Turnovers are a no-no in Meyer's "Plan to Win."

“We’re very anti-turnover, too,” Meyer said. “If you go back and look at our quarterbacks, we don’t throw picks, and if you do, you’re out. The quarterback position is not the position to take chances. We’ve never had a gun slinger and we won’t do that.

“The one thing about our offense, you can’t have a bad quarterback. And the quarterback can’t have a bad day or you’ll lose.”

Unlike other variations of the spread offenses where the quarterback simply turns and hands the ball off, Meyer’s signal-callers have to make a read in a fraction of a second some 80 times per game. At one time, people scoffed at the thought of spread offenses succeeding in major college football. It was viewed as a gimmick and something lower level schools used out of desperation.

The system was born after Meyer, then the wide receivers coach at Notre Dame, and graduate assistant Dan Mullen visited Louisville head coach John L. Smith and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan in 1999. Meyer and Mullen became so enamored that the day trip stretched into four days, prompting them to buy tooth brushes.

In its simplest form, Meyer’s spread is nothing more than a power offense. But when Meyer sat down with his mentor, Earle Bruce, the former Ohio State head coach didn’t want to hear it.

“He said, ‘What the hell is that,” Meyer said. “I said coach, it’s your off tackle power, your base play. He started watching it and he actually loved it.”

When Meyer took his high octane attack to Gainesville, he was mocked and told there was no chance at success. Six years later, he etched his name among the upper echelon of coaches, winning two national titles. On Friday, that same system will begin to take shape in Columbus, as the Buckeyes open fall camp.

The leader of the pack is someone that many believe is a perfect fit for Meyer’s vision, including Meyer himself.

John L. responsible for Meyer's success? Who'da thunk it?

“He’s got the release and he’s got the arm strength,” Meyer said. “His acceleration is off the charts. I’ve had very few people that can accelerate like that and I’ve had first-rounders all over the place. His acceleration from Point A to Point B, our strength coach and I laugh at it. And he’s strong. He’s 215 pounds. Real strong.

“He also has a degree of humility that you almost never see in quarterbacks at Top 10 programs. It’s refreshing to see that. It’s good for college football. It’s good for my son to see it. (Miller’s) a hard worker. His positives are that he’s extremely competitive. If you put him in a winner-loser day, he’s going to try to find the best way to win.”

Despite all the accolades, Meyer says Miller’s leadership qualities are to be determined.

“I’ll tell you after the first week of practice if he’s a good leader,” Meyer said. “If we throw the ball decent and guys are catching, that means he led them all summer. If we don’t, that means he’s not where he needs to be.”

Already, though, senior fullback and presumptive captain Zach Boren said there’s been a change in Miller’s on-field character. Last season, Boren said, Miller was just on the field improvising and showing hints of timidness. 

“I think this offseason he’s more vocal,” Boren said. “He’s taking control of the offense. He never really did that before. Now he’s out there telling guys what to do. We’re going to do this, we’re going to do that. He’s even bringing guys in on Sunday to throw pass routes.”

With Meyer’s help, Miller will be throwing passes on future Sundays. But his platform remains Saturdays in the fall for now. On Friday, Miller’s next chapter will begin.

It’s in his hands – or arms and legs – whether he writes a happy ending.


Comments Show All Comments

Buckeyejason's picture

Can't wait for Braxton and this offense to be dominant!!


buckeye76BHop's picture

I tend to think the same as Boren bc Braxton was a "true" freshman last year (being timid and not a true leader). Could be a very good year for the offense.  Only up from last year...113 in the nation for passing ;-)

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."

"I love football. I think it is most wonderful game in world and I despise to lose."

Woody Hayes 1913 - 1987 

jkrk's picture

The "most dynamic" comment blows my mind. Let me be clear: Corch Myers even corched Percy Harvey. That's a big statement.

Riggins's picture

He clarified that statement later by adding the stipulation "most dynamic quarterback".  Still high praise.

OldColumbusTown's picture

I believe I read in a different article that he clarified that statement.  Best, most dynamic athlete at the QB position he has ever coached.
Still, that is saying a lot when you look at the guys that have played under Urban Meyer.

timdogdad's picture

man i hope braxton finishes with a heisman and a hold of a crystal trophy. plus big stats.  in other words, i love to see urban's first three years coaching the best there has ever been in the scarlet and gray.  coach urb and the best athlete he's ever seen?  that sounds promising.   

gobucks1226's picture

If Meyer felt horrified after watching the Michigan game, I would hate to hear what he said about the Michigan St game.

Ethos's picture

or the Nebraska game....

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

jkrk's picture

Or Bollman's straw hat.

nickma71's picture

People looked at me to see why I laughed out loud.

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Good point.
A straw hat says one of two things:
1. Man in a leisure suit, sipping Mint Julips.
2. Man toiling for 12 hours a day, picking fruit in the 102-degree blazing sun.
Well, Walrus wasn't picking any fruit, so we basically had an OL coach/OC who was on perpetual vacation.

Buckeye_Mafia's picture

Or Walrus's "Playbook"...

"At critical moments throughout the season, we learned about the character of this football team.  This was a team of true character, of true resilience." -- President Barack Obama

jkrk's picture

Oh right, the 3x5 card that has "Dave" written in bubble letters?

