How Much Is Too Much For Miller's Running?

Ohio State got 17 carries out of quarterback Braxton Miller in Saturday's win against Colorado, and clearly it was effective as the team posted a 37-17 victory. However, 17 carries a week might be too much for a quarterback who had his share of injury troubles in high school, and OSU is trying to hit the right balance of using Miller's skill and keeping him healthy.

Jim Bollman has been there before.

Three years ago, Ohio State installed a mobile true freshman at quarterback and listened to questions about whether the youngster could handle the pounding of Big Ten football.

After true freshman Braxton Miller carried the ball 17 times in his first career start Saturday vs. Colorado – including 14 times in the first half – Bollman immediately knew what questions were ahead.

"The same conversations are coming up," Bollman said before hemming and hawing over the proper way to answer.

"There were a lot of times he pulled it down and ran with it, and I think as we go on, how do you totally diminish that?" Bollman finally said. "You don't want to diminish that entirely, but on the other hand, a little bit you'd like to."

Bollman's noncommittal answer shows the complexity of the situation, but the good news is that the Ohio State offensive braintrust has a pretty good handle on how to keep carries down for a star mobile quarterback while also making sure he has the chance to run.

Terrelle Pryor brought a similar skill set to Columbus when he took over the starting job from Todd Boeckman in 2008, but the Buckeyes never exactly let the quarterback run wild. Pryor had 11.0 carries per game in nine starts in '08, a number that went up slightly to 12.5 his sophomore year and then down to 10.4 a season ago.

Pryor had 20 carries or more only three times – vs. Purdue and Oregon in 2009 and then in the win against Miami (Fla.) a year ago.

The result is that Pryor never missed a start in his three seasons once taking over for Boeckman, though he did suffer a ligament injury in his knee late in 2009 that required offseason surgery and a foot/ankle injury late in the Sugar Bowl win a season ago. Along the way, Pryor led OSU to three Big Ten titles and a trio of BCS bowls.

In other words, history seems to show the staff does a pretty good job of hitting a balance between utilizing a quarterback's rushing skills without running him to the point of breaking down.

So how did Miller end up with 17 carries in the first game? There were a few reasons, including the fact the coaching staff wanted him to get his feet wet with things he is most comfortable with. At this point in his career, that's running the football, and Miller was trusted to run zone read and traditional option plays along with quarterback draws.

Then there was the fact that Miller simply pulled the ball down and ran with it on a number of called pass plays. He could hardly be faulted, as Colorado often left him running lanes whether he was in the pocket or rolling out, but Bollman also agreed with the fact that his new pupil is more likely to take off early in his career then work through progressions.

"I think as he grows, (his legs) will be later and later (in his progressions), but you don't want to take that out of the deal," Bollman said. "When a guy can go like that, why should you tell him not to go? As you grow wiser, I guess, there has to be some more decisions. I think that will come as he sees the picture more clearly.

"When he feels comfortable, he can throw the ball. He can throw the ball very quick. So when he feels comfortable in a situation, I'm sure he will, but on the other hand when he feels uncomfortable he's not tossing it around (to the other team). And he's not sitting back there getting hit, he's pulling it down and causing a threat."

That threat resulted in 17 rushes for 83 yards, an average of 4.9 per carry, against the Buffaloes. On many plays, Miller showed his quickness and elusiveness, but he did take two hits that left some observers cringing.

After taking off on a quarterback draw on a first-and-long play in the second quarter, Miller cut to the right before attempting to hurdle a defender, who got a piece of the quarterback to send him thudding to the earth head over heels.

Later, Miller showed good pocket presence by standing in and taking a late hit from Colorado's Chidera Uzo-Diribe while delivering a completed pass to Reid Fragel. That shot left him slow to get up from the Ohio Stadium turf, and Miller later told reporters he had hit his head on the ground.

The latter hit, in many ways, is unavoidable, as that will happen to any quarterback who stands in the pocket to deliver a ball. However, hits like those make it even more important that he avoid the ones in the former situation.

"Like when I got hit, when I flipped up in the air, they said just slide next time," Miller said of his teammates. "That's going to be in the back of my mind."

At the same time, his attempt to get as many yards as he could out of every play earned Miller the respect of his teammates.

"He still took hits, and that's just his personality, I think," Boren said. "He's going to fight for the extra yard, but that's what we love about him. He took his hits and got up every single time and didn't complain about it."

That's yet another complexity of the situation. If he runs, he helps the team, but not running as much can keep him healthy, which also helps the team. If he slides, he stays healthy, but bouncing back from hits can be a badge of honor among his teammates.

In the end, Ohio State will try to balance out each part of the equation, but in the heat of the moment, head coach Luke Fickell thinks competitive juices will take over.

"I don't know about you, but if you're a competitor, sometimes those things are harder to learn," Fickell said. "You go out there and play a pickup basketball game. All of a sudden you come off the floor with cuts, scrapes and bruises. Those are things that aren't the easiest things to teach.

"But you know what, I'd rather have that guy that's a competitor when you're worried about playing a pickup basketball game because you know he only does things at one speed. When he gets out there, he's going to be competitive. Obviously we're going to have to try to help him through those things, coach him through those things."

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