Buckeyes expect much more production from passing game

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Buckeyes expect much more production from passing game

Urban Meyer’s offenses

Year School Rushing yds. Passing yds. Record

2012 Ohio State 2,907 2,178 12-0

2010 Florida 2,165 2,396 8-5

2009 Florida 3,105 3,305 13-1

2008 Florida 3,235 2,995 13-1

2007 Florida 2,602 3,341 9-4

2006 Florida 2,240 3,305 13-1

2005 Florida 1,761 2,720 9-3

2004 Utah 2,849 3,148 12-0

2003 Utah 1,926 2,568 10-2

2002 Bowling Green 2,629 2,758 9-3

2001 Bowling Green 1,836 2,387 8-3

Ohio State’s schedule

Sat. BUFFALO noon ESPN2

Sept. 7 SAN DIEGO STATE ABC

Sept. 14 California 7 p.m. FOX

Sept. 21 FLORIDA A&M TBA

Sept. 28 WISCONSIN 8 p.m. TBA

Oct. 5 Northwestern 8 p.m. TBA

Oct. 19 IOWA 3:30 p.m. TBA

Oct. 26 PENN STATE 8 p.m. TBA

Nov. 2 Purdue TBA

Nov. 16 Illinois TBA

Nov. 23 INDIANA TBA

Nov. 30 Michigan TBA

Three Ohio State storylines

1. The Buckeyes had superior leadership from John Simon and other seniors last year, and coach Urban Meyer said developing a new set of take-charge players will make or break their season. There are no shortage of candidates with quarterback Braxton Miller, left tackle Jack Mewhort, linebacker Ryan Shazier and safties C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant.

2. Having to replace six players in their defensive front seven is a daunting task, but the sentiment around the Buckeyes seems to be that the front four will be even more disruptive. If they can find some quality linebackers to team with Shazier, an all-conference pick, the defense should hold up just fine.

3. Miller rushed for 1,271 yards last season, the second-highest total for a QB in Big Ten history behind the 1,702 of Michigan’s Denard Robinson in 2010. But teams figured out how to slow him down by the end of the season. He averaged nearly 140 rushing yards the first seven games and 72 over the final five. But the Buckeyes believe they have the playmakers and passing attack to complement Miller and won’t need his rushing skills nearly as much. We’ll find out soon enough.

If Ohio State coach Urban Meyer could have run his typical offense last year, Braxton Miller probably would have needed a few less ice baths and ibuprofen.

But Meyer didn’t have his usual array of burners on the perimeter, and the only winning formula he could see was to call designed runs for Miller and hope the speedy quarterback could withstand the punishment.

“At the end of last year, we didn’t rely on Braxton nearly as much. But up until week four or five, it was very clear there was only one playmaker on the field,” Meyer said. “There’s no chance we would have been 5-0 without leaning on him because we weren’t very good.”

The Buckeyes ultimately finished 12-0 — the sixth perfect season in school history — mostly because they developed a dependable running game that managed to take some of the load off Miller. And the coaches have even higher expectations this year after seeing proof in preseason camp that they’ll have a much more potent passing attack.

OSU rushed for a 30-year-high of 2,907 yards in 2012 and threw for 2,178, and it was only the second time in Meyer’s 11 seasons that his team had more yards on the ground than through the air.

Miller was named the Big Ten offensive player of the year and set an OSU record for total offense, but he completed a modest 58.3 percent of his tosses and admittedly didn’t have a full grasp of the playbook.

Asked how he’d grade his unit, Miller said, “I’d give us about a D-plus.”

But the offense has looked like it’s ready to make the jump to the honor roll this season.

The coaches have lauded the veteran receivers for becoming more polished and have been dazzled by several freshmen flashing breakaway speed. But the biggest factor in the soaring optimism around the OSU camp is that Miller has displayed the smarts to understand where the ball is supposed to go and the improved mechanics to get it there.

“He’s head and shoulders above where he was. … I’m not saying he’s a finished product, but it does make it easier to come to work knowing he’s progressing the way he is,” quarterbacks coach Tom Herman said. “There’s no confusion when I say something. It’s not, ‘Coach, what do you mean by that? Say it again in a different way.’ There are times when there’s still a little bit of that, but for the most part, we speak the same language.

“(The offense) is second nature to him. He doesn’t have to think about it. The more he learns, the more fluent he gets, the more we can do, and it snowballs from there.”

The Buckeyes averaged 23.2 passes per game last year, the second-lowest mark in the Big Ten behind only run-happy Wisconsin (20.8). And although they still intend to establish their rushing game before chucking the ball around, they want Miller to climb toward the 30-attempt range each game.

The junior from Wayne High School likes the sound of those numbers.

“I talked to Coach Herman the other day about that,” Miller said. “He said, ‘Well, you know we have to (first figure out a) game plan. I said, ‘Coach, we’re going to throw it a lot. I have no doubt about that.’ ”

But passing attempts aren’t nearly as important as completions, of course, and the Buckeyes have set the goal for Miller at 70 percent, although they’d be happy if he connects on about two-thirds of his tries.

That mark seems attainable because the Buckeyes have the players who can turn swing passes into beefy gains.

“Urban and I had a conversation about this just a few days ago,” said running backs coach Stan Drayton, who was on Meyer’s staff at Florida in 2010. “We feel like given the talent we have now, we can kind of get this thing clicking on all cylinders.

“We’ve got speed. We’ve got some depth at critical positions from a skill standpoint. And we’ve got a quarterback that’s very knowledgeable about what we’re asking him to do.

“One thing that separated Florida from other teams was the speed factor, and we went out and recruited that. This is going to be a faster-executing offense this year, and we’ve got to find a way to make it all fit.”

The Buckeyes were ranked 101st (out of 120 teams) in passing yardage last season, but they were 115th in 2011, the year before Meyer arrived. And the total offense jumped from 107th to 47th.

In Meyer’s 10 previous years, his offenses were ranked in the top 20 six times.

“In recruiting, we get hit a lot with our lack of success in the throw game last year. … But in the last 10 years, that’s what we’ve done, and no one in the country can come close to our numbers,” said receivers coach Zach Smith, who was a graduate assistant under Meyer at Florida from 2005-09.

“It’s not hard to tell a recruit, ‘When we get the offense rolling like we should and when we get the skill to do it and when we get the guys that fit the system, that’s what we’re going to do.’ “

Smith believes all of that could come together this season after watching Miller’s evolution.

“The other day in 7-on-7, it was a phenomenal performance,” he said. “Like everyone on the team, he still isn’t there yet. But comparing him to the Braxton Miller last year, it’s not even close.

“Footwork, progressions, how he got the ball out, where the location was, his understanding of everything and his fundamentals of making the throw were on another level.”

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