How much alike are Urban Meyer's QBs?
It wasn't just that Braxton Miller was going to have to learn Urban Meyer's up-tempo spread offense or that Meyer was going to have to tweak it, at least slightly, to play to Miller's strengths.
It was that it had to work.
Four games in, it certainly is working. The Ohio State Buckeyes are a perfectly imperfect 4-0 heading into Saturday's Big Ten opener at Michigan State, and Miller is already one of the most productive players in college football for an offense averaging 37.8 points and 427 yards per game.
Miller has done it mostly with his feet, rushing for 510 yards and seven touchdowns thus far. He's posted big runs both by design and by improvisation, showing an extra gear in the open field and a knack for solid decision-making in short-yardage and goal-line situations, the kind Meyer wants him to show.
The kind some guy named Tim Tebow who used to play for Meyer would make.
The comparisons were inevitable even if they were a little unfair. Tebow played a specialized role for Meyer and the 2006 Florida national championship team, then became the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy in 2007. Tebow scored 57 rushing touchdowns in his four-year college career and threw 83 touchdowns in his final three seasons.
With every big game Miller posts, the comparisons become a little more valid.
On his radio show earlier this month, Meyer said Miller and Tebow are "very similar guys. They're both competitive human beings. They're both very talented people. Braxton has more talent. Tim is probably more of a grinder."
At 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, Tebow was a tank. Miller is listed at 6-2, 220, and that may be a bit generous
Miller, a sophomore, played last year because he had to, starting Ohio State's final six games, and took his share of lumps. He's not likely to keep up his yardage pace as the competition gets better from here on out and defenses adjust, but nobody's betting against him, either.
"He's a dynamic athlete," Meyer said last week, repeating a comment he's been making since the summer. "I used to say Percy Harvin has a great first step because he's incredible. I think (Miller) has great acceleration but he's got an uncanny ability to make guys miss. So he's without a question one of the best athletes in college football. That's a true statement."
Harvin was essentially a wingback at Florida, a guy whose unique talents made the Tebow/Meyer offense that much more dangerous.
In addition to Harvin, Tebow had big targets in the likes of Aaron Hernandez and Riley Cooper. Miller is still developing chemistry with his receivers. Jake Stoneburner isn't near the athlete Hernandez was, but he's a tight end playing mostly a wide receiver's role. Devin Smith has shown a penchant for big and remarkable plays but still isn't consistently making the simple ones.
That and injuries at running back have made Ohio State a Miller-centric offense, and he's delivered.
Tebow logged 603 rushing attempts over his final three seasons. With 67 through four games, Miller is on pace for 201 rushes this season -- about the same Tebow averaged over his last three seasons, topping out at 217 in his senior season. In an ideal world, Ohio State wouldn't subject Miller to that many hits.
In many cases, he's making sure nobody hits him.
"I'm exhausted talking about it, how many hits he takes and all that," Meyer said. "He's going to play quarterback in a spread offense and we're going to do what we're going to go do to win a game."
Meyer has done this before. Before there was Tebow there was Alex Smith at Utah, and before Smith there was Josh Harris at Bowling Green. All ran the spread differently but effectively, with Meyer and his staff molding the offense's tempo and direction around the talent on hand.
Bowling Green immediately ranked among the nation's leaders in scoring and yardage in 2001, Meyer's first year, with Harris ranking among the national individual leaders in both categories. In 2001 Harris posted rushing numbers that rivaled the ones Tebow would post six years later, running 186 times times for 737 yards and 20 touchdowns. This was before most of the country was running the spread, and Bowling Green often operated a tempo defenses rarely saw and often struggled to match.
Smith was athletic and efficient. He rushed for nearly 1,100 yards and 15 touchdowns over two seasons as Meyer's starter but did his best work staying a step ahead of defenses without exposing himself to much harm. In 2004, Smith posted an eye-popping touchdown-to-interception ratio of 32-to-4.
Utah used a tight end, 265-pounds Ben Moa, as a goal-line, single-wing battering ram and the first to use the jump pass. That's the play that gained fame because Florida played so many big games on television -- and because Tebow was not only so good at it, but Meyer said he often exaggerated his jumps.
"Tim was a bit of an extremist," Meyer said.
This weekend, Smith and Tebow play against one another when the San Francisco 49ers visit the New York Jets. Smith said this week that he met Tebow before Tebow's sophomore year, a meeting Meyer arranged and probably one from which Tebow and Meyer benefitted.
Maybe both will soon meet Miller.
He's going to keep posting numbers that will get their attention, though, and those numbers might be good enough to bring Ohio State -- and Miller individually -- the kind of hardware Smith and Tebow brought to their respective teams and schools.
Urban Meyer is just used to it.