Buckeyes fan or not, everyone can probably agree that news of Braxton Miller potentially missing the 2014 season due to a recurring shoulder injury sacks, for lack of a better word.
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) August 19, 2014
Of course, it’s a much worse proposition for Miller, his Ohio State teammates and head coach Urban Meyer.
The Buckeyes are preseason favorites to compete for a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff and Miller is projected as one of the leading Heisman Trophy candidates per Bovada odds. The talented, dual-threat quarterback drives the Buckeyes offensive engine.
But injuries have also plagued him throughout his Ohio State career. Ohio State heads into its Week 1 contest with Navy winner of 24 consecutive regular season games, some of which were won with Braxton Miller sidelined.
Kenny Guiton offered Meyer a more-than adequate contingency plan. Last season, Guiton went on a tear with 10 passing touchdowns in just two games filling in for Miller. He finished the 2013 campaign with 19 total scores–14 through the air, five on the ground.
Guiton’s performance in Miller’s absence could sufficiently talk some Buckeyes faithful off the proverbial ledge. So too is Meyer’s track record with quarterbacks.
At Bowling Green, Josh Harris rushed for 20 touchdowns and passed for 19 in the 2002 season. Thirty-nine total touchdowns is a remarkable total for today’s wide-open offensive era; 12 years ago, it was downright staggering.
Alex Smith developed into a No. 1 overall NFL draft pick under Meyer’s tutelage. And, of course, Meyer coached one of the most celebrated college quarterbacks of all time in Florida’s Tim Tebow.
Ohio State’s seamless transition with Guiton behind center is another achievement for Meyer’s quarterback resume, but Guiton was also an outlier. Programs rarely have a player of Guiton’s ability who also have his level of experience; most transfer.
Neither current Buckeye back-up has much experience. Redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones took 39 snaps in mop-up duty last season, giving him the experience advantage of J.T. Barrett. However, reports out of Ohio State fall camp earlier this week had the redshirt freshman Barrett leading in the competition to follow Braxton Miller on the depth chart.
That competition for the No. 2 spot seemingly becomes a battle for No. 1. Urban Meyer doesn’t have the rock-solid Plan B available as he did a year ago.
Moreover, Guiton’s production could be both aberration and illusion. His gaudy numbers were produced primarily against weak opponents San Diego State, Cal and Florida A&M.
His most meaningful performance came in the fourth quarter and overtime of the Buckeyes’ too-close-for-comfort win over Purdue in 2012. Miller came out with an apparent head injury and Ohio State trailing, but Guiton engineered two scoring drives to down the middling (at best) Boilermakers.
None of which is meant to slight Guiton; on the contrary, it’s more in praise of Braxton Miller. In other words, Meyer may have a knack for developing quarterbacks, but that doesn’t mean replacing his No. 1 is as simple as just plugging something else in there. Just ask John Brantley.
The prospect of replacing Miller is doubly vexing in that the Buckeyes return just one starting offensive lineman.
Miller had a proven ability to compensate for blocking inadequacies with his explosiveness out of the pocket. In last year’s Big Ten Championship loss to Michigan State, Miller’s scrambling almost singlehandedly kept Ohio State’s BCS title hopes alive against Sparty’s swarming defense.
Quarterbacks coach Tom Herman told BuckeyeGrove.com Barrett was impressive in preseason workouts, specifically citing the redshirt freshman’s comfort with the run game.
“[Barrett] is probably completing more balls and making more of the right reads and more of the right reads in the run game but at the end of the day the offense moves when he is in…[N]ot that Cardale is doing a bad job, but the offense moves more frequently when J.T. is the quarterback and that is the sign of a good [quarterback].”
High praise, but much easier to apply for a projected No. 2 in practice than it is to an unproven No. 1 in a game. The Buckeyes’ title hopes may now hinge on Barrett making that leap.