Braxton Miller... is dead.
I'm kidding. He's not dead. But he is done for the entirety of the 2014 football season, and that sucks. For a variety of reasons, actually, not in the least because he's totally badass on the field. Another reason might be that Kenny Guiton is not walking through the door of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center anytime soon, and yet another reason still is that there really isn't a whole lot of experience behind the 2015 Heisman winner.
A few reasons to be optimistic though: Braxton Miller is still Braxton Miller. Last season saw him grow as both a leader, a person expected to understand the offense, and a reader of defenses. Having him on the bench to help whoever steps into his shoes will be invaluable.
Second, and try not to forget this in the next few weeks, this is still Ohio State. The football team is still coached by Urban Meyer. There is still a hilarious amount of talent on this squad, and the quarterbacks (all of them) are no exception. Predictions of gloom and doom a la 2011 are premature at best.
THE Quarterbacks in 2013
Let's talk about Braxton Miller for a little bit, because it's important to make an appraisal of exactly what the Buckeyes are losing for a significant period of time.
Not going to mince words here: last year and the year before, Braxton Miller was the most dangerous overall offensive threat at QB that Ohio State had had since Troy Smith, and you can make the case that at his peak he even eclipsed the Heisman winner at times. Last season, Miller accounted for 36 touchdowns, 12 of those on the ground. He improved his completion percentage by five points to over 63%, and rushed for over 1000 yards despite missing two games against absolute cupcakes.
Against Michigan he only completed six passes, but still somehow ended up with 286 yards of total offense. The Orange Bowl against Clemson was the first time in his entire career that he threw multiple interceptions in a game.
His command of the passing game was still very much incomplete, but he is easily the greatest rushing Buckeye QB of all time from a pure talent standpoint, and that combined with his general ability to take care of the ball in the air meant that he was a genuine Heisman threat.
But blah blah blah, you know this. Braxton is amazing, has a high ceiling, and is the most exciting stoic guy in the world.
Which is great and all, but since the dude can't go, who does? Well...
THE STARTER & BACKUPS?
One of the greatest tragedies about Kenny Guiton is that we don't get to see him play anymore. There was nothing not awesome about a career backup coming off the bench multiple times to kick ass when no one expected him to even playfully swipe a little cheek, and Kenny G stepped up every single time that Braxton hit the mat.
|16||QB||J.T. BARRETT||6-1||225||FR||WICHITA FALLS, TX|
|13||QB||STEPHEN COLLIER||6-3||220||FR||LEESBURG, GA|
|12||QB||CARDALE JONES||6-5||250||SO||CLEVELAND, OH|
|15||QB||LUKE MORGAN||6-2||225||SO||LEBANON, OH|
His smooth jazz is sadly gone, and with him is gone a program vet whose knowledge of the offense, in and out, allowed him to become the folk hero that he was in Columbus last year. In his place are two young men thrust into a position that they probably had not hoped to be in at this point in the year.
Let's start with sophomore Cardale Jones. Cardale has the most "experience" of the remaining QBs, for whatever the hell that's worth. In three games against Florida A&M, Penn State, and Purdue, he threw three times and ran around a lot. Not really anything that inspires confidence, but he's a bigass dude in the mold of a Terrelle Pryor and hard to bring down. Jones was a Tressel-era target who ended up at Fork Union Military Academy after graduating from Cleveland Glenville, and eventually joined the program in 2012. He still has a ton of raw upside and throws footballs like TOW missiles, but as a passer he still has to develop consistency.
Still, that lack of consistency didn't prevent him from looking like the heir apparent in the spring, and were this 2010, you might look at Cardale and then look at what the offense was and go, "Sure, no brainer." Offensive Coordinator Tom Herman might disagree with you, at least for now.
"The offense moves better when he's in there," Herman said of Barrett. "You can throw all the completion percentages – he's probably completing more balls and making more of the right reads in the run game."
And that's what is likely to help win redshirt frosh J.T. Barrett the starting position since Braxton is otherwise indisposed. Part of what made Guiton so valuable was that he could easily slide into Braxton's shoes and make the offense hum. Barrett is all of six foot one and maybe 225 pounds, but if he's as intelligent and charismatic as he's been hyped to be then those intangibles should make up for whatever physical disadvantages that he has versus Cardale.
For what it's worth, even though Barrett doesn't have the cannon that Cardale has, his throwing motion is smooth as silk and he still has some decent wheels. Certainly not the video game moves that Braxton has, but enough to be a threat and add another weapon in his (and Ohio State's) pocket. More important will be his understanding of the offense and how to make the proper read, and given the time that he's purported to spend in the video room, that might be right in his wheelhouse.
But ultimately, if called upon either Cardale or J.T. would be unknown quantities. They both have huge upside, but that upside becomes much more tangible when talking about 2015 or 2016. Not a few weeks from now. Since Braxton is indeed out, the next guy up will have basically two responsibilities: don't turn the ball over through the air, and conduct the rushing game. And right now, that's why J.T. Barrett has the inside edge on the job. Still, "edge" is definitely the operative word here.
Who knows. It's hard not to be doom and gloom during a week where you get told that your Heisman-candidate senior starting quarterback is out for the foreseeable future, and truthfully whatever silver lining for 2014 exists won't be seen until the season actually starts. Maybe Cardale or J.T. will take over and be immediately awesome and this is just a road bump on our way to a national championship.
Or maybe neither of them perform, freshman Stephen Collier is thrust into a job he's not at all prepared for, and Ohio State's offense flounders and eventually tanks.
Probably neither of those things will happen despite Miller going down; Braxton simply means way too much to this offense for his loss to be anything but devastating, but the Buckeyes also have way too many weapons waiting in the wings for them to be completely ineffectual.
What is required is a caretaker QB that can sustain drives, play smart, and facilitate guys like Dontre Wilson, Jalin Marshall, any of the billion running backs, or even maybe a wideout or two sometimes. If Meyer and company can find that in either J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones, this should still be a very difficult team to contend with, perhaps even on a national scale.
- Cardale Jones was WR Mike Thomas' roomie at FUMA
- Please, it is J.T., not JT.
- Stephen Collier is a big ol' smarty pants, and ended up with a 3.9 GPA in high school
- There actually is another QB on the roster, a sophomore named Luke Morgan. He's... uh... good. Also: a walk-on. Yeah.