“This team is awful.”
“How can we be this bad??”
“Urban Meyer is overrated and it’s showing. It’s UAB!”
“Braxton Miller needs to run it 15+ times per game at minimum!”
Outside of a wide range of expletives, all of those comments littered my twitter feed and text messages almost verbatim (feel free to identify yourself). I cannot act like I am above any of these outbursts because I am not. Believe me, I have had my share and will continue to as long as I am an Ohio sports fan. But please, relax. I am not going to make any friends with some of the upcoming comments, but it needs to be said.
For me, The Ohio State fan-base as a whole can be very maddening at times. The deserving attitudes, the unreasonable expectations and the recess-style temper tantrums are all common characteristics of this (and many) fan-base. The worst part is that all of this is created from within. Not only ourselves, but Buckeye Nation. We are a bunch of enablers. There can be positive news in the morning and by the evening, it is the best thing that could have happened to this entire state. The opposite is also true but most times to even more extremes. Saturday night I went to bed wondering if this Ohio State team is actually 0-4, instead of 4-0. This is THE Ohio State University, I get it.
Hate me yet? You can, but I am able to identify all of this because I am guilty of all of this. I overreact to the good and bad just the same, have unreasonable expectations and feel that this state deserves the best in everything. But please keep the following in mind: This team is very young with undeveloped talent, in a transition year due to largely a whole new coaching staff and currently under a bowl ban that will return nothing more than moral victories this season. This team could absolutely have more convincing wins, show more promise and ease our minds that next year will be the year but this team and the fans have not even dealt with the bulk of the reasons listed above.
I digress. The argument that I had was specifically regarding Braxton Miller, his (in)effectiveness to throw the ball and the Buckeyes’ lack of identity in a now floundering offense. The defense was undoubtedly part of the conversation but that is an entirely different conversation. The argument stemmed from one point that I mentioned in the beginning – Braxton needs to have a minimum of 15 carries each game for this offense to have a chance and go anywhere in the future. It is literally not possible for me to disagree more and for me, it boils down to 5 points about development and surroundings:
#1. Braxton has exactly 17 games under his belt, started as a true freshman and now on his second coaching staff in two years.
I do not feel as if this point can be overstated. Though hard to do, take all of the outside distractions away that this team has had and think just about what pure turnover can do to a true freshman quarterback and his development after an early enrollment. Braxton immediately assumed a role that he was not ready for in any form, taking away the luxury of learning the game from the sidelines for a season. In such a season, he completed 85 of 157 pass attempts for almost 1,200-yards, with 13 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. Tack on another 700+ yards, 7 touchdowns rushing and I would say that he had a pretty good season as a first year quarterback. Far from where he and the rest of us believe he needs to get to, but a great start nonetheless.
#2. Outside of Jake Stoneburner, his receiving targets have been extremely inconsistent though showing flashes of greatness.
Corey “Philly” Brown (JR), Chris Fields (JR), Devin Smith (SO) and Michael Thomas (FR) make up the current receiving corp for the Buckeyes. That young group of receivers are learning their positions at a higher level just as Braxton is, so not only are there dropped passes, but oftentimes routes are not even run correctly. Couple that with the fact that some of this group has trouble getting off of the line promptly and you can be talking about seriously hindering Miller’s ability to be a pure, pocket passer. These things take time and patience, which most of us do not have, but it is a very, very real part of the development process.
#3. At best, this current offensive line is serviceable.
Reid Fragel, who is the only senior on this offensive line, converted from the tight end position to right tackle this season and is still clearly making adjustments in doing so. The offensive line as a whole has dealt with injuries, as well as inconsistencies at running back making their jobs that much more difficult in trying to adjust for each runners’ style. Including Braxton’s. But the real problem here is that many times the pocket collapses quickly and forces Miller to make decisions quicker than he may like to and his instincts are to do what he does best – run. As this offensive line becomes a more cohesive unit, it will undoubtedly allow Miller more time to make decisions, progressions and check-downs.
#4. Is this season, a meaningless, lost season, worth the risk of your star player getting seriously injured?
This may be the most important point of them all. As it currently stands, Braxton Miller is really the only true consistent offensive weapon that this team has. Through the air and on the ground, he currently accounts for 1,195 of Ohio State’s 1,708 total yards. What risks are you willing to take with a guy that currently provides 70% of your total offense? Is it 15+ carries each game? More than likely there is not a right answer here but in my eyes letting him develop to become more of a pocket passer, will pay dividends in the long run rather than doing what it takes to win in a lost season. The shots that Braxton was taking during the game against Central Florida were seriously painful to watch. While most were not malicious, those players were surely sending a message that he would have to earn every yard, on every single one of those 27 carries.
#5. Braxton Miller has a better chance of becoming the player that Troy Smith was, than Terrelle Pryor.
Oh this point will definitely get some backlash. Really, it is about expectations though (look at us, we circled all the way back to expectations again). Here is where the line of delineation is lost. In my eyes, I believe that Braxton has enough of the tools and coaching support that he could truly turn into a pocket passer with great wheels as a bail-out after going through all of his progressions. To me, the difference is how the quarterbacks coach, Tom Herman will choose to mold him. We watched a very raw athlete in Troy Smith 8-years ago, grow from a player that took the field as a kick returner and running-back, to become a Heisman trophy winner at quarterback. While Braxton’s pure throwing motion may not be the prettiest around right now, it can be shaped if the desire is there. Right now, that is the variable and the decision that Meyer and Herman will have to make.
This may come across as though I am a Braxton apologist. I can assure you I am not. I simply and truly believe that given the right controllable circumstances, Miller can show the college football world that the depth to his talent, coupled with the current coaching staff, can help manufacture a new ceiling for this young quarterback and ultimately, the championship we all so desperately crave.
*Image courtesy of www.therepublic.com