Here Comes the Hotstepper

By Ramzy Nasrallah on September 11, 2012 at 1:00p

It turns out evolving from stubbornly winning the surest way to relentlessly giving your playmakers the ball is just as exhilarating as we thought it would be.

Unfortunately, that advancement brings us a totally different brand of angst: The overuse of a single player has replaced what used to be the overuse of a single play.

Anyone even casually observing Ohio State's new offense fully realizes who the go-to playmaker is. He starts each play with the ball - and that is optimal. The burgeoning issue is that he typically ends each play with it too.

We were marveling over how underutilized he would eventually be in Jim Tressel's offense back when he was still a freshman in high school, which makes this offense exactly what we wanted for Braxton Miller.

But in a 12-game season, sustainability has to be addressed. Who would have thought it would be possible that Ohio State could put the ball in the hands of its best playmaker too much?

This is the kind of entertainment we begged for during those Tressel years when title after agonizing title was delivered by way of successfully running out the clock and playing not to lose. The voyage to each championship, with just one exception in 2006, was both plodding and effective.

After seven* conference titles and nine* victories over Michigan in a single decade, complaining about the offensive philosophy that contributed to the delivery of all that heaping glory might seem, eh, a little over-indulgent for an excessively entitled fan base.

The destination was always fine; we just also wanted to enjoy watching the journey. We wanted more of the offense that was saved for games like Michigan in 2004 (and, stunningly, Michigan last year) and less of the offense that defined Tresselball over the decade.

More scoring and less clock-killing. More plays for touchdowns and fewer plays for centering field goal attempts. More exploitation of playmaking talent instead of relying on it to bail out bad coaching decisions.

Terrelle Pryor's athleticism was used too often as an escape instead of as a purposeful and deliberate offensive weapon. Last year Miller was kept raw for the balance of the season in a pitiful offense that acted as a 12th defender.

Two weeks into this season Miller leads the B1G in rushing as well as total offense. His passer rating is 146.5 and in 2012 he is rushing for production instead of running for his life.

So this is exactly what we wanted, with one big, difference-making exception: It's unsustainable.

Last season Miller was forced to run Jim Bollman's joyless offense, which was only both entertaining and effective when Miller bailed out of its intent. He was sacked 39 times in 2011, playing against defenses focused on him, his offensive coordinator and his "position coach" all along the way.

He was roughed up and even knocked out of games. Miller is no less vulnerable shouldering too much of the load as he was operating a failing offense.

STILL HATE YOU BOLLMANMiller has evolved from sitting duck to moving target.

Following Meyer's hiring Miller has received the motherload: Real coaching, actual instruction and a sophisticated and entertaining scheme to match. But he needs help, or else we'll be watching the Kenny Guiton show outside of mop-up time.

Sustaining Miller's postseason awards campaign that has begun to show uncapped potential will require another threat. Those who follow recruiting closely now better understand what Meyer was scrambling to find several months ago: More playmakers.

Scheme-changers. Marquee guys. The name Percy Harvin got thrown around a lot.

The Buckeyes need to sustain Miller's production and maintain his physical health by forcing defenses to choose the method of their demise in a classic pick-your-poison offering. This offense has a lot of good players, but after two games the only scary guy is that number five.

El Guapo, even before his MCL boo-boo, was topping out as a prototypical workhorse. DCMP (that's - ahem - Don't Call Me Philly) has definitely shown flashes on the edge and has earned the conversation around expanding his role, but he's not close to entering that highly-disruptive and coveted Ted Ginnosphere for disrupting game plans.

Maybe Jordan Hall is supposed to be that guy. Hall is wonderful, but realistically he's more likely the calorie-free substitute version of that guy.

What we'll probably see - what we need to see - is the it-takes-a-village approach to Miller's preservation. He completed passes to seven different receivers on Saturday, which is a good start - but those receivers are going to need more receptions. If pick your poison isn't yet an option, perhaps keep 'em guessing might be the next-best thing.

But one thing is certain: Miller can't rush the ball 27 times a game against conference teams as he did against UCF. That's a heavy load for a running back, let alone the flux capacitor that makes your offense possible.

Also bad: That kind of rushing workload for a quarterback - albeit rare - usually results in a Buckeye loss. It's been almost 40 years since a Buckeye signal-caller ran as much as Miller did against UCF while leading the team to a victory.

Prior to Saturday, the last time an Ohio State QB rushed more than 20 times in a game was 2009 at Purdue (Pryor): Loss. Prior to that, it happened in 1999 at Penn State (Steve Bellisari): Loss.

Before that, Art Schlichter against Michigan in 1978, which sent the Buckeyes to the Gator Bowl where a famous sideline/punching incident took place.

