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Commentary: It’s up to Fickell to have Miller prepared

CODY COUSINO / Photo editor

As freshman quarterback Braxton Miller was given his first opportunity to take the reins of the Ohio State offense on Saturday, this much was clear: what looked to be a disappointing 2011 season a week ago had suddenly transformed into one full of optimism, not just for now, but for the next four years in Columbus.

But even as Miller moved the ball with the most consistency the Buckeyes had seen since playing woeful Akron in the first week of the season, his success was the cause of more frustration for Buckeye fans.

First, let’s examine the good that came along with Miller’s starting debut on Saturday. Thanks in part to a Colorado special teams unit that would have made former OSU coach Jim Tressel cringe, Miller led the Buckeyes to 37 points, the most the offense has scored since OSU’s win against Akron. He ran the ball well as he accumulated 83 yards rushing the ball and turned multiple would-be losses into gains with his feet.

After last week’s debacle against Miami, the Buckeyes needed to find a new identity to tell poll voters that this wasn’t the same OSU team that couldn’t score a touchdown or even move the ball with any sort of consistency a week ago in South Beach. With Miller playing well as he took over as the undisputed starting quarterback for the Buckeyes, they accomplished just that.

But with Miller playing as well as he did on Saturday, I’m sure that many OSU fans found themselves asking why Miller wasn’t named the starter earlier in the season. Despite turning the ball over twice against Miami, Miller moved the ball more consistently as the team’s quarterback than Joe Bauserman did, and one can’t help but think that giving Miller more playing time — especially versus Toledo, against which he didn’t take any snaps — would have better prepared him for the Hurricanes and the remainder of the 2011 season.

The best way to get past that frustration is to tell yourself that it’s time to look forward and not backward. But even doing that raises more questions about the OSU coaching staff’s use of Miller.

Throughout much of the game against Colorado, offensive coordinator Jim Bollman refused to take the training wheels off of Miller as the Buckeyes centered their offense around running the ball. On two separate occasions, OSU elected to run draw plays when facing third-and-long situations. Not surprisingly, both attempts were unsuccessful.

Admittedly, I’ve never taken a meaningful snap at quarterback at any level, but even playing Madden on my PlayStation 3 has taught me that in order to maintain a successful passing game, it’s best for a quarterback to develop a rhythm, which would require attempting more than the 13 total passes that Miller attempted on his 11 offensive drives on Saturday.

OSU’s negligence to its passing game resulted in a 5-for-13 throwing the ball performance for Miller, who wasn’t helped by drops from T.Y. Williams and Jaamal Berry and a questionably ruled incomplete pass to his new favorite target, Devin Smith. It was still good enough to beat Colorado, but it won’t be good enough to beat the Buckeyes’ next two opponents, Big Ten title contenders Michigan State and Nebraska.

Both of those teams will bring defensive-minded coaches in Mark Dantonio and Bo Pelini who carry ties to OSU and will be making their best cases to take over for OSU coach Luke Fickell at the end of the season. And if Miller proves to be ill-prepared for the challenges brought by the Spartans and the Cornhuskers in the next two weeks, then it will be Fickell, more than anyone, who helped those coaches’ causes.

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