Miller Key For Ohio State Offense

Ohio State fans and coaches alike hope to see Braxton Miller display another level of maturation Monday when the Buckeyes take on Florida in the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.

Ohio State's potential for offensive success in its first football game of the year 2012 probably will depend on the same catalyst as most of 2011: Braxton Miller.

The reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year threw for 997 yards and 11 touchdowns while also leading the Buckeyes in rushing with 695 yards. He accounted for seven more scores on the ground, doing more than enough to earn the Archie Griffin Award as the team's most valuable offensive player.

After being thrust into the starting lineup Sept. 24 against Colorado, Miller slowly developed into the type of all-around threat his five-star recruiting status indicated he should be.

He ran for at least 99 yards in four of the Buckeyes' last five games, including a 100-yard performance in the season finale at Michigan. Offensive coordinator Jim Bollman also unleashed Miller's powerful right arm against the Wolverines, against whom he completed 14 of 25 passes for a career-high 235 yards and two more scores. That was the only game in which he threw more than 20 passes or complete as many as 10.

There could have been more, though, as Miller missed a handful of open receivers, including standout senior DeVier Posey running free down the sideline for what could have resulted in the go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter.

It was the kind of afternoon that came to symbolize much of the season for Ohio State as potential and reality sometimes crossed paths but not often enough.

"It was just the natural maturation process for an 18-year-old quarterback put into all those situations of our program," said Bollman, who this time last year anticipated having senior Terrelle Pryor back as a fourth-year starter in 2011 before Pryor left the program amid turmoil related to NCAA violations. "That's difficult, to say the least, and I think he's weathered the storm pretty good. He's got a great future ahead of him."

Bollman and Buckeye Nation alike hope to see that come true beginning Monday with the matchup against Florida, but piercing the Gator defense could be easier said than done.

Florida enters the Gator Bowl ninth in the nation in total defense. The Gators are 10th in passing yards allowed per game and 20th in pass efficiency defense while checking in at No. 39 against the run.

Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn identified Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel as the player most similar to Miller his team has faced this season. That could bode well for the Gators as they harassed the athletic junior into an awful day to close out the regular season. The Seminoles' signal caller completed 6 of 13 passes for 65 yards and sacked him four times as he finished with a net of minus-15 yards on the ground.

"There are going to be times he can create and get outside the pocket," Quinn said of Miller. "He's mobile and can throw effectively on the move. He will provide some challenges we're looking forward to."

While there are quite a few running quarterbacks in college football these days, few possess Miller's raw ability to make tacklers miss in the open field.

"Certainly at the running back spot you see it, but when you add that element at the quarterback spot, that's where it's, ‘OK, this guy's really got something to him,' " Quinn said. "It's like having an athletic, shifty running back who can also drop back and pass it."

Both Quinn and Florida linebacker Jon Bostic confirmed noticing the young Buckeye's progression as the season wore on.

"Now he's starting to be able to check down and throw the ball when he needs to or take off when he needs to," said Bostic, who stressed gap soundness will be important in containing Miller. "Everybody's got to keep contain. We've got to know who's got the quarterback when they're running option and remember he can keep plays alive when they pass."

Bollman did not hide his wish to have seen the passing game develop earlier in the season but praised Miller's growth as a leader, but he saw the youngster gain confidence and take more command of the huddle later in the year.

"It finally did show up some the in the last game," Bollman said. "It showed up, but it wasn't good enough yet either. There were some situations that if we could have hit a couple more things we would have been in a lot better shape than we were."

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