Perhaps fittingly, we conclude our review with a focus on the player likely most responsible for both Ohio State's 2012 success and expectations for 2013 — Braxton Miller.
Given his extensive play as a freshman, it is easy to forget that Miller was only a sophomore this fall. And Miller faced a difficult learning curve. His freshman season was largely a wash with the coaching turmoil and yo-yo treatment.
Then Miller had a new coaching staff and offensive system to learn his sophomore year. Despite it all, Miller invariably made big plays when needed and led OSU to an undefeated season.
Going forward, Miller can take advantage of the stability this offseason to refine his fundamentals and take a big step forward for 2013.
Where We Have Been
The sophomore Miller flashed his enormous potential but was clearly an unfinished product. Miller's greatest strength — and the one opposing defenses game planned for — was Miller's game-breaking threat as a runner. Miller's lateral quickness is unmatched. He was particularly dangerous when he got to the defense's edge.
OSU sought to get him there in one of two ways. The first was read plays, primarily inside zone read and inverted veer.
The second was lead QB runs, what OSU refers to as "single wing plays." Those were primarily QB counter-trey,
And lead outside zone.
Those above runs amply demonstrate Miller's natural ability, particularly in making guys miss in the hole.
Yet Miller can improve his consistency as a runner. At times, Miller is too quick to sacrifice sure yards for the attempt at a big play. During games he became a more natural runner once he hit a big gain, but at times he needs to be willing to accept what is there.
Further, Miller needs to understand the difference between running hard and avoiding hits. Following his injury against Purdue, Miller became more tentative in an attempt to get down and avoid contact. Yet Miller can still hit the hole aggressively but then get down. Indeed, Urban Meyer made this exact point to Miller during the Michigan game. And to his credit, Miller ran harder for the remainder of the game.
The upshot is that Miller is an incredible runner, one that opposing coaches gear their defenses to stop, but he can become more consistent on a play-to-play basis.
Reading is Fun-Damental
Miller's inconsistency also extends to his reads in the run game. With the spread run game, forcing a defense to devote a defender to the quarterback only achieves its constraint purpose if the quarterback makes the correct read. All too often, Miller pre-determined his reads.
This generally took one of two forms. Against lesser opponents, he would reflexively give the football. Against better opponents he did the opposite, keeping in the attempt to try to make a play when the give was available.
As with running the football, Miller's reads also improved once when he got in the flow of the game.
Miller's reads also improved as the season progressed. This was particularly the case in the last few home games. It was apparent not only with read plays, but also with option. Miller eschewed keeping on option plays to make the correct read.
It's a Process
Miller's prowess as a passer had even more room for growth. Yet some of the same themes were apparent. Miller was inconsistent. When he was decisive and his footwork was good he threw a crisp, accurate ball with velocity.
Too often, however — particularly to begin football games — Miller was indecisive and did not set his feet. This led to late throws and an unwillingness to pull the trigger.
As a result, Miller was often a better passer when he was moving on sprint-out and bootlegs, because he naturally set his feet. Further, as Meyer pointed out in his postseason press conference, Miller is a poor scrambler for such an athlete.
Part of this is pocket presence and footwork. Rather than move to buy time and find holes, Miller gets 'stuck in cement' in the pocket.
And Miller simply needs to be more willing to take off when his initial options are not available. This was another advantage of sprint-out passing, because it automatically put him in a run-pass situation.
As with other aspects, Miller also became a better passer once he got in the flow of the game with running the football. He became more decisive and looked to make plays. Miller also grew as a passer over the season.
A noticeable split occurred in November. Miller was a far better passer at home than away. Indeed, his two most consistent games were against Illinois and Michigan. I view this home-road split as a positive. He was clearly growing in comfort as a passer. Naturally, one would expect that to first manifest itself at home.
In both games, Miller came out confident in his decision-making and footwork early — without the need for running to get himself going. By being decisive in his decision-making, his footwork was resultingly crisp, and he therefore spun the football. He stepped into his throws and delivered passes on time with accuracy.
When Miller played at this level as a passer, Miller — and the Buckeye offense — was extremely difficult to defend. Defenses simply could not both take away Miller running and adequately defend against the pass, providing a preview of what can be with the Buckeye offense.
Miller's Michigan performance is a good stepping stone for him into the offseason. With more continuity than he has heretofore experienced at OSU, Miller can hone fundamentals such as his footwork. If Miller is able to make continued strides forward as he did this fall, he and the Buckeye offense will be extremely difficult to stop.
Yet even through inconsistent periods this fall, Miller continually demonstrated his best quality. Without fail, Miller stepped up and made plays when OSU needed them most. In tight games, Miller unfailingly delivered with both his arm and feet.
This is Miller's best attribute. If he can combine this with continued growth, Miller will be a Heisman frontrunner for 2013.