NC_Buckeye's picture

I've read accounts from other Big Ten bloggers where they dismiss Miller and our offense due to what they saw last year. Despite how much buckeye fans talk about how dumbed-down Miller and the offense were last year -- B1G bloggers just ignore it as rationalization.
Man are they in for a shock.

buck-I.8's picture

the rest if the league should at least be worried about Braxton. We've had two ridiculously dangerous mobile QBs that have ate up the majority of the playing time for the past 7 years, so at the very least, they should be worried about Miller running all over them

avail31678's picture

True - to further your point - defenses flat out keyed in on stopping the run exclusively, and with a couple exceptions (Purdue comes to mind), Terelle still beat them with his legs or sometimes his arm.  And I think Braxton's passing mechanics and potential are ahead of where Pryor was at this point. 
I don't even think we need a monstrous passing game (*yet), just A passing game period, and our offense will be successful.  Give Braxton a lot of those quick 5-6 yard cross routes to give him confidence and accuracy, and we'll be dangerous.  Much like Florida did to us in '07 - I don't recall a lot of huge plays by Florida - they were just able to march down the field at will - 5-6 yards at a time. 

Kyle Rowland's picture

From a pure objective standpoint, I don't see how Ohio State's offense can be dismissed, especially based on last season's results. It was a complete lost season from the get-go.

Now you have Urban Meyer paired with a more seasoned Braxton Miller and older receiving corps. Not to mention Boren, Stoneburner and a decent OLine. Then you go to defense. OSU has one of the best DLines in the country.

One thing kind of forgotten in this equation: defense can make an offense good. 2002 being a prime exmaple. Krenzel, Clarett and Co. were good, don't get me wrong, but having one of the best defenses in school history to back you up makes a big difference. 

jkrk's picture

Trent Freakin' Dilfer won a Super Bowl on the back of that theory. Go Bucks!

614-BuckI-swagg-76's picture

This will be the best years of BuckI football in my lifetime!!! I can't wait to pounce on these lames...Brax will be OSU's best QB ever by the time he plays all four years! Bank it!

BuckI till I die!!!

chromedomebuck's picture

^As a Tampa native and long-time Buccaneers fan (cue the jokes), I can tell you that watching Trent Dilfer try to play Quarterback was painful to the eyes. The Tampa Bay offense underneath the direction of "Freakin" Dilfer was narcolepsy-inducing.

Champions Bleed Scarlet & Gray

dmurder's picture

This offense will be so beautiful... I can almost get teary eyed thinking about it. I imagine it will look like this: scoreboard shows 66 - 7 and watching meyer call a run on the goal line.

"We have always had the best damn band in the land, now we have the best damn team in the land"- Jim Tressel 1-03-03

Poison nuts's picture

Man - I'm getting more excited by the day...It'd be nice if the rest of the team wears shoes when outside, pees when inside & if anyone who must do doobies - stays home when doing so...

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

NC_Buckeye's picture

Re wearing shoes, peeing inside, and staying home.... ^^^^^This.
C'mon guys. Enough already.

Buckeyejason's picture

I have my questions about this offense being effective in the Big Ten and trying to be a Oregon/Florida type..but then I think, ANYTHING is better than what we have been watching under Bollman.


buckeyedude's picture

 I do know that last year's OSU offense was one of the worst in the nation, so it couldn't get any worse.
Add in new HC, almost all new assistants, most of the players back, and a playbook that has something other than run on 1st, run on 2nd, pass on 3rd and loooooooooong, and chuck it into the stands. Punt.
I don't think most of these Buckeye fans are being overly optimistic. When the defense knows what play you are going to call, it makes it kind of difficult to be successful. The 2012 Buckeye O is going to be much, much improved. In every freakin way. Playcalling, conditioning, strength, confidence, coaching. If Meyer can make this offense go in the SEC, he will make it work in the B1G.



southernstatesbuckeye's picture

Dear fellow fans,
Fret Not.
Your fears and worries will be laid to rest this year.  Opposing teams will drag themselves home bewildered and wondering at what exactly had hit them.  A new phrase will emerge on the lips of our vanquished opponents.."We been simonized!"  There will be jubilant shouts from bleary-eyes Buckeye fans watching in sports bars throughout the land:  "It's Miller time!"  And Sunday morning they will regret the foolish practice of shotgunning a Miller every time its namesake has a huge play.  Opposing coaches will begin to scheme against the juggeronslaughtnaut that is John Simon, and when the bait is taken, other equally ferocious big eaters will pounce through the gaps to terrorize enemy runners. 
There are only two kinds of sweat.  Fear sweat and Fat sweat.  Our opponents will know Fear sweat in 2012. 
About halfway through the season, the media will begin to understand, and they will inch this team up in the standings.  By seasons end, they will be talking about the "what ifs".  We, though, already will have come to grips with that, and though we may have a few wistful moments, we will pleasure our memories with offseason replays of that last great measure of how we rendered the Maize n Blue to the Dazed n Blew.
And speaking of the Dipper Denards and his Shoe Lace Trippers, they will enter The Game genuinely scared.  Oh, they will talk some smack, but it wont get em high.  They will have watched the film and will leave the film room feeling queasy with an unexplainable germ of impending doom.  They very well may be leaving that game virtually assured of a berth in the conference championship, but they will have been so disabused physically and dislodged mentally that they will lose to whoever it is they may play.  THAT, my fellow fans, will be one very sweet outcome to the season. 
Now tighten yer panties and loosen yer bras, cause it's gonna git wild!

I like cookies.

Crimson's picture

And there's Andrew Sweat.  Sorry, guess I just killed your roll.