Friday, July 1, 2011

The Replacements: Braxton Miller

So by now you're probably thinking: uh, Braxton Miller? Braxton Miller it is. Is this not why you are here? /Gladiator

This concludes HTR's necessary and not a product of boredom look into the Buckeye quarterback situation. We are 75% through and so far the aforementioned situation looks...grim. Does Braxton Miller bring enough to to the table to make Buckeye fans feel comfortable going into the season, and, conversely, is he good enough/will he good enough to put fear into the hearts of Michigan fans everywhere?

The Basics 

Early enrollee Braxton Miller could start the first five games of Ohio State's season while Terrelle Pryor serves his suspension.

Braxton Miller hails from Huber Heights, OH and is an alum of Wayne HS (which also the alma mater of former Buckeye All-American Will Allen. Miller was a highly regarded prospect, receiving 4 stars from both Scout and Rivals. The early enrollee has some size, standing at 6'3'' but a slight 185; he will certainly need to add some weight, assuming he hasn't already since matriculating to campus. He's not Terrelle Pryor but he's also not Troy Smith; size-wise, think somewhere in between. Miller is one of two quarterbacks in OSU's 2011 recruiting class, the other being Cardale Jones, who seems to be headed for Fork Union Military Academy ($) and won't be on campus until January. Leaving Jones out of the equation, this marks the third class in a row in which the Buckeyes have reeled in only one quarterback. Take that for what it's worth.

Miller led Wayne to a solid 11-4 record in 2010 in Ohio's Division I, ultimately bowing out in the state championship game 28-35 against undefeated St. Edward (which, for a point of reference, is where Buckeye de-commit Kyle Kalis goes to school). Despite blowing a 21-7 second half lead, Wayne could not have asked for more from Miller, who accounted for all of Wayne's scoring, going 15/24 through the air for 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns while also rushing for 64 and two more touchdowns. Miller did throw two picks, however, with one being returned to Wayne's own 16. All in all, it sounds like he performed fairly admirably and this game was a classic case of a high school star not getting enough help from his team. Below is some footage of the aforementioned proceedings:

A nice Tate-esque move at 1:08, reminiscent of the Cover 0 touchdown run against the Irish in '09.

Perhaps most importantly, in my opinion, is his offer list; Miller's is about as impressive as a 4-star's can be without actually being a 5-star, netting offers from Notre Dame, Alabama, USC, Florida, Michigan, and a number of others. A 6'3'' guy with great mobility and a live arm equals that offer sheet.

The Numbers

Being an early enrollee, he of course does not have any college stats (are you noticing a trend?) other than April's spring scrimmage, which will be mentioned shortly. As far as his high school career, his senior season saw him pass for just south of 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 467 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground. Naturally, as a high school quarterback with wheels, it's not surprising to see that run-pass split; if you can run by college athletes then odds are you can (and will) run around 99% of high school athletes. At this point, his passing stats shouldn't be a huge concern at this point, although you'd like to see a little better accuracy (53% in 2010), but the caveat of "how good were his receivers" applies as always.

Spring Game Hype/Notes

Wherever you went, the narrative was always the same: Miller was the heir apparent until Pryor returned from his suspension; obviously, things have changed. Now, it's clear that he's going to be asked to be much more than just a plug in the dam.

Of course, in his quest to provide hilariously uninformative commentary from sea to shining sea, one Jon Gruden took in the Ohio State spring scrimmage, opining in The Lantern:

"They've got a hot-shot guy in here from Dayton. No. 5 is all I know. Braxton is his name. He's pretty darn good."
THIS GUY. Jon Gruden knows his name and his number, and you're darn right that's all he needs to make an assessment.

