A season ago, Braxton Miller had just finished the least impressive game of his young Ohio State career. Then a freshman and in the second start of his college career, the Buckeyes' quarterback completed just half of the 10 passes that he attempted for a measly 56 yards and one interception in OSU's 10-7 loss against Michigan State.
Rushing the ball, Miller was uncharacteristically less effective, turning nine recorded run attempts into a loss of 27 yards before eventually being replaced by senior quarterback Joe Bauserman. Now known for making big plays with his feet, Miller's longest rushing attempt against Michigan State went for a whole three yards last season.
Saturday against the Spartans, however, it was a different story.
On the first play of this year's Big Ten battle between Ohio State and Michigan State, Miller eclipsed his rushing total against the Spartans from a season ago when he took off on a 20-yard run to set the tone on the game-opening drive that led to a 1-yard Jordan Hall rushing touchdown. The sophomore quarterback's big run was just the first of his 23 running attempts that led to an 136-yard effort in the Buckeyes' 17-16 win over MSU.
Having watched film of the last time that Miller took on the Spartans' defense, first-year Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman was clearly blown away by the strides that his quarterback has made in the last 365 days.
"Oh my gosh, yeah," Herman said when asked if the difference between Miller's two performances against MSU was tangible. "You watch the film last year and it was a deer in the headlights. And for good reason. It was his second start, he's 18-years-old and he was 195 pounds and really didn't know what he was doing. So for him to put the time in these last 12 months to embrace the offense, learn the offense, learn what his role is going to be and perform the way that he did is really a testament to him and his work ethic."
It wasn't just running the ball where Miller looked like an entirely different player. With the Buckeyes trailing 13-10 with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter, Miller found wide receiver Devin Smith in stride for a 63-yard touchdown that proved to be the game-winning score and perhaps the biggest throw of his Ohio State career.
"I'm telling you, the kid can throw it," Herman said. "The kid played tough, he played hard, he put the team on his back."
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer took credit for the play call that led to Miller's game-winning touchdown pass. Miller, for his part, spotted out the type of coverage that the Spartans were playing, which isn't something that he couldn't have been counted on to do a year ago, when he admitted that we wasn't capable of reading opposing defenses.
"It was press man," Miller said, describing the Spratans' coverage. "Always the good guys win."
While Miller made noticeable strides on Saturday, he wasn't without his faults. The OSU quarterback was responsible for all three of his team's turnovers, throwing one interception and fumbling twice.
But perhaps indicative of the maturity that he's gained in a full calendar year, Miller never let his giveaways get in his head or prevent him from making the plays that it took for the Buckeyes to pick up their first conference and road win of the Meyer era.
"You just gotta forget about it," Miller said. "It's football. Things happen."
Although not happy with Miller's three turnovers, Herman will take the bad with the good of his quarterback's performance, especially considering what the Buckeyes got from him a season ago.
"Obviously we have to look at the turnovers and correct that. We're not going to win many games on the road in the Big Ten turning the ball over three times, but that's an easy fix," Herman said. "There's no doubt that he's the fuel in our engine."