Stat Session: Braxton Miller's Improvement in the Passing Game

By John Brandon on June 18, 2014 at 11:00a
35 Comments

Braxton Miller burst onto the Heisman scene as a sophomore. With eye-popping rushing stats, jaw-dropping moves and his team's perfect 12-0 record, Miller finished fifth in the Heisman voting in a year that he supposedly didn't know what he was doing.

Miller did fade a bit down the stretch, allowing Johnny Football to take home the award by shocking Alabama and breaking the SEC total yardage record. Still, a top five Heisman finish and an undefeated regular season set implausible expectations for Miller heading into his junior campaign.

Miller entered 2013 as the favorite to take home the Stiff-Arm Trophy, but he missed time with injuries and again struggled with throwing accuracy late in the season. At season's end he was barely in the conversation, finishing ninth in the voting. Miller's 2013 stats didn't seem much better than in 2012.

Year Comp att pct yds td int rush att rush yds rush td
2012 148 254 58.3 2039 15 6 227 1271 13
2013 162 255 63.5 2094 24 7 171 1068 12

There is one exception, and that exception is completion percentage. Braxton Miller's one-year jump of 5.2 percent is the greatest by any Urban Meyer quarterback.

For the first seven games of his season Miller was a Heisman-caliber thrower, one of the best passers in college football. Starting in mid-November, though, he struggled to throw effectively and ran the ball much more. Such a drop-off seeks an explanation.

Span Comp att pct yds td int rush att rush yds rush td
8/31–11/2 108 149 72.5 1316 15 3 87 410 2
11/16–1/3 54 106 50.9 778 9 4 84 658 10

I wouldn't attribute it to tougher opponents. In the first grouping of stats, Miller shredded Buffalo (22nd in opposing passing yards per game) and had great passing games against Wisconsin (33rd), Iowa (7th), Penn State (68th) and Purdue (43rd). He looked comfortable standing in the pocket and making quick decisions as well.

The second grouping of stats featured games against Illinois (64th), Indiana (122nd), Michigan (61st) and Clemson (46th). Michigan State's pass defense was very good (4th), but Miller also struggled to throw against Illinois and Michigan.

Poor weather isn't a viable explanation either. The Michigan State game was played indoors, the Clemson game was played in Florida and Ann Arbor's weather for The Game was as nice as I've ever seen it. The Indiana game was snowy, but that was Miller's best passing game in November.

The problem is that Miller was holding onto the ball too long. Miller took six sacks across September and October, compared to 11 in November and the post-season. I don't think the offensive line regressed; I would argue that Miller's tendency to hold onto the ball longer is tied to him being utilized more often as a runner. As Miller's explosiveness in the running game increased, his comfort level in the pocket seemed to decrease. It makes sense – once the mentality shifted to looking for running lanes and big plays on the ground, he may have not kept his eyes downfield as long and lost the rhythm he had in the pocket.

In 2012, Ohio State was 115th in sack percentage with a rate of 9.5% – meaning Ohio State quarterbacks were sacked on nearly one in ten dropbacks. In 2013 that number improved to 6.7%, 80th in the NCAA. Last year, Miller was sacked on 8.2% of his dropbacks and Kenny Guiton on only 0.9% of dropbacks. If we break down the sack rates using the same windows as before, it sheds a bit more light on the situation. In his first seven games, Miller was sacked on 6.7% of dropbacks. In the last five games he was sacked on 10.2% of dropbacks, which across an entire season would rank 122nd.

Miller's ability to make good, quick decisions and accurately deliver the football to his perimeter playmakers will dictate how far Ohio State goes this season. Carlos Hyde masked the drop-off in Miller's passing production in the last month of the season, and now Hyde is gone. As we've already discussed, the offensive line will be good and the running backs should pitch in, but this team will go as far as Miller takes them and likely no further.

Working on the mental part of the game this spring was the best thing that could have happened to Miller, as the team need him to return to early season form to offset the loss of Hyde. If the Miller of this fall is more like the Miller of the first two months of last season, with continued improvement, the Buckeye offense could be a juggernaut.

I took Miller's stats from those first seven games and extrapolated them over an entire 13-game season, also considering that those seven games were really only six games (Miller barely played against SDSU). Here are the results:

Year Comp att pct yds td int rush att rush yds rush td
2014 234 323 72.5 2851 32 6 188 888 4

The above stats would break single-season records for passing touchdowns, pass completions and completion percentage. It would also make Miller Ohio State's all-time leading passer.

I think the Miller we saw in the earlier part of last season is more of what we'll see this fall. With a murky backup quarterback situation, co-offensive coordinator Tom Herman likely won't call as many designed runs for Miller. At the same time there will be more emphasis on the passing game as the Buckeye offense breaks in a new running game.

If Braxton is even close to how good he's proven he can be throwing the ball, Ohio State will be in great shape to win the Big Ten and advance to the College Football Play-off. Who knows, he might even hear his name called on the second Saturday evening of December.

35 Comments

Comments

BierStube's picture

If all else fails, he can still do this!

