The second quarter of Ohio State’s third game of the season against Rutgers did not go well for Harry Miller.
Over the course of back-to-back possessions in that quarter, Miller was flagged for three holding penalties, and all of them were fairly obvious penalties.
After a mediocre first game as Ohio State’s new starting left guard against Nebraska, Miller impressed his coaches with his improvement in the Buckeyes’ second game against Penn State, after which he was named a champion for the first time in his Ohio State career and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said Miller “probably made as much improvement as anyone in our offense” from game one to two.
Miller's performance against the Scarlet Knights was a clear step back. But his Ohio State coaches and teammates remain optimistic about his future on the Buckeyes’ interior offensive line.
“The big thing is he’s just gotta make sure that he keeps learning from things that go on, and just keep improving,” Ryan Day said this week. “And I think that he’s gonna have a really good career here.”
Day and the Buckeyes have reason to be confident about the player Miller will ultimately become. A five-star recruit who was ranked as the No. 30 overall prospect in his class, Miller’s ascension into the starting lineup as just a true sophomore is an indicator of just how much the Buckeyes believe in him. He’s been praised for his development since just about the moment he stepped on campus, and he’s one of just two second-year Ohio State offensive linemen in the last three years to open the season as a starter (along with Thayer Munford, who first became the Buckeyes’ starting left tackle as a sophomore).
His youth is worth remembering when evaluating his early struggles, especially when considering he’s playing a new position (after serving as the Buckeyes’ backup center last season) and that the Buckeyes didn’t get to have a full, normal offseason due to COVID-19.
“It’s not an easy thing to do to be a young guy and start,” center Josh Myers said. “You have to think about how many obstacles are overcome for not only this team, but for a first-year starter like Harry. This is his first year starting. It’s a weird year. He didn’t have any games to kind of get warmed up with, our usual early-season games where we blow teams out. We didn’t have that this year, we jumped straight into Nebraska and onto our Big Ten schedule, which is tough.
“So there’s just so many obstacles for Harry to overcome right now. And all of us too. But especially Harry, being a first-year starter and being so young. He’s 19 years old. That’s a lot getting thrown at him.”
Day acknowledged that Miller has been “thrown into the fire a little bit,” but he expects Miller to grow from his mistakes and get better quickly.
“One of the things that I think really makes him, has a chance to be a really good player, is his ability to learn,” Day said. “He’s very, very intelligent. He learns from things that go on.
“So many things that you see in a game, it’s the first time you see it. You can’t really replicate some of the defenses that we see on game day in practice. We see our defense, and that’s over and over and over again. When we go against some of these other teams that play different styles – tilted noses, two-gappers, things we’re not (used to) – then you have to learn from it. And guys like Thayer and Wyatt (Davis) and Josh, they have kind of a rolodex of plays in their brain and things that they go back upon. When you’re new, you don’t.”
His fellow offensive linemen, including right tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere, have also expressed belief over the past two weeks that Miller will bounce back strong.
“Harry's the last person I have any worry about when it comes to things like that,” Petit-Frere said last week. “He's such a hard worker. He's put in so much time and effort on and off the field. He's one of the guys that watches some of the most amount of film that we have here. He studies the hardest, and he plays with grit and determination.”
Aside from the penalties, Miller has seemingly been out of sync with his fellow offensive linemen at times, particularly with Myers alongside him. One such example came in the first quarter of the Rutgers game, as former Ohio State linebacker and current Big Ten Network commentator James Laurinaitis highlighted in the following clip, when Miller failed to pick up a block in pass protection, leaving two defenders on Myers and resulting in both of them getting to Justin Fields for a sack.
Myers acknowledged this week that there have been some miscommunications between him and Miller, but he expects them to work their way through the kinks.
“There have been times where we have not been quite so jelled together. A couple of things have happened. And those are things that we’re working to eliminate. We’ll be just fine,” Myers said Tuesday. “We know what we have to work on. And we’ve been working on those things, and just talking through it. A big part of it is when the game does come, just relaxing and understanding what we’ve done to get to where we are and just making sure that we don’t get too anxious and not want to try and kill somebody, not want to do too much, just calming down and doing our job. That’s a big part of it.”
Whenever an offensive line is breaking in new starters, it usually takes some time to build cohesiveness as a unit, and that’s more difficult to do when spring practices are cut short, the team is away from campus for months and there are no non-conference games at the beginning of the season. In Miller’s first three games in the lineup, it’s been evident that he could have benefitted from all of that rather than jumping straight into conference games as a first-time starter after a disjointed offseason.
The Buckeyes are going to need immediate improvement from Miller this week as they play Indiana, who both Day and Fields described as a team that brings a lot of different blitzes, which will certainly present a challenge for Miller and the rest of Ohio State’s offensive line. But they have faith in his ability to get the job done.
“With Harry, especially from the last game, it was a learning curve of course, but knowing how Harry is in the two years that he’s been here, he’s going to overcome this,” Munford said. “He’s working very hard just to make sure he doesn’t make the same mistakes again.”