Stopping Miller's Legs Focus For Opposition

The Ohio State football team hasn't hid from relying on quarterback Braxton Miller's legs. Though that has been a highly successful approach through the first three weeks of the season, more diversity could become a must as opposing defenses continue to make stopping his rushing output a priority.

Stopping quarterback Braxton Miller from making plays with his legs was the prevailing theme of opposing defensive strategy through the first three weeks of Ohio State's season. Identifying that wasn't the hard part for Urban Meyer and his coaching staff.

Finding a way to move the ball consistently without always relying on the running quarterback to take off has now become the paramount goal for the Buckeyes staff.

They knew it would eventually come to this. Now Miller has to pass his way out of it.

"Having an athletic quarterback to get you out of trouble sometimes gets you into trouble," Meyer said. "What is going to happen is we're going to have to be throw the ball, become efficient throwing.

"Since Braxton became our quarterback, he's much better. But we've got a long way to go. It's kind of turning into that kind of a world for us right now that there's a lot of players, people, numbers, committed to stopping the run."

All indications in the first quarter of Ohio State's 35-28 win over California on Saturday were that Miller's performance was going to greatly resemble his first two games of the season. He broke the pocket, put a quick juke move on safety Alex Logan and burst down the Buckeyes' sideline for the 55-yard, highlight reel-worthy touchdown run.

It was a similar start to wins over Miami (Ohio) and Central Florida, games where the quarterback was the entire show of the Buckeyes offense, racking up large carry totals in the process.

But the Bears specifically dedicated a safety – or a spy – to follow Miller's every step the entire game. Perhaps that's the reason Miller's touchdown run was the only of his 12 carries that created a game-changing play.

Miller making plays with his legs – and the stats he accumulated in the process – may not be sustainable once the Buckeyes face defenses more apt to contain him. That defense looms two weeks away when the Buckeyes travel to Michigan State, especially if the Spartans take similar measures as the Bears.

"It is an interesting quandary to be in when you have such a dynamic runner back there because defensive coverages tend to be completely skewed from what you have grown to know," offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. "Teams now are putting eight or nine guys in the box to be sound against him pulling the ball down and running. The variety of coverages that we see on first and second down is absolutely mind-boggling."

Miller is Ohio State's best playmaker, but he can't be the only one. And though defenses will continue to dedicate the crux of their philosophy to stopping Miller from running, his legs won't cease to be the Buckeyes' biggest weapon. They'll just help develop other facets of the offense.

Ohio State made numerous plays against the Bears as a result of Miller's running capability, most of which won't show up in the box score under the quarterback's rushing statistics.

Miller's ability causes coverage problems as defensive backs are forced to honor the threat he poses to run, which was most evident when he found sophomore wide receiver Devin Smith on a 72-yard touchdown pass with 3:26 remaining in the game.

California's defense, trained to track Miller's every move, allowed Smith to find daylight behind its secondary when Logan moved out of his zone after spotting Miller running toward the line of scrimmage. Miller kept his eyes down field and found the wide-open Smith, helping the Buckeyes avoid the upset at home.

That was the play that will be most remembered, but he also ran for a touchdown, scored a two-point conversion on a rushing attempt and found tight end Jake Stoneburner on a Tim Tebow-like jump pass near the Bears goal line when the defense sold out to stop him from running it in.

"First of all, good luck stopping him," tight end Jeff Heuerman said, responding to the notion that Miller's legs can be taken away from the Buckeyes as a weapon. "But this offense has a million places to go."

All of which originate through Miller, who accounted for all five of Ohio State's touchdowns against Cal. Four came through the air, which had to tickle Meyer, who has commented relentlessly about the team's need to improve in the passing game.

The Buckeyes have looked close at times to putting it all together offensively, but its sporadic nature has also left the unit occasionally looking like Miller and 10 others. Finding that balance with Miller will be crucial.

"He can do a lot of different things with his legs, but we have plenty of playmakers around him, too," offensive tackle Jack Mewhort said. "Once we put everything together, we should be a scary offense."

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