Ohio State coaches have been raving this year about how the athletic Braxton Miller has evolved into a polished quarterback. But on a blustery afternoon at Illinois last week, Miller seemed to revert to his 2012 form.
His deep passes were either 10 yards long or 10 yards short. And apart from hitting receiver Corey Brown perfectly in stride for an 11-yard TD, Miller generally was either high or wide on his shorter throws, too.
He finished 13-of-29 passing — his first game this year with a completion rate below 57 percent — for 150 yards.
But the game was played in an 18-mile-per-hour wind with gusts to nearly 30. It certainly wasn’t a day for looking sharp in the passing game.
“Probably a coaching error on my part in terms of maybe underestimating the impact it had,” said offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who calls the plays. “Although it felt gusty at times on the field, I think the higher the ball got in the air, the more it was impacted by it.
“But he didn’t throw the ball particularly well ‘intermediately’ either. To blame the entire lack of production in the throw game on the wind, I think, would be a little bit overboard.”
Miller, who leads the Big Ten with a 68-percent completion rate (up from 58.3 last year), was like a pitcher who couldn’t find the strike zone. He’s worked hard on his mechanics with Herman and others, but sometimes he can’t prevent those old habits from creeping in.
“I think he was a little bit off. That happens sometimes,” Herman said.
Miller’s progression in the passing game is the reason the Buckeyes have become one of the more potent offenses in the nation — they average 49.4 points, 12.2 more than last year — and they probably can’t afford for him to take a step back because they need a strong finishing kick.
They can clinch a spot in the Big Ten title game with a win over Indiana on Saturday (or a Wisconsin loss at Minnesota), and they can stay in the national title hunt by sweeping their last three games.
They rushed for 441 yards against Illinois, and Miller was glad the offense was rolling enough that he could afford a subpar outing.
“The wind was kind of crazy, and we had a good day running the ball,” he said. “You aren’t going to be perfect all the time. As long as we came out with a victory, that’s all that matters.”
Herman is treating the performance as an aberration.
“I think it’s concerning to the point that I wish it hadn’t happened. But concerning to the point where I think it’s a trend or a slippery slope? I don’t see that,” he said.
“You never want a guy to play substandardly. At the same time, I don’t think it’s anything to worry about in the future. Not yet at least.”
Roby gone: The Buckeyes will recognize 17 seniors in their final home game Saturday, and fourth-year junior cornerback Bradley Roby will join them for the ceremony since he’s already decided to turn pro after the season.
“It’s no secret. It was, ‘Coach, here’s my plan.’ And I was like, ‘Great, let’s go get ready to play,’ ” Meyer said.
With top-tier talent, Meyer said, “You don’t ask for five years nowadays. … I think it’s great for him and great for Ohio State. He’s just got to get his degree, and I think he will in the spring.”
Star linebacker Ryan Shazier, a true junior, also can leave after this year and was pegged in at least one mock draft as a first-round pick.
“I’m not thinking about that right now,” he said. “I’m just thinking about Indiana.”
Shorthanded: With all the injuries on defense, Meyer has second-guessed himself over redshirting so many freshmen. Cornerbacks Gareon Conley and Eli Apple and linebacker Mike Mitchell were all highly regarded recruits, but Meyer didn’t want to burn a year of eligibility if a player was only going to get minimal action.
“We’ve done that, everybody has done that. At the end of the year, he plays 37 plays. Was it worth it?” he said.
“We have confidence in a lot of these young players — you just watch them, and there’s potential for really good careers. Was it a tactical error? Maybe. Especially when you start dealing with some injuries like we’re dealing with now. We probably could have played a couple guys more, but that’s hindsight, so you’ve got to move on.”