Film Study: Breaking Down Braxton Miller's First Career Touchdown Catch

By Kyle Jones on September 10, 2015 at 10:10 am
Miller seems to be adjusting quite well to his new role on the other end of touchdown passes

After throwing 52 touchdown passes in a Buckeye uniform, Braxton Miller found himself on the receiving end of such a play on Monday night.

Though his athleticism has been known for years, and was on display in what will likely become one of 2015's signature plays, there was no guarantee that the former quarterback would successfully transition to the 'H' wide receiver role for his final year in Columbus.

With wideouts Jalin Marshall, Corey Smith, and Dontre Wilson all suspended for the season opener against Virginia Tech, the pressure was on the two-time Big Ten MVP to step up and immediately fill the void. The situation wasn't made any easier given the opponent, the self proclaimed "#DBU" that many expected to call for aggressive, man-to-man coverage throughout the majority of the contest.

As predicted, the Hokies opened with the "Bear" front, clogging the middle for inside runs and bringing both safeties into the box without much help for the cornerbacks, who were locked in one-on-one battles with the OSU receiving corps. While the Buckeyes were able to pick up an impressive 360 yards rushing mainly by incorporating the quarterback in the running game and changing the blocking arithmetic, the offense also worked to get running back Ezekiel Elliott involved in the passing game with quick passes to the flats.

In the previous matchup between the two teams last fall, Ohio State failed to find Elliott and fellow back, Curtis Samuel after the duo would leak out into the wide open flat areas vacated by receivers downfield. Throughout the remainder of the season though, throwing to the backs would become a staple of the Buckeye offense, stretching defenses across the width of the field.

Facing fourth-and-five on their first possession of the game, the OSU coaching staff sent Elliott in motion from the backfield, headed toward the wide side of the field to overload it with four potential receivers. The Virginia Tech safety in the middle of the field, Desmond Frye (#26), was responsible for Elliott in man coverage, and was forced to follow him all the way from his position atop the Hokie defense.

#26 has to cover a lot of ground to catch Elliott

While the three bunched receivers in front of him burst downfield at the snap, the Buckeyes' leading rusher simply broke to the sidelines on a simple flat route, gaining more width than depth. While Frye was getting caught up in the traffic of the bunched receivers running their routes, quarterback Cardale Jones looked to his right on a designed roll-out and found a wide open Elliott, who easily turned upfield past the first down marker before the Hokie defender could make a tackle.

Zeke easily picks up the first

After a sloppy second quarter in all three phases of the game though, the Buckeyes headed to the locker room down 17-14 at the half, and in need of a spark offensively. Both coaching staffs are known for making adjustments in the second half, but as both teams emerged from the break, the visitors had yet to play one of their biggest trump cards. 

Miller had shown an ability to catch the football on a remarkable, diving effort 24 yards downfield in the first quarter, giving Ohio State fans hope for what could come from the explosive athlete's new endeavor. But on only the third play of the second half, Jones would look his way once again.

Elliott would once again motion out toward the wide side of the field from his initial starting spot in the backfield, yet again giving the Buckeyes four potential receivers to that side. The running back would once again burst out into the flat, but this time as the most shallow route in the common "Snag" concept.

Buckeye Snag against man coverage

Often used to stretch zone defenses and give quarterbacks an easy read of a deep-medium-short triangle, the Buckeyes called for the concept in hopes that the Hokies would continue their man coverage. With so many Hokie defenders near the line, tight end Nick Vannett doesn't even run a route, instead blocking for Jones while keeping safety Chuck Clark (#19) from helping on any others.

As the OSU coaches probably expected though, the Hokies had adjusted to Elliott's motion, now swapping responsibilities between their defensive backs so an outside cornerback would take away the running back's short route. That meant that Frye wouldn't have to run all the way to the boundary, but instead would pick up any inside or deep routes in solo coverage.

While in theory this probably seemed like a good idea, the Hokies were still set up for failure. Even though the cornerback, nickelback, and outside linebacker would all jump on Elliott's route, leaving OSU receiver Parris Campbell wide open on his "spot" route to the inside, the Buckeyes already had the matchup they were looking for: Braxton Miller one-on-one with Frye deep down the field. 

Nothing good would come out of this situation for Va Tech

Miller had exploded straight upfield after the snap, immediately drawing Frye's attention. But instead of playing "on top" of Miller, the safety maintained his inside position, taking away any crossing routes. However, after a quick head fake and jab-step to the inside, Miller created separation on his corner route to the outside, leaving Frye out of position with no one to help.

One small move is all it took to create separation

Even though he had only officially been a wide receiver for one half of football to that point, Miller knew he was so wide open he could put a hand up to call for the ball, and Jones was happy to oblige. After some deft footwork to keep his balance along the sideline, the former quarterback would eventually stroll into the end zone, silencing a stunned Hokie home crowd.

Miller made it look easy

Now up 21-17, the Buckeyes would never surrender the lead and go on to an easy, 42-24 victory. Elliott, Jones, and others would have impressive stat lines, and Miller would take over ESPN and the internet for the next 24 hours thanks to his elusive moves in the open field.

But while his second touchdown stood out to fans, his first of the night will likely make more impact on the coaches of OSU's upcoming opponents. The narrative that Buckeye wideouts can't beat man coverage is now officially put to rest, as not only are the players too explosive to put in one-on-one matchups, but the OSU coaching staff is willing to attack downfield when the defense shows them. 

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