- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The improvements were already obvious, but Urban Meyer had stopped just short of giving the highest praise he could to his quarterback.
Braxton Miller had spent hours in the offseason working on his footwork. Based on the dramatic increase in his completion percentage, that time has clearly paid off for the Ohio State junior. An extra year with the playbook has provided much more familiarity with the scheme and where to deliver the football, and missteps have been fewer and further between with his reads in the passing game. And while he might never be the most vocal leader, there's been little to question about his impact in the huddle and on the field for the highest-scoring offense in the Big Ten and a team that hasn't lost a game in two years.
But for all the statistical proof that was mounting to validate that Ohio State's plan for building Miller into a truly successful quarterback had worked, Meyer was still waiting for something more to make it official. He saw what he was waiting for last week as the Buckeyes cruised against Indiana, finally allowing Meyer to pay the ultimate compliment to the most important player on the field.
"I don't know that he played one of his best games, but he made a throw on third-and-17 -- it was his best play at quarterback since we've been here," Meyer said. "That is his best, and he knows it, I know it, [offensive coordinator] Tom Herman knows it. So his best play as a quarterback, I'm not saying the athlete that jumps around and lands on his head, those are just gifted, very gifted young men. But his best play at college football quarterback was third-and-17 on the right hash in snowy conditions where he completed a bender to Jeff Heuerman with pressure bearing down on him.
"He didn't panic out of the pocket. He stepped up, delivered the ball, and that's worth going back to watch. It was a fantastic play."
Miller has no shortage of those on his personal highlight reel, including some truly jaw-dropping passes into tight windows, clutch throws with the game on the line and certainly plenty of attempts that have turned into touchdowns.
And while Meyer has certainly pointed out some of those previous plays as part of the steps forward Miller has taken in his third season as a starter, many of them have come in much more ideal situations.
He still needs proper footwork and arm angles when the blocking is perfect, and he still must break down the defense and know the playbook to make the right decision with the football even when he has plenty of time to do it. But making the leap to meet Meyer's standard at the position requires using those fundamentals and that knowledge to deliver under pressure when not everything is set up perfectly for him.
And he's seen Miller do exactly that now, which puts him in an exclusive club.
"Josh Harris is a great quarterback we had at Bowling Green, we had the moment where he became a quarterback," Meyer said. "Alex Smith had a couple moments where it was like, 'We've got one.' Then same with Chris Leak and Tim Tebow and this guy. He's had a couple moments, but this is the best play I think he's had as a quarterback.
"That was his moment."
Miller had been building to it for a while now. All he needed was one more play to finally reach Meyer's loftiest standard.