Granted, we're merely two games into the Meyer era and two-game trends are the chum that statistical anomalies feast upon. But until someone emerges to offset the increasing pressure that will be placed on Miller over the next 10 games - especially in the segments of games we've long defined as clock-killing time - it's going to be difficult not to fear for Miller's health.

And this is why evolving from stubbornly winning the surest way and relentlessly giving your playmakers the ball is still exhilarating. The concern shifts from predictability to durability.

It will only take one play - perhaps in the second half with a sizeable lead - for those fears to materialize. That's a consequence of what Meyer inherited: His playmakers aren't quite...plural...yet.

But this is what we always wanted. And with Miller occupying a little too much of that playmaker role, it may also become what we always fear.


Comments Show All Comments

GABuckeye's picture

Ramzy is the lyrical gangster!  Well played!

Buckeyeneer's picture

Aahhhhhh, I was going to make a lyrical gangster reference, but you beat me to it. Nice work.

"Because the rules won't let you go for three." - Woody Hayes

THE Ohio State University

cplunk's picture

I can't wait until we shift to being concerned that we cant get all the playmakers the ball enough because there is only one ball. 

timdogdad's picture

this crisis will hopefully last just this game. hyde will be back for uab or msu for sure.   they should play hall this week even at 80 percent.  and dunn will be servicable.   and on that note, when does robinson come out against the umass minute dudes?   they better hope he doesn't get hurt late in the 3rd with a 45-3 lead.  and gardiner is the backup or only a receiver now? and then who?  in other words, who is their qb in 2013? 

beserkr29's picture

Stephen Morris most likely gets thrown into the fire right away, because Borges and Hoke don't run a spread scheme by nature.  Not sure, but I doubt any of the current UM QBs are good enough passers to be able to take the reins and truly make a difference.  Maybe Morris is a RS, but I highly doubt it.

Doc's picture

What happened to the three step drop and short passing game?  Why can't we do what Miami tried to/did do to us?  Devin and Corey can catch, so can Stoney and Vannet/Hauerman(sp?).  Get the ball out quickly and maybe then the defenses will let some space in the running game for Jordan or Brionte'.  Braxton also needs to pitch the ball a time or two on the read option.  Just my 2 cents.
Hopefully in a few weeks this is all mental masturbation.

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

onetwentyeight's picture

Let's be honest, Braxton's passing, while showing some promise, is still very impercise, and the reason we don't see more 3step drops, quick passes, screens or underneath stuff is because those require a high degree of timing, precision, and accuracy (think Drew Brees). A lot of times we think b/c those are "short" yardage throws they're automatically easier when in reality that's not always the case (see how even Tebow can manage to huck a few bombs downfield per game but never gets the short quick timing routes right). Basically, it's gonna take time.

CowCat's picture

I think there's a difference between "Braxton makes a big play" and "Braxton runs to save another bad play call"
He's spreading the ball around, which sets himself up later.  The first TD against UCF wouldn't have happened if they didn't respect the passing game.
Also this offense has QB run options built into many plays (e.g. zone reads), so there will be more QB runs by default.
If Cal keys on Braxton this week, hopefully we can burn them with play action, bubble screens, etc.

"We get paid to score touchdowns, not kick field goals"
-- Urban Meyer

vitaminB's picture

Jalin Marshall cannot get here soon enough.

ARMYBUCK's picture

@Beserk, I believe your talking about Shane Morris and I agree he ends up the starter, possibly before game 1.

timdogdad's picture

i believe he was under 50 percent completion vs st ignatius.  so get the win vs scum this year and next year vs a frosh qb...i like 2 in a row in the urb era.    

onetwentyeight's picture

Everyone is quick to blame the staff for Braxton's # of carries b/c that's an easy assumption to make by just glancing at the box score after watching the game. But I suspect that the # of plays actually calling for him to run it versus the number of missed reads on option plays, broken plays, missed assignments, etc leading to Braxton running for his life is actually fairly high. I'm not Xs and Os expert but it sure seemed like more than a few times Braxton was barely even reading the option before pulling the ball back and just taking off. Again, we don't have access to film breakdown and knowledge of the specific play called for each down and what actually happened. I feel confident that of course the plan is not to overuse Braxton, but that external factors have intervened through no fault of the playcalling. 

OSUBias's picture

Agreed. Need to do a couple of normalizers about the 27 carries:
1) How many times did he scramble and step out of bounds untouched. Not really worried about those plays. Wish he'd do it more often.
2) There were at least 4 plays Saturday where he took off because the RB went the other way so they couldn't even do the read
3) How many misreads did he have? Coaches will analyze that on game tape
I bet if you take those things into account, he's probably pretty close to their target for carries. I think it's a valid concern, but I think it's fairly small fixes to get him back to a reasonable number.
That being said, someone needs to stop Miller from spin moves in the middle of the field with the backside guys coming at him unseen and flattening him.

