Limiting Miller's Carries On Staff's Mind

Urban Meyer knows a thing or two about how much punishment a quarterback can take in his offense, as his signal callers have been ball carriers ever since he became a head coach. He also knows that 27 carries is probably too high, so this week has been about finding a way to keep Braxton Miller's hits limited.

When Braxton Miller showed up in the interview room after Ohio State's victory Saturday against UCF, he boasted an impressive ice wrap on his right elbow.

The understated Miller didn't make much of that injury or the fact that he had just carried the football an Ohio State quarterback record 27 times in victory, but he did admit that a look at the stat sheet was a bit of a head turner.

"Twenty-seven is a lot," he said. "That's a big game, 27."

In fact, that's more than head coach Urban Meyer would like to see.

"That's too much, 27 hits," Meyer said. "He's blown out right now. We have to be smart."

With his next few words, though, Meyer laid out the obvious issue.

"Someone's gotta run the ball," he said, "and right now he's our best answer."

With veteran backs Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde injured – Hyde is out for this week with a knee strain and Hall looks like he'll play a limited role as he returns from offseason foot surgery – it seems clear the electric Miller is at the top of the list when it comes to who should be carrying the ball for Ohio State.

That's one reason he's already set some records at Ohio State. His 161 yards in the opener against Miami was a school record for a quarterback, and his 44 rushes through two games serves as the most for a quarterback in the country, six ahead of Nevada's Cody Fajardo.

And there's good reason for Miller to have the ball so much. He was a five-star prospect coming out of high school known for his ability to make plays with his feet and his right arm, and his rushing talents are obvious to anyone who has watched Ohio State over the past two seasons.

"Braxton Miller's the most talented runner on the team," Meyer said. "My, gosh, is he a good runner, and we all see that."

The question is just how much is too much when it comes to the quarterback running the ball, and it's not a problem unique to Ohio State.

As run-heavy spread offenses have come into vogue in recent years, the amount of quarterbacks running the ball more than 20 times per game has become more common. Last year's national leader for QBs, Kansas State's Collin Klein, ran 317 times on the season – 24.4 per game – for 1,141 yards and 27 touchdowns.

Klein didn't miss any games because of injury, either, and while such notable rushing quarterbacks like Denard Robinson and Tim Tebow have been banged up at times during their careers, none took a shot while running the football that kept them out for an extended period of time.

In fact, Tebow's most serious injury concern occurred in 2009 when a blindside blitzer from Kentucky came off the edge untouched and leveled him as he threw a pass, a hit that left him with a concussion.

"The most dangerous part of being a quarterback is not necessarily running the ball," Meyer said. "It's sitting in the pocket. That's when you see a lot of injuries."

One of Miller's hardest hits in the game came late and occurred while he was standing in the pocket. An untouched defensive end drove him to the ground on his shoulder, and that hit came on a play that wasn't even a carry.

Still, the Buckeyes will want to bring his rushing total down a bit. Meyer said his ideal number of carries for Miller in a game is between 12 and 15, while the quarterback put his preferred total at 10 to 12.

Those numbers would be more in line with Meyer's previous totals. Tebow averaged 16.2 carries per game in his sophomore season while winning the Heisman Trophy, and he topped 20 carries three times while setting a career high with 27 – the same number as Miller vs. UCF – in the Ole Miss game. Twice he was under 10 carries and he had a rushing TD in each game.

Then in 2008, Tebow's total dropped dramatically to 12.6 carries per game. He only topped 20 in the national title game, running the ball 22 times as the Gators beat Oklahoma for the title. Tebow's average jumped back to 15.5, and he had 27 carries again in a win vs. Arkansas.

Meanwhile, Meyer's Utah quarterback, Alex Smith, only topped 20 carries once and averaged 12.4 rushes per start. At Bowling Green, Josh Harris had 28 carries at Ohio in 2001 and 30 a year later vs. Western Michigan, but he also had three games in 2002 with less than 10 carries.

"That's one of the things you have to be aware of with the spread offense," Meyer said. "We had that all the way back to Josh Harris to Alex Smith to Chris Leak to Tim Tebow now to Braxton. But 27 is a lot."

When it comes to regulating carries, there are a few issues that need to be addressed. It's hard to limit the number of runs simply because so many of the team's plays are read options – Miami, for example, defended the Buckeyes by forcing Miller to keep the ball more often than giving it up to a back.

There have also been a number of plays this year where the backs and Miller have not been on the same page, and the quarterback has been forced to hold on to the ball on those plays rather than give it away.

"Some of the carries are a result of errors at other positions," Meyer said. "For example, someone goes wrong way, what does he do? He runs for 7 yards and gets whacked. One guy, we have a design play and we miss two blocks, and instead of pitching a ball, he gets whacked.

"So that position is going to have to do a lot of things. We have to play better around him to eliminate some of those carries. And hopefully once again, the job description is to win that game, and also player safety and being smart is a big part of that."

Miller reported Wednesday that he was a little sore after the game but did not have a major issue with his health this week. After the game, though, he admitted that 27 was the most hits he'd ever taken and was looking forward to seeing if that number goes down against Cal.

"Absolutely," he said. "We've just got to get the young guys prepared for this upcoming week."

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