Ohio State coach Urban Meyer believes quarterback Braxton Miller has become a different player this year — and not just because his game has markedly improved.
Meyer also can see it in Miller’s demeanor.
The junior from Wayne played with his usual high efficiency against Indiana last week, racking up more than 300 total yards for the 10th time in his career — more than any player in OSU history.
Meyer, though, has noticed a change in how Miller is carrying himself. He had to endure some hardships during his first two years as a starter, but he may be the Buckeyes’ unofficial leader in smiles this season.
“He’s having fun, and he’s having fun because he knows what he’s doing,” Meyer said. “He’s confident in the personnel around him, and that was not the case last year. I wasn’t here, but I can only imagine what it was like his freshman year.
“Braxton is a guy that, if he’s not comfortable, he’s not going to act like he’s having fun when it’s not fun. But he knows where people are. He knows the protections. He’s playing quarterback.”
Meyer intended for that last term to be a supreme compliment. It means Miller has completed the transformation from being primarily a gifted runner to a player who can be just as much of a threat as a pocket thrower.
He’s first in the Big Ten in passing efficiency and completion rate (67.7 percent), and he’s first among QBs and seventh overall in the conference in rushing yards per game with 82.0.
“He has a skill set to be a pro quarterback, there is no doubt in my mind,” Meyer said. “I don’t believe he’s ready yet, but I certainly get asked that question, ‘Can Braxton Miller be an NFL quarterback?’ Absolutely he can because he continues to develop.”
Miller has to shore up his ball security — he lost a fumble against IU, his fourth this season — but he has 19 TD passes with just four interceptions.
“He’s a freak,” said OSU defensive tackle Michael Bennett, a junior from Centerville who has known Miller since their high school days in the Greater Western Ohio Conference. “He’s really developed as a passer this year, which is great to see. Everyone knows his run threat. But you see him making passes that a lot of people can’t make. I feel like he’s really developing into that role as a (future) NFL quarterback.
“Obviously, I’ve been with him here since our freshman year,” Bennett added. “He was struggling then, but he was still as elusive as anybody. Last year, his pass game was getting better, but it wasn’t where it needed to be. I feel like this year, he can make any pass he needs to make, and he still has that elusiveness to him.”
Miller was supposed to have competition this season for the distinction of being the top dual-threat QB in the conference from Michigan’s Devin Gardner, but it hasn’t worked out that way. Gardner’s inconsistency, coupled with the Wolverines losing three of their last four games, has meant smiles have been rare in Ann Arbor lately.
The junior is seventh in the conference in passing efficiency, and he has completed 58.7 percent of his tosses. He has 17 TD passes with 11 interceptions. He’s racked up 2,509 yards through the air, but that’s mostly because the Wolverines have been so abysmal on the ground.
He’s also had a propensity for fumbles, including a costly one last week in a 24-21 loss at Iowa.
“He has had some really good moments and some moments that he’d rather redo if he could,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “I think we all have that. I do as a head coach. There are always moments that you think about and wonder if you should have done (something different).
“But the one thing about Devin is that he has been pretty resilient. He is a guy who comes to work every day and prepares to get ready to play and play his best.”
The Buckeyes are aware Gardner’s sloppy play, but they’re still leery.
“You can see that he’s kind of frustrated because they haven’t been winning, and I feel like ANYBODY is kind of frustrated when you’re not winning,” OSU linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “But I feel like he’s a good player. He has a good arm, and he can get out of trouble easily. So, I know he’s going to bring his A game when he comes to play us.”
Ohio State (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) at Michigan (7-4, 3-4), noon, ABC, 1410