- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Even for the sake of comparison, Urban Meyer has little use for the film from 2011.
The Ohio State coach wasn’t around then, so it wasn’t his spread offense being used. Illinois has changed coaches and changed defensively since two years ago as well, leaving little to be gleaned from the last visit the Buckeyes made to Memorial Stadium. And Meyer’s quarterback was a banged-up, inexperienced freshman then, and his game would almost certainly be unrecognizable if the coach decided to pop in the video just to see how far Braxton Miller has come.
But because Meyer is already aware of the most notable number from that ugly win for the Buckeyes, he hardly needs the visual confirmation. The Buckeyes have seen enough improvement from Miller as a passer just since Meyer arrived that watching him complete just one pass in four attempts might be overkill.
“I know we had a young quarterback and a fairly nonfunctional group of wideouts, so I would imagine you were going to do what we did [last year] and run the quarterback a lot,” Meyer said. “Do what you’ve got to do to walk out of there with a win.
“I can assure you that we're in a much different place than he was two years ago. And I can see that.”
Even without measuring the improvement since Oct. 15, 2011, the evidence that Miller is playing the best football of his career has been impossible to ignore over the last few games.
In the last three starts, the junior has combined to complete nearly 80 percent of his passes for 707 yards and nine touchdowns, moving the ball and scoring points so efficiently that he’s barely needed to play after halftime of the last two blowout victories. And while those outings certainly blow his 1-completion, 17-yard, 1-touchdown outing against Illinois two years ago out of the water, the dramatic development in the passing attack revolves around more than just Miller.
There’s no question Miller has become more mechanically sound, has improved in his ability to break down defenses and become comfortable in the spread in his second season under Meyer. But the Buckeyes have taken steps forward all around him as well, starting with a veteran offensive line affording him great protection to significant upgrades from Philly Brown, Devin Smith and a deeper cast of wideouts making plays on the perimeter.
“Looking back, that’s crazy to me just because our passing game has evolved so much now,” left tackle Jack Mewhort said. “We have so many different guys score touchdowns for us now, to just have one pass [completion], that’s kind of unreal to think about.
“Braxton and the skill guys have come so far, I don’t think it’s going to be like that this year. We’ll see; maybe we will have to run the ball that much.”
The Buckeyes could probably do it if they wanted to, as they still have the No. 8 rushing offense in the country averaging more than 300 yards per game.
Plus, they’re matching up against an Illinois defense that ranks 115th in the nation against the rush and might have to deal with windy conditions which can sometimes make it a challenge to throw the ball. And the Buckeyes have plenty of players still on the roster who know firsthand they can win even if they only complete one pass.
But what would be the fun in that?
“Nah, that wouldn’t work right now,” Miller said. “I was a young pup, so I grew up from that.
“It was fortunate that coach Meyer came here, we worked out things, got me better, now I’m [throwing] a lot better.”
The numbers make that pretty obvious. Meyer doesn’t need to watch the film to know that statistics aren’t lying.
4dDan Murphy and Austin Ward