COLUMBUS — As quarterback Braxton Miller’s struggles carried into the second half at Northwestern, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said aloud the question many were thinking.
"Tom, should we get Kenny ready?" he asked his offensive coordinator, perched high in the press box.
"Yeah, we should," Tom Herman answered.
"And that was the last of the discussion, really," Herman said. "I don't know if that's when we had a turnover, but [Meyer] said, ‘Braxton is going in.’ And I said, 'Good, I think that's the right thing to do.'”
Days later, given time to reflect on the fourth-ranked Buckeyes’ 40-30 comeback win, he feels the same way.
The Buckeyes’ staff is using their first bye week to reacquaint with family — "You actually get to see your kids awake," defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said — recruit, and perhaps as important, self-evaluate.
Herman has turned his scouting eye inward on an offense that continues on a historic pace. What has gone right through the first six games? What hasn’t? And what the heck to do with Miller and backup Kenny Guiton?
He finds most of the picture pleasing. They have one of the nation’s most dynamic quarterbacks, a re-established Carlos Hyde running behind an offensive line — led by senior left tackle Jack Mewhort — Meyer calls the strength of the team, and a coveted balance. The Buckeyes’ 19 touchdown passes are on course to smash the single-season school record, while their 280.7 rushing yards per game ranks 12th nationally.
Still, Herman wants more. He wants more consistency from Miller, more yards after the catch from a significantly improved roster of receivers, and more production from freshman Dontre Wilson — the secret weapon who is no longer a secret.
Miller, for now, remains the undisputed starter because of how he navigated a rugged performance. A week after matching a career-high with four touchdown passes, he had three turnovers and completed only 10 of his last 21 passes. But even as his fan-favorite backup got warm, Herman was impressed that Miller’s demeanor never betrayed his underwhelming play. Miller remained upbeat on the sideline and delivered on the game-winning touchdown drive, his quick-strike passes all on target.
"The thing I was most proud of is every coach on the sideline was telling me his demeanor was great, and he was still talking and still active," Herman said. "He was great with me on the headset. That told me we had at least crossed one hurdle from last year when things started to go south."
Herman said OSU’s decision to ride Miller had nothing to do with concerns of rattling the star’s confidence or kindling a QB controversy.
"No, if that decision was made to [bench Miller], you deal with anything that comes of that afterward," he said. "We have one responsibility, and that's to win the football game."
Beyond the progress of Miller, Herman said the offensive staff’s other bye-week focuses are designing more plays to get the ball to receivers on the run and increasing Wilson’s role.
Herman wants less hitches and bubble screens — both of which the Buckeyes have used successfully — and more short to mid-range passes with home run potential.
"I don't know if we have a guy that can catch a hitch and make a corner miss and take it 80 yards," he said. "But we've got guys that if we can get them the ball on the run, we can get more yards."
As for Wilson, the Buckeyes just want to involve the 5-foot-10, 174-pound burner — period. Wilson arrived with outsized hype and showed bursts of big-play potential in the first three games, but opponents came to learn the hybrid threat was, in Meyer’s words, a "novelty." If No. 1 was on the field, he was getting the ball, and defenses began to adjust.
Wilson did not touch the ball against Northwestern.
"So we're working really hard over the bye to make him a football player, not just a hood ornament," said Meyer, noting Wilson needed to become a better blocker.
Said Herman: "He’s got to be able to play different positions and it not be a red flag that, ‘Hey, this guy is getting the ball or getting faked the ball.’ He's just got to go out and be trustworthy as a regular guy, whether it be the slot receiver, or whether it be in the backfield."
SAVE THE DATE: OSU announced a series of changes to its 2015 football schedule.
As expected, the Buckeyes will open the season on a Monday night at Virginia Tech. Originally scheduled for Sept. 26, the Labor Day showdown will be televised by ESPN. OSU also added home games against Hawaii (Sept. 12) and Western Michigan (Sept. 26) and shifted a previously scheduled visit from Northern Illinois (Sept. 19).