Our Honor Defend weighs in on Miller's performance:

"He was probably the best quarterback down the stretch, catching the eye of the Big Ten Network broadcast booth."
Not that getting praise from anybody affiliated with the BTN is something to write home about, but the assessment is probably correct. The Dispatch cites difficulties in grasping the offense, leading OSU to simplify things in the form of a "Just Go Play" offense, which sounds like the play you run every play in every game of tackle football with your friends ever ("ok man, just look for me, I'll be so open after this double move"), but he's a youngster so it's understandable. He didn't have the spring game that Tate did in his first year, but given the differences in defensive talent...yeah. Try not to think about it.

Miller went a respectable 7/12 for 73 yards with one touchdown passing and one rushing. There is no doubt he is the most talented of the Buckeye quarterbacks. Whereas Graham's weakness is having the mobility of John Navarre, Guiton's is his generally Tayshaun Prince-esque physique, and Bauserman's is being Joe Bauserman, Miller's only glaring weakness at this point is his youth. Miller makes his first appearance at 3:15:

His first drive is pretty rough, but it does feature a zone read...something to keep an eye on as the season goes on. However, there were some definite accuracy issues, which may well have been nerves. The ones that fell incomplete were way off, and he got pretty lucky to have one completely off-target pass get reeled in one-handed by Stoneburner. But, the pieces are all there for a very good quarterback. The question is, will they all come together in time for the season and big games against the Canes and Spartans early on?

Pointless Prognostication

I'll go ahead and say it...Miller reminds me of a taller version of Tate (same number, too). As it stands, Miller clearly represents the greatest opportunity to replace or partially replace the skills that Pryor brought to the offense. Miller has enough size to be successful at 6'3'', but anything less than 190 is dangerous territory for a quarterback. You obviously don't want to lose any of that mobility, but ten pounds or so of additional muscle would be ideal for Miller, who might not be able to escape the flailing tackle attempts of college defenders the way he did in high school.

Miller is not the athlete that Pryor was. Not that many quarterbacks are. However, Miller certainly has the ability to be a much better passer than Pryor. Unfortunately for OSU, that probably won't be this year. Miller brings above average athleticism for a quarterback with the invaluable ability to pinball and wiggle his way through the wash to gain an extra yard or two. Despite all the criticism of Pryor on and off the field, he had a very strong 2010, passing for close to 2,800 yards at a 65% clip and a 25:12 TD to interception ration. Pryor also contributed 754 yards and 4 touchdowns on the ground. Can Miller conceivably replace even a sizable portion of that production? He's a good player and will likely be up for First Team All-Big Ten one day, but that is just too much to ask. Combined with a corps of wideouts that has some talent but isn't exactly proven as of right now and you could say the Ohio State offense will see a significant drop in effectiveness and production.

However, at the end of the day, Miller is the best option the Buckeyes have. If I had to rank them based on what the depth chart should look like on September 3rd, it'd be:

1) Miller
2) Bauserman
3) Guiton
4) Graham

A couple of caveats: I think Graham has a much higher upside than Guiton (and certainly Bauserman), but his youth, already extensive injury history, and complete lack of the ability to get anywhere moderately quickly hurts him. Bauserman at the back-up spot is completely tentative; he is awful and I only put him there because coaches love sticking with the old guy for way too long. Either way, if OSU has to play any of the Bauserman-Guiton-Graham triumvirate, they are in serious trouble. OSU might not start 5-0 but they can certainly hide Miller's youth and inaccuracy enough to be 4-1. OSU will have to lean on their defense and their ground game but that isn't anything new for That Team Down South.

In the Bauserman preview I said:

Bauserman is basically the default starter on September 3rd if Fickell prioritizes "experience" like a lot of coaches do. Unless somebody else makes a significant push in the fall, it's hard not to see Bauserman at least taking the first snaps of the 2011 season. Like '08 with the Pryor for Boeckman switch in the USC game, I see Miller taking over at some point during the Miami game.
Honestly, Miller probably takes over before the Miami game, if not from the get go. And that's all I have to say about that. After so much careful consideration of the Buckeyes, it's time for some good-old fashioned trolling, Toothpaste For Dinner style:

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