Junior quarterback Braxton Miller was thrown to the wolves in his freshman season with the Ohio State football team.
Miller was the starter at quarterback in each of the final 10 games of 2011, including the Buckeyes last game at Illinois’ Memorial Stadium, Oct. 15, 2011.
In that game OSU pulled off a 17-7 victory, although Miller only completed a single pass.
“I was thrown in there early. I don’t think I was ready at that time, but I did what I had to do,” Miller said after practice Wednesday. “It was kind of a big stage at that time, so I had to prepare and it was kind of tough and I didn’t expect to play as a freshman.”
Now the No. 3 Buckeyes (9-0, 5-0), will return to Memorial Stadium Saturday, looking to extend the nation’s longest winning streak to 22 games.
Coach Urban Meyer, who took over the Buckeyes following the 2011 season, said Miller has come a long way since that game.
“I can assure you that (he’s) in a much different place than he was two years ago,” Meyer said Monday.
It was a career-low in completions and passing yards for Miller, who has since developed into one of the top quarterbacks in the country. He was named a semifinalist for the Davey O’Brien award Nov. 4.
Junior wide receiver Evan Spencer said the game in 2011 was a difficult situation because of Miller’s inexperience.
“His freshman year, it was kind of a unique situation for all of us really and we were trying to win games (OSU finished the year 6-7), whatever it took to win a game,” Spencer said after practice Monday. “So now that he has really developed as a passer and he’s gotten better at reading what he has to do, we flow so much better.”
Redshirt-senior left tackle Jack Mewhort said in hindsight, it’s hard to believe the Buckeyes only completed one pass during that game.
“Looking back, that’s crazy to me just because our passing game has evolved so much now and so many different guys can score touchdowns for us now,” Mewhort said Monday. “One pass, that’s kind of unreal to think about, and Braxton and the skill guys have come so far.”
In his freshman season, Miller averaged 96.6 yards passing yards per contest. This season, Miller has almost doubled his weekly output from two seasons ago, throwing for an average of 188 yards per game.
Spencer said Miller’s development as a passer has helped the offense become more balanced this season.
“It definitely changes the dynamic. We’re putting up 40-some points a game, so it’s working pretty well for us and his development,” Spencer said. “It’s coming along great … He’s playing really well right now and us as receivers, we’re executing pretty well for him.”
Mewhort added that even compared to last year, Miller has become a better passer, helping the Buckeye running game in the process.
“Last year, there were some games where teams played us real heavy in the box because we couldn’t do as much with our passing game, but this year, it’s a lot different. There’s not eight or nine guys in the box because this offseason Braxton, the wide receivers, the running backs and the skill guys got together and decided, ‘We’re going to be really good this year,’” Mewhort said. “I think they’ve done that so far, they’ve gotten better every game and that makes it easier on the (offensive line) and the running game, knowing that there are other threats.”
In 2012, the Buckeyes beat Illinois, 52-22, with Miller throwing for 226 yards and two touchdowns on 12 completions.
Meyer said having a quarterback and leader like redshirt-senior Kenny Guiton to look up to has been a boost for Miller this season – something he did not have the luxury of his first year on the job.
“I think the way these two quarterbacks are now preparing, with all due respect to when Braxton was a freshman, he really didn’t have anyone to look up to to say, ‘This is the way to prepare for a college football game.’ And certainly last year, we were just still trying to teach Kenny because Kenny didn’t really know, because neither one of them really played,” Meyer said. “Now they’re both operating at a very high level, they’ve practiced very hard, they prepare very hard, much different than a year ago, so I think Kenny had a lot to do with it and it’s a direct result of the way he prepares, the way he practices.”
His relationship with Guiton has been really important in his time at Ohio State, Miller said.
“I look up to him as a big brother, I’ve talked to him ever since I was being recruited,” Miller said.
Miller hopes to improve on his last trip to Champaign, Ill., Saturday at noon when the Buckeyes are scheduled to take on the Fighting Illini (3-6, 0-5).