Ever since Kenny Guiton warmed up behind the Ohio State bench in Evanston, Ill., four weeks ago, Braxton Miller never looked back.
He didn't have to look over his shoulder.
He could feel Guiton breathing down his neck.
Since Miller's starting position was challenged against Northwestern — the offense was stagnant and Miller struggled that night — he has played his best football at quarterback for the Buckeyes.
So much so that Miller could breathe life back into a Heisman Trophy campaign. While that's a longshot, Miller's playing his team into the national title picture isn't.
In his last two games, Miller has completed 40 of 51 passes for 474 yards and five touchdowns. He has gained 170 yards on 29 carries and scored two touchdowns as well.
"I don't think it's a coincidence," head coach Urban Meyer said of Miller blossoming since the coaches were on the verge of making a change.
"I think he knows, and I've told him ... if our center doesn't play well, we're going to make a change. He knows that. He's not used to being second fiddle. I love him to death. He's like a son to me. We get along great. But he knows I have a job to do, and that's to make sure the best players are on the field.
"The guy behind him happens to be a very good player, very good leader."
Miller's passing ability is remarkably better than it was a year ago. The junior is completing 70.6 percent of his passes (89 of 126). He has 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions.
And Meyer believes there is still room for improvement.
For example, against Penn State, Meyer pointed to four plays where he showed Miller on film the quarterback panicked under pressure and lost sight of his check-down option.
"He cowboyed it a few times," Meyer said. "He needs to know where his check down is. He panicked in the pocket three or four times ... that's a problem. That's not good quarterback play."
This is the point in the season, however, where a demanding Meyer becomes more demanding. He believes his offense, which produced 686 yards in the Penn State win, can play even better.
They head to Purdue on Saturday to play the struggling Boilermakers. Meyer, again, wants to see improvement.
He isn't just talking about quarterbacks now.
"When you recruit fairly well, they know there's a guy right behind you," Meyer said. "If you want to go take a few plays off, there will be someone else in there. That's when you start getting a good program. (Braxton) knows the guy behind — the friggin' stadium is calling (Guiton's) name. He better be pretty good."
Ohio State's offense is playing at such a high caliber and scoring so many points, though, the offensive coaches feel like there isn't a thing unavailable to them to call on game day. The Buckeyes are fifth in the country at 47.3 points a game.
Page 2 of 2 - What Meyer has created in two seasons is a competitive atmosphere in the locker room. When Carlos Hyde found himself dodging legal problems from an altercation in a nightclub, Meyer didn't hesitate to sit him for three games, although no charges were filed.
That's easier to do with Jordan Hall and freshman Dontre Wilson good enough to start for the Buckeyes. Now Hyde is playing with a sense of urgency.
Meyer essentially said his receivers were the laughingstock of the offense a year ago. Now?
They're a strength.
None of that, including Miller's development, happens without internal competition.
"Fundamentally, he's a much better player than he was a year ago, and knowledge of the offense (has improved)," Meyer said of Miller. "Those are two things I see every day. The thing we can't do, and I challenge our coaches and myself all the time, we can't get bored and create new plays because you're bored with the old ones. The old ones work fine, just do it over and over."
Reach Todd at 330-580-8340 or email@example.com
On Twitter: @tporterREP