And this

And most importantly this

 

"No matter where you go, there you are." B. Banzai

+20 HS
Oyster's picture

Unfortunately, my sphincter gets tight everytime he takes off with the ball.  When Pryor did it, I was fine.  Braxton, not so much.

+8 HS
Will in Arizona's picture

Agreed, whether it's just genetics or pain tolerance (or both), Pryor stayed on the field through thick and thin. 

+2 HS
James Mee's picture

I don't think it's either. In 2012, it seemed like he would always go out after big runs from being winded, except that Purdue game where he got his head slammed into the ground. Last year he got injured and probably could have played but we didn't need him too. He's not as brittle as everyone seems to think. He also carried a ton in 2012. 

 

And TP was much bigger, so there's also that. 

Oyster's picture

All I know is what I stated above.  Give me a lump of coal at the coin toss and I'll hand you a diamond at the end of the 3rd quarter.

+2 HS
0therion0's picture

Damn I'm glad we get another year of this, man.

Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it's much more serious than that.- Bill Shankly

+4 HS
NuttyBuckeye's picture

That is one sick-ass move against PSU... One of his greatest runs, in my opinion.

Marc Pocock (a.k.a NuttyBuckeye)

You can take the man out of Ohio, but you cannot take the Ohio out of the man. Go Bucks!!

+4 HS
Zimmy07's picture

There was one against Wisconsin (I think) where I looked away from the TV because Miller was wrapped up for a sack.  When I looked back up at the screen he was running out in the flat.  I rewound that play 6 times & still don't know how he got out of the sack.

+1 HS
BierStube's picture

Maybe this one ..

 

"No matter where you go, there you are." B. Banzai

+6 HS
Zimmy07's picture

Ha!  He's awesome.  The one I was think of had him come out of a tightly packed group of lineman & I swear the defender had him wrapped up & somehow Miller ducked under the guy wrapping him up and squirted out of the pack.  Maybe it wasn't Wisconsin.  Maybe I dreamed it?

- I found it!  Vs Illinois.  (I hope I can figure out how to post video).

 

+2 HS
GVerrilli92's picture

This seriously questions everything I thought I knew about physics.

He just played London Bridge is falling down with Mewhort and his defender.

How many cheeseburgers are you gunna drive into that dirty old cheeseburger locker Brady Hoke?

+1 HS
GVerrilli92's picture

If he just consistently threw the ball with the form he has in the article picture, he would have those extrapolated stats.

It's unfortunate, but his fear of getting hit makes him a great runner but also contributes to his terrible poise in the pocket. He goes into "chaos mode," which is bad news for LBs ankles, but is also bad news for his receivers because he loses throwing form.

This may be blasphemous to say, but I'd love to see some of Jim Tressel's packages for Troy re-implemented. Braxton is developing as a passer, and we need to keep him fresh. Does anybody remember that fake option, drop-back pass that Troy ran with Ginn pretty often? Herman will never go under center, but this could easily be run with the straight-up pistol. It helped Troy get into his "chaos mode," but it also got him enough separation to let him focus on his throwing cues. Imagine the "shot-ginn" with Brax and Dontre. It's essentially what we already have, I just wanna see that Troy PA pass one more time between those two.

How many cheeseburgers are you gunna drive into that dirty old cheeseburger locker Brady Hoke?

+2 HS
BroJim's picture

Good article. I like the points you make about Miller holding the ball too long and Meyer calling more passing plays due to our backup situation. No doubt, we have the potential to be great on offense this year.

I season my simple food with hunger

blocko330's picture

3 of my favorite runs from him!

Hovenaut's picture

The offense seemed to let off the gas (unintentionally or not, for a few reasons) as the weather got colder and the B1G slate drew on.

Hoping to keep #5 alive, the offense consistent and the ball distributed effectively from late August through early January.

"Success...it's what you do with what you got" - Woody Hayes

Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

I think injuries or the wear and tear of the season played a big part in this.

+1 HS
buckeyedexter's picture

Makes me wonder when he really hurt his shoulder that required surgery this spring.  I noticed a drop off at the Illinois game and the play calling seemed to have a lot less passing after that game too.

+2 HS
Optimistic Buckeye Pessimist's picture

Unfortunately for him, durability is a major question mark for the NFL draft.  Great QB when healthy, but he hasn't endured a full season yet.

-1 HS
John Brandon's picture

This is a valid point, but let's not forget he was injured early in the year against SDSU. He didn't look himself running the ball until late in the season and was more cautious as a runner in many of these games he lit it up throwing. Coincidence? Hard to say. But I think he is more comfortable running the ball because that is what he's always done best. When he was forced to stay in the pocket and throw the ball (whether due to gameplan or injury) he was much more effective.

osu407's picture

I think we may see a reverse of last season where Braxton is less efficient early coming off the injury then becomes more efficient as the season goes on and he makes up for lost practices. 

Also the offensive line should gel as the season goes on making Braxton look better. 

+1 HS
AndyVance's picture

The above stats would break single-season records for passing touchdowns, pass completions and completion percentage. It would also make Miller Ohio State's all-time leading passer.

