As Ohio State prepares to hold a three-way competition for the starting quarterback job this spring, we’re taking a closer look at each of the three talented but inexperienced signal-callers who will be vying to lead the Buckeyes’ offense.
After starting this three-part series with the story of C.J. Stroud, the second installment of “Ohio State’s Next Great Quarterback?” focuses on the Buckeyes’ other second-year quarterback, Jack Miller.
Before Jack Miller even entered his sophomore year of high school, it appeared likely he would one day be competing for Ohio State’s starting quarterback job.
By then, Miller had already started to emerge as one of the top quarterbacks in the recruiting class of 2020, and Ohio State was always viewed as the frontrunner to land him. Miller had interest in the Buckeyes from the beginning of his recruitment, in part because he got to know then-Ohio State coach Urban Meyer when the Buckeyes stayed at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess – the Arizona resort where his father is the general manager and his family lives – during its 2016 trip to the Fiesta Bowl.
Miller received an offer from Ohio State in May 2017, before the end of his freshman year of high school, and made his long-anticipated commitment to the Buckeyes in July 2018. He held true to that commitment even when Ryan Day replaced Meyer as Ohio State’s head coach, and even when the Buckeyes opted to bring in C.J. Stroud as the second quarterback in his recruiting class.
That dedication to becoming a Buckeye made an impression on the head coach who will now lead the way in deciding whether Miller, Stroud or true freshman Kyle McCord will be Ohio State’s new starting quarterback in 2021.
“Jack is somebody that has been committed all along,” Day said after Miller signed with the Buckeyes in December 2019. “He was loyal from the get-go. I watched him throw when he was 16 years old, and I saw something in him, and he never wavered, either. And I think he's got a chance to be a really good player.”
Because Miller finished his recruiting cycle ranked outside the top 300 overall prospects in the class of 2020, whereas Stroud and McCord were both top-50 overall prospects in their respective classes, Miller tends to be viewed as the underdog going into the upcoming quarterback competition.
That said, he was the first quarterback targeted by Ohio State in his recruiting class for a reason. At one point, he was a top-50 overall prospect in the class himself before his injury-plagued final two seasons at Chaparral (Arizona) High School. And while it certainly won’t be easy to beat out Stroud and McCord, Miller isn’t one to back down from a challenge.
“I love competition, I love competing. That’s really what I thrive off of,” Miller told Eleven Warriors in a December 2019 interview after he signed with the Buckeyes. “I feel like you have to have the mindset that says, ‘I’m better than you and I’m gonna do my job to my best ability and you’re not gonna stop me.’”
Brent Barnes had already coached multiple quarterbacks who went on to play at Power 5 colleges by the time he became the head coach at Chaparral in 2018, but he knew he had an uncommon talent in Miller from the first game he coached with the Firebirds.
In that game, Miller threw for more than 400 yards and tossed three touchdowns, including the game-winning touchdown pass in overtime, to lead Chaparral to a season-opening 36-33 victory over Chandler Hamilton.
“It was 3rd-and-goal from the 10, and he threw a fade in the corner that was just dropped in the bucket to win the game. A walk-off,” Barnes told Eleven Warriors. “You don’t get that very often in football, but literally, they had already gone, so all we needed to do was score a touchdown to win. And he completes that and I’m just thinking, ‘This kid’s pretty special.’”
Jack Miller to Marcus Norvell— NationalPrepStars (@NPrepStars) August 18, 2018
for the Game Winner!!! pic.twitter.com/UvzKxlGFP7
Miller won another game on the final play during his senior season at Chaparral, rolling right and lofting a touchdown pass off his back foot under pressure into the back right corner of the end zone to give the Firebirds a 36-35 advantage over Peoria Liberty as time expired.
“Again, not too many people can make that throw, especially given that situation. But the situation was never too big for him,” Barnes said. “He thrived in those situations, and I think that’s what’s gonna help him as he competes there (at Ohio State).”
Even though he was only able to play eight games in his junior year due to a torn MCL and seven games in his senior year due to a separated shoulder, Miller finished his four-year high school career with 9,440 passing yards, with 560 completions on 988 attempts (56.7 percent), and a whopping 115 touchdown passes with 31 interceptions.
