When they throw the ball, Boise State's Miller gets it

Matt Miller is the man Boise State plans to find within the red zone.

ccripe@idahostatesman.comDecember 24, 2013 

Highlights from 2013 of Boise State junior wide receiver Matt Miller.

IDAHO STATESMAN

  • One November 2 remember for No. 2

    Boise State junior wide receiver Matt Miller was an imposing presence in November. Here are his stats:

    • Colorado State (Nov. 2, road): 6 catches, 96 yards, 2 TD

    • Wyoming (Nov. 16, home): 7 catches, 143 yards, 3 TD

    • San Diego State (Nov. 23, road): 8 catches, 80 yards, 1 TD

    • New Mexico (Nov. 30, home): 9 catches, 111 yards, 3 TD

    • November totals: 30 catches, 430 yards, 9 TD

    • Season totals: 77 catches, 934 yards, 11 TD

— Calm and assertive don’t often mix.

Boise State junior wide receiver Matt Miller, the unassuming star from Montana, has found that balance.

Miller became a focal point of the Broncos football team’s offense in November and an important leader in the locker room during the coaching transition in December.

He’ll be one of the Broncos’ game captains Tuesday for the Hawaii Bowl against Oregon State (6 p.m. MT, ESPN). It’s his fourth such honor this season, including two in a row.

“I am getting more comfortable with that,” Miller said of leadership. “It’s something I also need to get better at. Next year will be one of those years where my voice will need to be heard.”

He already commands respect from coaches, teammates and opponents because of his play.

Miller, who has 77 catches, needs six more in the bowl game to break Jeremy Childs’ school record for a season and 66 yards for his first 1,000-yard season. He needs 25 catches, 682 yards and 15 touchdowns, with as many as 14 games to play next season, to sweep the Boise State career records.

“He’s kind of our workhorse,” junior quarterback Grant Hedrick said. “You throw anything up to him, and he’s going to come down with it. And he’s a great leader. He does everything by example. He doesn’t say a whole lot, but when he does, it’s important.”

Miller is one of the most sought-after recruits the Broncos have landed — he chose them over Arkansas, North Carolina, Oregon State, Arizona State and Stanford. And he has been a standout since his first college game, when he scored a touchdown against Georgia.

“Oh my gosh, I like Matt Miller,” Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. “We recruited him, too — had him in for a visit, had his family here. I really liked him. From afar, I’ve watched his success. He’s just a terrific football player.”

But two-thirds of the way through his junior season, Miller seemed lost in an offensive attack that emphasized tailback Jay Ajayi and slot receiver Shane Williams-Rhodes.

After the loss to BYU in late October, the plan changed.

“He’s really come on,” quarterbacks coach Jonathan Smith said. “We’ve tried to feature him more and more late in the year. He’s a go-to guy on third down and in the red zone.”

Miller’s breakout began Nov. 2 at Colorado State, when he turned to catch a ball thrown behind him in the end zone and outjumped a defender for a second touchdown.

He added three touchdowns — including a circus catch on a tipped deep ball — against Wyoming, picked a pass off a defender’s helmet for a TD at San Diego State and added three more scores in the regular-season finale against New Mexico — for a total of nine in November.

He does much of his damage in the red zone, but the Broncos also have included him more in the deep and screen passing games — plays usually reserved for faster, more nimble receivers.

He has scored on those routes, too.

“Everyone knows when the ball is thrown his direction, something positive is going to happen,” offensive line coach Chris Strausser said. “He’s a great force for us offensively in terms of feeling like if we need something done, he can get it done.”

That emphasis shows up most inside the 20-yard line. Coaches make sure Miller’s route is part of the play progression — not necessarily the first read, but not a decoy either — and tell Hedrick to trust the 6-foot-3, 222-pounder in one-on-one matchups.

“He’s athletic enough to go get the ball,” Hedrick said. “I feel great with that.”

Said Miller: “I must have been really nice to Grant or something. (Offensive coordinator Robert Prince) is just giving me opportunities to go make plays.

“… We talked about it a little bit, but I could definitely tell with the kind of plays we were installing I needed to go out there and play my best ball.”

Miller caught 62 and 66 passes during his first two seasons with the Broncos. His touchdown count dropped from nine in 2011 to five in 2012 and was at two through eight games this season.

Some of that was the quarterback situation. Starter Joe Southwick struggled in the red zone last year, and Hedrick came off the bench in October this year.

By forcing the issue, the Broncos have unleashed a dormant skill in Miller — his ability to make leaping grabs in tight coverage.

“That’s one of the things I’ve really improved on since my first year here,” he said.

He’ll continue his quest to develop more speed in the offseason. He also wants to improve his footwork, which would lead to crisper routes.

He doesn’t track where he stands in the record book and says he isn’t interested in those numbers.

“I want to win as many football games as I can,” he said.

The more involved he is, it seems, the more likely those wins become.

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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