Terrelle Pryor’s hasty departure from the Ohio State program has left a gaping hole at the quarterback position heading into the 2011 season. 63 days stand between today and a Sept. 3 kickoff against Akron and earlier in the week Head Coach Luke Fickell declared the quarterback position “completely wide open.”
While Fickell is mandated to say something to that effect in order to keep competition high among the four candidates for the job, I hope what he really meant to say was, “the position belongs to Braxton Miller.”
The 6’2’’ 190 lbs dual-threat freshman will give Ohio State the best chance to win, starting him from day one will only benefit the program moving forward.
ESPN recruiting coordinator, Craig Haubert, called Miller, “the most important quarterback pickup [for Ohio State] in the last decade.” That’s high praise considering Pryor was the most sought after QB recruit in the nation in 2008. However, Pryor was loved due to his freakish athletic skills, not because of his abilities as a passer. In college a QB can get away with an unpolished arm if he is the best athlete on the field and Pryor benefited from this maxim in a big way.
According to Haubert, “Braxton can bring a similar level of athleticism…but Braxton can do more as a passer at a younger stage. If he can handle it mentally, he has the physical tools of a QB and the running element,” said Haubert. “Early on in his career, he can do more in the passing game.”
What we have here is a player less in the mold of a Terrelle Pryor and more in the guise of a Troy Smith: an athletic QB who can use his legs, but has the mechanics in place to develop a dangerous passing game.
Any head coach trying to select a new QB must evaluate talent, but he must also determine which player will mesh best with the established starters on the squad. Fickell is in the precarious position of heading into the first five games without key elements of his starting offense. Some argue this is the reason to start senior Joe Bauserman, opting to go with experience over raw talent during a rough transition period.
Experience is something Bauserman definitely has. He will be 26 by the time Ohio State enters Lincoln to take on the Cornhuskers, he’s been in the system for three years and he knows the offense well. In limited appearances last season he went 16 of 22 for 174 yards and threw two touchdowns against Eastern Michigan and Purdue
But Bauserman is also a statue in the pocket with very little mobility. The five game suspension of senior lineman, Mike Adams, will leave a 6’8’’ 308 lbs hole at offensive tackle. Couple that with the fact that the offense will fail to field their most talented wide receiver and their most polished running back for the first five games, and visions of Bauserman’s body being driven into the ground by the more talented defensive lines of Miami and Michigan State dance in my head.
The current situation is similar to the QB conundrum faced by OSU in 2004. The Buckeyes had an immobile pocket passer in Justin Zwick and an offensive line that had issues keeping defensive linemen out of the backfield. Heading into the sixth game of the season at Iowa the Buckeyes were 3-2 having lost their previous two games. On their first possession of the third quarter, down 10-0, Zwick was sacked and fumbled. The sack would make No. 13 on the season for Zwick and he was injured on the play.
Enter Troy Smith, a dual-threat QB with an arm who could elude defenders and make a play. Smith would go on to start the last five games of the season, winning four of them. In the final regular season game of the year against Michigan, Smith put up ridiculous numbers going 13 of 23 for 241 yards and two TDs with an additional 145 yards and one TD on the ground.
I’m not saying Miller will be the next Smith, but I am saying a QB who can keep a play alive with his feet while also keeping his eyes downfield makes everyone on an offense trying to find its footing better. With a lack of proven playmakers on that side of the ball during suspensions, the Buckeyes need an electrifying presence under center.
Miller has shown he can be exactly that. He was the most impressive QB during the spring game, going 7-12 for 73 yards and one TD. He constantly found his own passing windows, made plays with his legs and was able to pass fairly accurately on the run. In addition, he led the team on the longest drive of the day, a 93-yard gem that was capped off by a Jordan Hall rush for a touchdown.
No offense to Kenny Guiton or Taylor Graham, but Miller is the future at quarterback. Guiton, a junior, has shown flashes of potential but has never been able to pass Bauserman on the depth chart. Graham, a freshman, is a Buckeye legacy (his dad Kent Graham played QB for OSU in 1990 and 1991) with a great arm, but he lacks the playmaking ability of a Braxton Miller.
So, the decision comes down to Bauserman or Miller to start, and if Fickell is interested in the future of the program he should tap Miller. The freshman might make more mistakes than Bauserman early on, but he will be far more valuable when plays start to break down. Fickell won’t redshirt Miller, so why waste half a season or more of Miller’s eligibility behind the less talented Bauserman?
The position will be Braxton Miller’s soon, but it should be his now. My hope is that Fickell chooses ability over experience and the future over the past in his first year as head coach.
Follow Jeff on Twitter @JeffMBeck