For the briefest of moments, coach Urban Meyer wasn’t sure what the future held for his starting quarterback, Braxton Miller.
Miller was at the end of his junior season and potentially off to the NFL, leaving Meyer in search of a new starter.
But that feeling of uncertainty didn’t last.
“It wasn’t very long … Braxton and I have a very good relationship,” Meyer said Feb. 5 at National Signing Day. “We waited until after the (Orange Bowl). And I told him my opinion that he could become a very high draft pick if he continues to improve, and he said, ‘That’s what I thought.’ It wasn’t much more than that. We met together as a family. Had a very positive conversation and made the decision. Never at one time (did he) say, ‘What should I do?’ Because I wouldn’t tell him. That’s their business. But I gave my opinion as far as how much he could grow as a quarterback.”
Miller didn’t have the same hesitation as his coach, and was confident he would come back.
“I always knew I was going to eventually make that decision and I was going to come back,” Miller said Wednesday.
The junior quarterback said his decision was easy because he still had things he needed to do for OSU.
“Getting a degree, things like that,” Miller said. “You want to accomplish things that you didn’t accomplish in your first three years so I felt like I left little things on the field … it’s a lot of things I think about and that’s why I wanted to come back.”
Miller announced his decision to return to Ohio State for his senior season Jan. 9 after compiling a 28-8 record in his first three seasons at the helm for the Buckeyes.
The two-time defending Big Ten offensive player of the year, Miller’s versatility as a player isn’t lost on anybody involved with OSU football.
“To replace a dynamic (player) like a Braxton Miller, what he can do with the football, with his feet, it’s thinning the play, those are all kinds of things that are not coached,” running backs coach Stan Drayton said Feb. 5. “A lot of what he does is not coached. That would have been devastating. Not to say that we would not have survived the moment … What he brings to the table is something special, and it would have been dearly missed.”
Miller heads into the 2014 season as OSU’s eighth all-time leader in rushing yards, and he needs 715 yards to pass Eddie George and take over the second spot on that list. Coincidentally, Miller amassed exactly that many yards on the ground in 2011, the least productive rushing season he has had as a Buckeye.
As long as Miller does not seriously regress as a ball carrier next season, eclipsing George’s career total of 3,768 yards should be an attainable feat.
He is also eighth all-time on the career passing yardage list. If Miller can accomplish his third consecutive year of passing for at least 2,000 yards, he would surpass Bobby Hoying for second place and would be within striking distance of Art Schlichter’s record of 7,547 yards.
Although the offense does return five starters — Miller, sophomore offensive lineman Taylor Decker, junior wide receivers Devin Smith and Evan Spencer, and junior tight end Jeff Heuerman — it loses four starting linemen, something that could play a big role in determining Miller’s success next season.
“Now, Braxton Miller also did those things behind four veteran offensive linemen,” Drayton said. “To me, that’s the issue that we think about in that war room there, is how we put five guys in front of him where he can feel comfortable. We know he’s going to continue to develop and mature in his growth toward the game. However, we’ve got to put some guys around him where he’s feeling comfortable.”
One of the biggest beneficiaries of Miller’s decision to stay in school is the corps of Buckeye wide receivers. During his career at OSU, Miller has attempted 668 passes, while all other quarterbacks on the current roster have a combined two attempts.
Even though the receivers would have been fine no matter who was under center, wide receivers coach Zach Smith said having Miller’s experience returning is a big boost for the unit.
“It’s huge. Braxton’s a great player and my guys love Braxton taking the snap,” Zach Smith said. “We’re confident with whoever the quarterback is but having a guy like Braxton that, one, is as talented a quarterback I’ve ever seen and two, if a play’s not there — my guy isn’t open, whatever it is — he can keep a play alive. The number of big plays that come from Braxton Miller’s feet and throwing the ball in a scramble situation … my guys love that.”
Herman added that although a lot of what Miller brings back is positive it isn’t all going to be easy for the quarterback.
“As improved as he got on the mental side of play of quarterback he can still get a whole lot better,” Herman said Wednesday. “He can make the same leap this year and still have work to do. So just the confidence, the studying of the game, studying of defenses and studying of our plays now that we’ve done kind of the same thing two years in a row.”
Miller is set to get his next crack at the field Aug. 30 when OSU is scheduled to play Navy at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.