Ohio State’s Braxton Miller has climbed into the Heisman Trophy discussion, but coach Urban Meyer has been quick to point out his sophomore star still has much developing to do as a quarterback.
When he’s hurried or too revved up for a big game, Miller can be about as accurate as someone squeezing juice from a lemon — you’re never quite sure where it’ll end up.
He looked as if he found his form against Illinois on Saturday, connecting on 12-of-20 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns in a 52-22 victory — after completing just a single pass in a win against the Illini last year. And his numbers would have been gaudier if normally reliable receiver Jake Stoneburner didn’t drop two likely big gainers.
But was that enough to please Meyer? Nope.
“We work so hard to develop a passing game, and I can’t say we did it successfully,” Meyer said. “It’s still a work in progress, and we’re going to keep grinding and pushing that because at some point we have to be a balanced team.”
The sixth-ranked Buckeyes rushed for 330 yards with junior running back Carlos Hyde racking up 137 and three TDs on 18 carries and Miller getting 73 and one score on 18 attempts (including minus-23 yards on sacks) in just more than three quarters.
“The area where we’re not efficient enough is the drop-back pass,” Meyer said. “(People may say,) ‘Well, he’s not a drop-back passer.’ You have to be. That’s not acceptable.
“The guys around him — we’ve just got to get better. On offense, I’m really disappointed in that. The play-action game is pretty solid, but those aren’t drop-back passes. On first down, you’ve got to be able to throw and take some pressure off the other areas of the game, and we just aren’t there yet.
“Those are strong statements. He’s a sophomore in college. We’re still trying to figure it out, and he’s still trying to figure it out. I love his effort, and he played well.”
The Buckeyes are 10-0 for the first time since 2007 and improved to 6-0 in the Big Ten going into a bye week. Their final two games are at Wisconsin and home against Michigan. Illinois is 2-7, 0-5.
Miller has accounted for 27 TDs this season (14 passing, 13 running). Troy Smith and Bobby Hoying hold the OSU record with 31.
“I don’t think anyone will be able to satisfy Coach Meyer to his standards,” receiver Philly Brown said. “He holds us to such a high standard, as he should, because he sees the potential in us.
“Personally, I think Braxton has improved tremendously. It’s night and day from last year to now in his passing.”
Miller, though, didn’t squawk about Meyer’s stinging critique.
“I agree with him,” the Wayne High School graduate said. “I’ve got to get better at that aspect of the game. I’m working real hard. (Quarterbacks coach) Tom Herman got me together this week on my footwork.
“I’m getting my feet under me and staying under control.”
The Buckeyes officially sent the game into blowout territory when Miller ran and passed his team into scoring range, and Hyde crossed the goal line from three yards out for a 31-6 lead with 1:56 to go in the second quarter. Many in the sellout crowd of 105,311 began skipping toward the exits, having seen enough carnage.
The Buckeyes, who held Illinois to 170 total yards (the first OSU foe this season to finish with fewer than 300), will go into a bye week perhaps a top-5 team.
“I’ve coached a couple top-5 teams, and this one probably has more holes than the other ones,” Meyer said. “But there’s also some great performances. We are going to dwell on the weaknesses because those weaknesses get exposed when you play two good teams like we’re going to finish the season with.”
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