7 yards and a cloud of dust is a beautiful thing

OSUBias's picture

Flux capacitor.
You're better than that.
Great piece; this is a valid worry bead for BuckeyeNation.

7 yards and a cloud of dust is a beautiful thing

timdogdad's picture

lea thompson looked pretty 50's hot when she went to the dance with her "date"  marty mcfly.

Sarah's picture

He must be reading too much of Ross' X's and O's pieces.

Ramzy Nasrallah's picture

/punches drywall

/blames spellcheck

Maestro's picture

Certainly 27 carries is unsustainable, but there is something to be said for being a smart runner. Just ask Emmitt Smith.  Miller isn't running between the tackles directly into LB's very often.  If he is on the edge and just takes glancing blows he will most likely be ok.
He also needs to learn to pitch the ball occasionally on option plays.  Hopefull Hall and Brown can get a rhythm with Miller on the option plays because it appears that Hyde doesn't have his confidence in that role.

vacuuming sucks

bassplayer7770's picture

I agree about Braxton pitching the ball more often.  Also, I don't usually scan the entire field during each play, but is there an issue with receivers getting open which could result in Braxton running the ball a little more often?

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Good point. As for pitching the ball out of the option, though, sometimes the most effective pitches happen right before the QB gets crushed.

buckeye76BHop's picture

Maybe Jordan Hall is supposed to be that guy. Hall is wonderful, but realistically he's more likely the calorie-free substitute version of that guy.

Good stuff^^^Whole article was great but that part is what I'm saying.  Braxton is the best play maker (even better than Philly or J.Hall).  However, he can't carry the ball 27 times in every game (especially B1G games) and expect to stay healthy.  It just won't happen...Brax is bigger than last year but he didn't become terminator over this past summer.  When OSU plays MSU, Wisky, and tTUN (well may be tTUN and possibly Wisky bc their Defenses are on "suspect" alert IMHO and not biased one;-) Braxton needs to be safe so OSU's offense isn't last year was without him on the field.     

"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 

JKH1232's picture

Did anyone watch Brax play in High School?  Was he expected to make most of the plays on his own there?  I think that might be part of what's happening here.  It's sometimes easy to forget that he's a sophmore, and working with a whole new set of people- a lot of the players on O last year were upperclassmen.  He needs to A) learn a new system, B) learn the people and C) find how to make it all work.  In the meantime, "Be a leader" might translate in his mind to "Keep the ball in my hands and do something."  It happens a lot, and "maturation" in this case might mean figuring out how to help people perform rather than just doing everything.

AC1972's picture

Braxton willed his HS team to wins, all on his own. He was the whole offense...and he got hurt often. It appears there is some bad habits that need to be broken. I was screaming at the tv on several occasions "pitch it #5!"-  not unlike urban on "training days". 

Bolt's picture

There were two plays in a row where Brax totally misread the inside read option that I recalled in the UCF game. The first time he kept it on the handoff fake inside and the d-ends stayed at home and Brax took another hit for minimal gain/nothing after keeping the ball. The next play (or maybe two later I dunno) they did the same thing except the ends came crashing down along the line and Brax actually gave it to (I believe) Boren on the read this time who got stuffed inside while the outside was much more open. Once Brax starts making better reads he's going to make our RBs and linemen look a lot better as well, while taking on less carries most likely. On actual option plays on the outside he never really seems willing to pitch the ball either...which to be honest I'm cool with because he's got the ability to go the distance any time the ball's in his hands.

Maestro's picture

Ini Kamoze is pissed about this story title.

vacuuming sucks

Poison nuts's picture

While I don't want Braxton to get hurt & I agree with this article and the comments - I have a real comfort level with Kenny G should he have to come in... I know he's not been truly tested so I don't have any solid reasoning for why I feel good about him - just a gut feeling I guess..

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

Bolt's picture

I'll edit to say, I too feel comfortable with Kenny G.

causeicouldntgo43's picture

He plays a mean sax...

Poison nuts's picture

A VERY mean sax...

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

BigRedBuckeye's picture

Poetry right here Ramzy:
"Granted, we're merely two games into the Meyer era and two-game trends are the chum that statistical anomalies feast upon."

And we'll drink to old Ohio, 'Til we wobble in our shoes! 

addman1405's picture

I'm sad that i know that song by Ini Kamoze was made for a movie entitled "Pret a Porter"....Good stuff as always Ramzy.