Miller Improved In 2011, Ready For '12

There's no doubt it was an up-and-down season for the Ohio State football team, and much of that inconsistency was summed up by the play of true freshman quarterback Braxton Miller. However, the signal caller's improvement as the year went on showed he was picking up the game and should lead to an even better 2012.

If the 2011 season was about getting better for Braxton Miller, then it's safe to say the Ohio State quarterback passed with flying colors in that regard.

At least, that's how his elder teammates and coaches saw it as the campaign drew to a close.

"The Braxton that I have under center as opposed to the Braxton I had at the beginning of the season is night and day," senior center Michael Brewster said before the Gator Bowl. "I think that's awesome that he's grown so much and he's more confident now. He's really just a different player."

That progress was seen in a couple of ways as the season went on. Miller entered Ohio State in January as a five-star prospect out of Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne then had a solid spring highlighted by a good spring game.

But when camp dawned, it was clear Miller still had a long way to go. He admitted he was having trouble figuring out the Ohio State offense and said he was tasked with learning four pass plays per day in an effort to get up to speed.

As a result, Miller started the year as the backup to little-used senior Joe Bauserman. After Miller compelted 8 of 12 passes including his first career touchdown in the opener against Akron, he was used sparingly the next two weeks, not getting off the bench vs. Toledo then turning the ball over twice against Miami.

Still, Bauserman's struggles were profound enough that Miller was trusted to take over the Ohio State offense, and the results were certainly mixed, from the highs of the late comeback win against Wisconsin through the lows of the season-ending four-game losing streak.

Through it all, the Buckeyes were able to see steady progress out of the true freshman under center.

"I think throughout the season he's gotten a lot smarter, reading coverages and stuff like that and even checks," fullback Zach Boren said. "At the beginning of the year he was having trouble making checks and things like that but now from the last couple of games of the season he was really stepping up and taking everything into his own hands. I feel like he's been getting better every week even since the season started. You guys can see that."

The stats seemed to show two distinct portions of the season for Miller. In his first six games as the starter, Miller was trusted to throw the ball no more than 13 times in a game, and he was 28 for 58 (48.3 percent) for five touchdowns and two interceptions. He didn't top 100 yards passing in any of those games, either.

Then, in the last four games, Miller's passing did seem to start to improve. With the team behind in all four contests and needing him to make plays through the air, Miller improved his completion percentage to 56.6 percent while throwing seven touchdowns against one interception.

He also continuously showed he could use his legs to his advantage as well, topping 90 yards on the ground against Nebraska, Wisconsin, Indiana, Penn State and Michigan. He also ran for a pair of scores each against the Hoosiers and Badgers, and his ability to break big runs had opposing coaches going crazy.

"I don't think there's any question (he's improved)," Florida head man Will Muschamp said in the lead-up to the Gator Bowl. "The off-rhythm plays are what strike you the most, when he can create some things."

Where head coach Luke Fickell saw the biggest leap was in the way Miller practiced and prepared for each game. That was only to be expected, the head coach said, with maturity.

"When you see on Saturdays with Braxton was obviously a process, but the thing that you really saw as a coach was how he handled the week," Fickell said. "I think that's the biggest difference in a young guy was your ability to prepare and get that performance on Saturday.

"Sometimes when you're a young guy and you've been very successful and things have come pretty easy to you during your high school career because you're better than everybody, your preparation doesn't always match your performance. When you get to college you start to realize that everybody is better and your preparation has to be a lot greater to get the performance you want on the field."

That's not to say Miller still doesn't have room to improve. Pocket presence would be a good start, as he was sacked three or more times in each of the last six games including a stunning six times against Florida. In addition, despite his improved passing numbers near the end of the year, Miller missed a few open targets – often senior DeVier Posey – in the losses to Michigan and Florida that could have changed the complexion of those games.

"It's frustrating but it's something Braxton has to go through, something he'll definitely get better at," Posey said. "The kid is a competitor and he's going to be a great one. One thing about him, you don't have to tell him too much. He doesn't have to see too many mistakes for him to learn. He'll definitely put that on the money next year and they'll be talking about how great he is."

With a year of experience under his belt, Miller is expected to use what he learned in 2011 to his benefit next season. Expectations might go up even more with Miller in the offense of new head coach Urban Meyer, who has made stars out of every quarterback to start multiple seasons in his spread offense in his 10-year career.

Count Miller among those who is excited to see exactly where that can take him going forward.

"I just have to come in and work hard," Miller said. "It's a new offense. You have to learn all the new things in the offense. I'm just going to take it and learn everything I can. I'm ready."

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