With Braxton Miller, it always was going to be the legs that got him — and Ohio State — into trouble. The worry was that the quarterback would break free on one of his zigzag scrambles, take a hit and be lost for the season.
As it turns out, Miller’s Achilles’ heel is not located on his lower limbs but about 5 feet off the ground. Already hampered by a sore right (throwing) shoulder that has been slow to heal following February surgery, the senior reinjured the shoulder yesterday during afternoon practice and might be lost for the season.
Now what? If Miller is forced to miss the entire season, the Buckeyes no longer have Kenny Guiton to back him up.
In place of Kenny G, who now plays in the Arena Football League, Ohio State would need to rely on sophomore Cardale Jones and redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett. Are they capable? Maybe. All we know is that both are a dropoff from Guiton, the fill-in who could have started for half the major college football teams in the nation last year.
“By no stretch of the imagination are we where we were at that position with Kenny Guiton, arguably the best backup in college football the last two years,” Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman said yesterday before Miller was injured.
That bullfrog sound was Buckeye Nation gulping.
Take heart, however, because Herman was not finished.
“But I’m not worried,” he said. “Both those guys (Barrett and Jones) are able (enough) to where you can win games with them right now.”
You will note that Herman did not specify which games. Navy? Probably. Kent State? Yes. Virginia Tech? More iffy. At Michigan State on Nov. 8? Ribbit.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves because the only game that matters at the moment is the timing game. How long will Miller be out? Ohio State might manage to remain afloat through September (although facing Cincinnati on Sept. 27 could prove a big challenge), but it is hard to see the Buckeyes advancing through November without a loss if Miller misses the regular season.
Even with the two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year, Ohio State is no lock to win the East Division, much less qualify to the four-team College Football Playoff.
Assuming Miller will miss a considerable chunk, what do the Buckeyes have in Barrett and Jones?
Barrett appears to have moved ahead of Jones and likely would be the starter. The Texan from Wichita Falls was the first quarterback fully recruited by Herman and Urban Meyer in the 2013 class.
“The offense moves better when (Barrett) is in there,” said Herman, who also said earlier this week that Barrett gets the ball out quickly, owns a smooth and efficient release and is “extremely cerebral.”
“And he is a very magnetic leader,” Herman said. “I think the kids kind of gravitate towards him.”
“We’ve got to work on strengthening his arm. He’s a distant third in terms of Braxton and Cardale … of just rearing back and trying to throw it through a wall. But he makes up for it in anticipation and his accuracy. You don’t have to have a howitzer to be successful in college football.”
You do, however, need to remain healthy.
In a sense, Miller’s setback simply arrived early. Calling him injury-prone seems too harsh, but the dual-option threat has a history of getting injured during games.
The latest ding occurred during the Orange Bowl, a loss to Clemson on Jan. 3, when Miller was hit after throwing a pass during the first series. He toughed it out but clearly was limited. After the February surgery, he sat out spring practice and was limited during the first two weeks of fall camp.
Then came yesterday, when Miller reportedly was injured while throwing a routine pass, without being hit. And not by taking a shot while on the run.
You just never know.
Rob Oller is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.