Ohio State's Braxton Miller making great progress as a passer


The last time Ohio State played at Illinois, in 2011, the Illini were ranked, the Buckeyes were unranked and Braxton Miller completed just one pass in an ugly win.

It's an understatement to say a lot has changed.

Unbeaten Ohio State is third in the BCS standings this week, Illinois has lost 19 consecutive Big Ten games (coincidentally, the loss to the Buckeyes was the first game in that streak) and Miller now might be the best passer in the Big Ten.

In the 2011 game, interim coach Luke Fickell (now Ohio State's defensive coordinator) wanted to lessen the pressure on Miller, who was a true freshman at the time, and relied heavily on tailback Dan Herron. Saturday, expect Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer to let Miller throw it around.

Despite missing two games and almost all of another, Miller is tied for third in the Big Ten with 15 TD passes (just four behind leader Nate Sudfeld of Indiana, who has played in two more games than Miller) and leads the conference in completion percentage (72.5). His 5-to-1 TD-to-interception ratio is the best in the league among quarterbacks with more than 100 passing attempts, too.

Miller has come a long way from 2011 -- and from last season, too. He threw 15 TD passes and six interceptions in 2012, completing just 58.3 percent of his attempts. Only once in the final seven games did he attempt more than 20 passes. This season, he has attempted at least 23 passes in each of the five games since he returned from his injury and attempted at least 25 in three of those contests.

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"Braxton would be the first one to tell you -- Braxton at this point last year, we weren't real fired up at times throwing the ball," Meyer said in his weekly Monday teleconference. " ... We're in a completely different mindset [this season]."

Last season, Ohio State had just one wide receiver with more than three TD receptions (Devin Smith had six) or more than 30 receptions (Corey "Philly" Brown had 60). This season, Brown has 41 receptions and Smith has 38, and they have combined for 14 TD receptions (Brown has eight and Smith six). Granted, some of that production came with backup Kenny Guiton in the lineup replacing Miller, but the upshot is Ohio State coaches trust the passing attack much more than they did last season.

Saturday, Miller will be throwing against a porous Illini defense that is allowing 243.1 passing yards per game. In addition, Illinois has allowed a league-high 18 TD passes and has a league-low two interceptions. Only one team nationally (Kentucky, with one) has fewer interceptions.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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