YES PLEASE.

TheBadOwl's picture

The crazy thing about that is that he'd have the same amount of touchdowns on the season either way, with 36.

When I walked in this morning and saw the flag was at half mast I thought, "Alright, another bureaucrat ate it." but then I saw it was Li'l Sebastian. Half mast is too high. Show some damn respect.

+1 HS
Groveport Heisman's picture

He improved his short and middle range route throws dramatically last year. This year if we want to have the success we are accustomed to he will have to improve on his deep ball. With no Hyde and a handful of new linemen its going to be interesting to see how defenses play us to start out. I think he will have ample opportunities deep on the outside and deep down the seam. I can see this years offense having a Clemson 2013 look to it. Dink,Dink,Dink,DUNK

Mark my words..I don't need acceptance. I'm catching interceptions on you innocent pedestrians.

+2 HS
nikolajz1's picture

Braxton's deep ball has always been fine. He has no touch on the shorter passes. 

BuckeyeJ's picture

I will also venture to say that our WR were not getting much separation. IMO we have an improved core of WR that will be difference makers. The H back role will prob see a lot of action there and our depth at rb is great! Is it game time?!!?

jheinz's picture

I want braxton to win the heisman because after 3 plus years of being a buckeye he has yet to make me mad, do something dumb in the offseason, or show himself to not be ar great kid. Would i like him to be an in your face vocal leader on tv? Sure. But he has proven imho that he will do what he has to do to win games. ESPECIALLY in a 2 minute situation before the half or for a go ahead score last year. Now its up to him to focus on letting it rip this year. He has to know that if he becomes a solid passer that wont hold onto the ball that he will get drafted high. His improvement will be our ticket to the championship!

jheinz

+1 HS
Jpfbuck's picture

the issue is not whether, opponent, late season or anything, it is a home and away issue

at home (ignoring the abbreviated SDSU results) Miller had the following averages in home games last year

16.6 of 23 for a 72.7%, 202 yards, 2.6 TDS, 0.4 INTs, and 2 sacks

away from the shoe he was the following

11.8 of 23 for 51.4%, 175.7 yards, 1.83 TDs 0.83 INTs and 1.833 sacks

the road numbers would be even more stark if it didn't include the Purdue game where had got 4 tds, 233 yards and a 82% comp pct

in the other 5 he was 10.4 of 23, for 43.5%, 164 yards, 1.4 TDs 0.8 INTs and 2.2 sacks

this wasn't as true in previous years but this past season he was simply pedestrian away from the shoe as a passer

 

John Brandon's picture

Worst game of the year was against Michigan State in the B1G championship game, which was more or less a home game anyway. He also threw the ball pretty well on the road against Northwestern and had a great game at Purdue.

Speaking of splits, here's another interesting one:

~~BY QUARTER CMP ATT YDS CMP%   YPA    LNG  TD  INT SACK   RAT
1st QUARTER        51    73    708   69.9     9.70     53      9    1        6     189.3
2nd QUARTER       58    92    800   63.0     8.70     58     8     3      10     158.3
3rd QUARTER       34    53    363   64.2     6.85     47      5     2       1      145.3
4th QUARTER       19     37    223  51.4     6.03     39      2     1       4      114.4

Bamabucknut's picture

I think like our  previous qb...OSU has an athlete who wants to play qb.He is a great runner.....but when forced to win games with his arm....against strong competition....his passing accuracy weakness shows.Michigan State knows this.Clemson knew this.Both were strong enough to do something about  it.

-1 HS
TossTrap's picture

Don't underestimate the role of Kenny G pushing Braxton somewhat in early 2013.

First and goal at the five and Arch is getting the ball.

Tampabuckeye85's picture

Regardless of what anyone says or the competition that was played against Braxton has improved a lot over the last 2 years and if he makes those same jumps his stats will be great. I think the biggest issue with passing and I have stated it before is not trusting our receivers and waiting for them to be wide open before throwing it, hence holding on to the ball longer. We did not use our TE enough and when we did they were for big gains and scores. I feel that this year the receivers will be more reliable and gain the confidence of their QB which will improve his numbers and accuracy as a passer.

+1 HS
John Brandon's picture

Kyle Jones had some nice film on this in one of his recent pieces. http://www.elevenwarriors.com/ohio-state-football/2014/05/35799/film-stu...

BuckeyeJAK's picture

Thanks for the thoughts on Brax. It brings up a question.  How much early playing time will the back up QB see early on in the season under game conditions?

Mark May is a mental midget

Tampabuckeye85's picture

That depends on how hard they are going to push for him in the heisman. I do not think they will have him play on the junk time but will keep him in long enough to pad his stats for the season. I don't don't see it being as easy this year As it was last year considering our OOC schedule. But if you can get him a extra few hundred passing yards and rushing yards then why not.

chicagobuckeye's picture

Quick note as I've done lots of statistical things his jump in completion percentage is a  5.2 percentage points not 5.2 percent. It would actually be 8.92 percent increase. 

+1 HS