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Ohio State Buckeyes vs Buffalo Bulls Preview: Can Braxton Miller Dominate In the Passing Game?
The Ohio State Buckeyes should have control of the game in every area against the Buffalo Bulls in week one of the 2013 college football season, but the Bulls’ defense, led by All-MAC linebacker Khalil Mack, won’t be a total pushover and could present Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes’ offense with some challenges.
Mack is one of the best linebackers in the country. He is a prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker who specializes in rushing the passer (eight sacks and 20 tackles for loss in 2012), but he is also a stout presence in the running game and is fluid enough to drop into coverage. Mack isn’t the only player on the Bulls that the Buckeyes need to keep an eye on. Junior defensive end Colby Way is a very capable pass-rusher who recorded two sacks on Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray last season, and he was second on the team in sacks with six.
Buffalo’s defense is returning eight starters from a year ago. Their depth in the secondary is solid and is led by corner Najja Johnson, who led the MAC with five interceptions and added 11 passes defended. College football expert, Phil Steele, named him First Team Preseason All-MAC.
Everyone knows that Miller can beat any defense with his legs, but what people should be looking out for against Buffalo is how much Miller has evolved as a passer. If Miller has truly improved as much as Buckeye coaches say he has this offseason, he should be controlling the game with his arm, not his feet.
Sure, the Buckeyes could easily win this game if Miller was the same player as he was last season and relied primarily on his athleticism to make plays, but if he can’t dominate through the air against a good MAC defensive unit, it could spell trouble for the Buckeyes later on through their Big Ten schedule. The Bulls’ strong pass-rush will make it tempting for Miller to take off and run whenever he feels pressure, yet he needs to use this game to start making a habit of keeping his eyes downfield and looking to pass first whether it’s in the pocket or on the run.
Miller had a completion percentage of 58.3 percent in 2012 and Buckeye coaches say they want between 67-70 percent this season. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman told ESPN that the playbook is much more condensed this year to allow Miller to have a better understanding of the team’s core routes and the coaches are focusing on doing a better job calling more high-percentage throws for him. Tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett are two guys Miller will likely rely heavily on and play a large role in the offense. Both Heurerman and Vannett can block as well as catch, so neither one of them will have to come off the field when the team is running the no huddle. Watch for some quick passes to freshman Dontre Wilson, who can take it to the house on any given play.
The light has turned on for all the quarterbacks in the second year of Urban Meyer’s system (Josh Harris, Alex Smith, Chris Leak and Tim Tebow) and this year will be no different with Miller. Starting with the first game vs. Buffalo, expect Miller to look like a completely different quarterback than he was a year ago. In addition to having arguably the best offensive line in the country, there are just too many playmakers on offense for the Buckeyes for the Bulls to keep up.
Prediction: 42-13 Buckeyes
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