By Rusty Miller
COLUMBUS: Ohio State’s Braxton Miller handled the question like he might a hard-charging lineman, by deftly eluding it.
Asked if he considered himself a running quarterback who could pass or vice versa, he laughed and said, “Both.”
Miller seems to handle everything with ease these days.
Heading into today’s 2013 season opener against Buffalo, Miller, a junior, is confident and comfortable, surrounded by solid players and assured that this will be a special year.
“The beginning of last year, they had thrown the new offense at me,” Miller said of the transition to Urban Miller’s new coaching staff and spread attack. “Sometimes, I’d be, like, ‘Man, I forgot what the route was backside.’ But I’m comfortable with everything this year. And I’m ready.”
Miller, quiet and soft-spoken around strangers, now doesn’t shirk at his name being mentioned prominently among Heisman Trophy favorites, and he’s also not flummoxed when facing media or speaking up in the huddle.
“It’s a little different for me. I think everybody else only sees his quiet side,” said his good friend and backup, Kenny Guiton. “But I’m with him all the time so I get to know exactly who he is. He’s the same person to me. He’s goofy, he loves to play around. His leadership has stepped up a lot, though. A lot. He’s talking more on the field now.”
A year ago, while leading the Buckeyes to a surprising 12-0 season, Miller set a school record for total offense, leading the team with 1,271 rushing yards, scoring 13 touchdowns and also adding 2,039 passing yards and 15 touchdowns with just six interceptions.
It’s doubtful he’ll run the ball very much this time around. He ran out of necessity in 2012.
“I hope that doesn’t happen,” Meyer said. “He was by far our best player and when I say by far, I mean, it wasn’t even the same hemisphere as far as who the next player was that could go make a play and help us win. ... If Braxton is leading [in rushing] this year, that means something’s not going well.”
This year, he’s expecting to throw a lot more. Maybe, just maybe, he’ll become a passing quarterback who can also run it.
“Man, we’ve been throwing a lot,” he said. He figures he’ll probably throw 25 passes or so in the opener. Asked if he thought he might throw even more, he added, “I hope so. I’m going to call my own plays to get to 30.”
Then he laughed.
Tom Herman, Ohio State’s quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator, said his prized pupil is better because he’s matured and feels better about himself and his teammates.
“We had seen the guy last year make some really, really sound, fundamental plays that he looked like a million bucks,” Herman said. “The problem is I don’t know that he was ever truly confident in himself and in the big picture of what he was supposed to do and how he was supposed to do it. So we didn’t see those near as much as now.”
Those closest to him realize how far Miller has come.
“The great thing about Braxton is as a human being, as a locker room guy, he hasn’t changed,” offensive lineman Jack Mewhort said. “His humility is his best quality. He’s stayed humble through it all. But as a leader he’s grown a lot. He’s kind of showing guys the way and that’s great to see out of a quarterback. He’s kind of realized that he’s not the young guy anymore. He’s grown into this role and he’s embraced it.”
Even before the No. 2 Buckeyes’ first game, Miller is collecting fans. Buffalo coach Jeff Quinn said he thinks Miller is deserving of the Heisman.
“When you look at the competition, there’s no doubt,” said Quinn, who recruited Miller as a freshman when he was an assistant coach at Cincinnati. “It’s going to be interesting to see what happens but I think Braxton Miller is clearly my favorite.”
After two years as a starter, Miller finally seems settled into his role as star quarterback, team spokesman and public figure.
This week, he was selected as one of Ohio State’s eight captains.
“I came a long way since my freshman year,” Miller said. “That’s a big honor.
“I’m just ready to take full charge.”