It was Labor Day, the Ohio State Buckeyes were set to play their first game following their inaugural College Football Playoff Championship, quarterback-turned-receiver Braxton Miller was one of the most talked-about players in college football, and the scarlet and gray offense was filled with playmakers. Miller’s position change was among the top stories in the college football universe heading into the 2015 season, besides the Buckeyes’ quarterback competition.
While the Buckeyes had such high expectations as a whole heading into 2015, how Miller would be used — and how well he would be — were relatively unknown. Could he still be as lethal as he was in previous seasons even when not behind center? Is he really the best athlete in college football, like he considers himself to be? Could he bring a dimension to Ohio State’s offense that hadn’t been seen before?
No one, not even Miller himself, could have dreamed of what would happen that night in Blacksburg, Virginia, in front of a sold out Virginia Tech crowd. The Hokies, who gave the Buckeyes their only loss in 2014, were playing host to the Buckeyes in a primetime Labor Day matchup, a nationally televised matchup.
Miller was slated to start in his debut at wide receiver due to four Buckeye suspensions, three of which were receivers. He exceeded most everyone’s expectations and made a strong case that he is indeed the best athlete in college football. The new No. 1 (he has a new uniform number as well as a new position) not only had 140 all-purpose yards (six carries for 62 yards, two catches for 78 yards), but he had a spin move that was heard (seen?) across the world en route to a 53-yard touchdown run.
He may have had a coming out party in the season opener, but where has Miller been the last three games since that night at Virginia Tech? The senior has totaled just 118 all-purpose yards on 20 touches since the game in Blacksburg: 73 yards against Hawaii, 7 against Northern Illinois, and 38 against Western Michigan. He may have a couple diving catches and an incredible block that took out two Hawaii players, but Miller hasn’t been able to do anything with the ball like he did in the season opener.
While Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer has tried almost anything to get Miller the ball — lining him up behind center, putting him in motion, and throwing and/or handing him the ball, Miller just hasn’t seemed to have “it” the last three games.
What is that “it”? Well, that’s the hard part. Where did the Week 1 Braxton Miller go? The one with the video game-like spin move that set the sports world abuzz? Whether Meyer and company have any other plans to involve Miller other than what they have already done, it seems little coincidence that the Buckeyes’ offense has had its fair share of struggles during the three games that happen to be the worst of Miller’s season thus far.
Although Meyer has said that at some point Miller will throw the ball when taking a direct snap, he has yet to do so. When Miller is in a Wildcat set, defenses have keyed on him, thinking that he will run it rather than find an open receiver, which has led to the direct snap to Miller not being successful. After taking eight direct snaps in Week 2 against Hawaii, Meyer and company have seemed to back away from putting Miller in that position.
Then there’s the fact that maybe Miller set too high of expectations after the way he played in the season opener. Miller started from the top; now he’s here. With only four games under his belt as a non-quarterback, Miller is still learning the ways of being a receiver, including good route running, blocking downfield, and understanding the opponent’s coverage schemes.
Miller may be struggling, but Meyer is going to do all he can in order to make No. 1 successful.
“[We’re] trying to give him the ball,” Urban Meyer said after Ohio State’s 38-12 win over Western Michigan on Saturday. “It’s an effort to try … we’re releasing him out of the backfield, we’re flipping him the ball, lining him up with the quarterback, and we’re just not having the big hits right now and we will,” the head coach said of his receiver.
Whether it’s the fact that Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson have returned from their one-game suspensions and are now taking away snaps from Miller or not, if Miller learns to play like he did at Virginia Tech on a consistent basis, the college football world better watch out, because the Buckeyes will be steam rolling through their opponents.