Miller also rushed for 1,397 yards and 14 touchdowns during his high school career, which began with one season at Scottsdale Christian Academy before he transferred to Chaparral. Though he – like every other quarterback on the roster – hasn’t yet thrown any passes in his Ohio State career, he did put his running ability on display in last year’s season opener against Nebraska, when he had a 21-yard carry and followed that up with a 2-yard rushing touchdown.
Though Miller admits he’s not quite the athlete Ohio State’s most recent starting quarterback was – “I can run, but don’t expect Justin Fields type of highlights,” Miller said –he demonstrated in high school that he can extend plays under pressure and throw accurately on the run, and Barnes believes Miller deserves more credit than he’s gotten for that aspect of his game.
Altogether, Barnes doesn’t believe Miller has any weaknesses that should prevent him from succeeding at the collegiate level.
“He’s a lot more athletic than he’s given credit for at times, but I know for us, just seeing some of the things that he was able to do for us outside of the pocket and ad-lib, make plays, he’s got special arm talent,” Barnes said. “He just has a great ability to really spin the ball. And also can do it with great accuracy. So it’s a combination of everything. There’s certain guys, you see them, things stand out that are impressive … But with Jack, it was all of it. There wasn’t anything that you really kind of questioned about, ‘Well, can he do this?’”
And despite his injuries and the simultaneous decline in his recruiting rankings, Barnes believes Miller became a better quarterback over the course of his high school career.
“When you’re rated as highly as he was, he only got better from that point,” Barnes said. “So he had some unfortunate injuries. It was something different both times, and it wasn’t anything major, it was just it happened at a bad time and it made him miss four or five games in each season. So that’s the nature of it.”
Even when Miller was sidelined by those injuries, Barnes said he continued to have a “positive, encouraging attitude,” which he considers to be one of Miller’s best qualities. And he said Miller is a natural on-field leader whose Chaparral teammates rallied around him.
“Off the field, he can be a quiet, kind of to-himself guy. He’s fine just being on his own. But when he gets around his teammates at practice and in games and things, he comes completely out of his shell, and just kind of is one of those guys that guys just gravitate towards a little bit because he has that personality,” Barnes said. “He has an infectious emotional attitude, so when he’s really into it and he’s excited and he’s happy, people really respond to it. And the challenge of that is you’re having a bad day, well you gotta shake it off because he just has that infectious ability, which is a great quality to have.”
While Stroud was Ohio State’s backup quarterback by the end of last season, Miller was the first of the two freshman quarterbacks to see playing time in 2020 and finished the season with slightly more snaps (10 to 8) than Stroud. While Stroud finished the 2020 cycle as the higher-ranked recruit of the two, Miller was the quarterback Ohio State pursued first.
Those two things probably won’t have any bearing on how the quarterback competition between them plays out, as that will be determined by how they perform in practices this spring and summer, but they are reminders that Miller should be viewed as more than an afterthought in the competition.
It’s hard to know exactly where Miller is in his development because of the minimal opportunities the quarterbacks had to play last season, but he and Stroud both have one advantage over McCord in that they have already been at Ohio State for a full year. Add in the fact that Miller was a four-year high school starter, and one of the best quarterbacks in the country throughout, and there’s reason to believe he’s ready to make a real push for the starting job.
Given his injury history, staying healthy will be crucial, but a year with Mickey Marotti and the rest of Ohio State’s strength and conditioning staff has surely helped him prepare himself for the rigors of the college game, and Ohio State quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis said last fall that he didn’t think those injuries had held Miller back at all.
“He was ready to go when he got here, and he’s learning the playbook, learning the offense and he’s continuing to do everything that we ask him,” Dennis said.
Miller was already looking forward to competing with McCord and Stroud before he even arrived at Ohio State, saying in December 2019 that he thought competing against those two would be “awesome,” and now he’ll get the chance to actually do so beginning March 19, when Ohio State will hold its first spring practice of the year.
While Miller might not be an odds-on favorite to win the job, you can expect him to bet on himself.
“People can say whatever they want about me, I don’t care, but I'm gonna go out there, I'm gonna do me and I'm gonna get the job done,” Miller said last year.
Barnes has no doubt Miller will do everything he can to put his best foot forward and give himself a chance in the competition.
“When you have a skill set like he does and a competitive spirit, they’re gonna do everything they need to,” Barnes said. “He eats and breathes football. So I’m sure that that’s pretty much what he’s done for the most part, and just give himself every opportunity.”