OSU's Braxton Miller to LSU would turn the SEC upside down
The thought of Ohio State senior quarterback Braxton Miller taking advantage of an NCAA rule which allows graduates to transfer for their final year of eligibility, as long as their new school has a graduate program the old school doesn’t offer, is intriguing in a lot of ways.
First of all the chance to see Miller back in action is worth its weight in gold as he’s exciting as it gets. But I truly do believe his presence could swing the pendulum for a team in need of a play-making QB.
As far as our beloved Southeastern Conference goes, many are linking the QB to the Arkansas Razorbacks due to head coach Bret Bielema’s positive experience as the coach at the University of Wisconsin with superstar, and former one-year transfer, QB Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks).
If memory serves me correct, Wisconsin had a clear need at the position due to the graduation of long-time starter Scott Tolzien. They were a team that had designs on a BCS trophy behind a physical offense and an adequate defense.
But after seeing the perspective QBs in the spring game, Bielema decided that experience was a necessity for his senior-laden team.
Wilson, a former all-ACC first-team selection (2008), couldn’t have been a better signing for the Badgers. Coming from Tom O’Brien’s pro-style offensive scheme, Wilson was a scheme-specific fit for Bielema’s play-action based, pro-style outfit.
Although the senior didn’t arrive on campus until July, his understanding of pro-style concepts cut down significantly on the learning curve. Wilson ended up having his best collegiate season — 33 touchdowns opposed to just four interceptions with a 72.8 completion percentage (59.4 was his previous best) — and the Badgers finished with an appearance in the Rose Bowl behind an 11-2 regular season.
While this scenario could definitely see itself work out in the same manner, as it pertains to Miller and Arkansas, there’s one glaring difference: Arkansas already has a senior QB in Brandon Allen who appears to be more than capable of leading a talented Arkansas squad to the promised land next season (click here to read my breakdown on the Hogs).
Arkansas’ difficult 2014-15 season saw steady improvement from both Allen and the team as the season waned on. While many consider Allen to be a game manager, he’s the exact type of QB needed to run the Bielema scheme.
The Razorbacks are arguably in possession of the country’s most potent rushing attack, and the passing attack is usually middle-of-the-field centric as Bielema loves “12” and “22 personnel.” All the Hogs need is a QB that limits turnovers and can hit the occasional explosive play — especially when they find an explosive downfield threat — and their stifling defense will bring it all together.
That’s why I believe that if Miller were to seek an option in the SEC, it’s the uber-talented Louisiana State University that would make the most sense.
How We Arrived To This Point
Outside of University of Alabama front man Nick Saban, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer can lay claim to being the very best collegiate coach the sport has to offer. He’s a proven winner who has shown a propensity for being able to develop personnel to the utmost.
When you face a Meyer-led squad, you can bet your bottom dollar on several things: It will has a ferocious defense full of NFL-caliber personnel; it will have a coaching staff filled with talented coaches; it will have a more-than-capable run game; it will have an explosive playmaker at the QB position: Josh Harris (Bowling Green), Alex Smith (Utah) and Tim Tebow (Florida) immediately come to mind.
As a major proponent of the spread-based offensive attack, Meyer likes to keep an athlete behind center as it essentially ensures his offense outnumbers the defense (when you factor in the QB is always a threat to run).
Tebow, while more of a between-the-tackles power run threat, most exemplified this theory, racking up gaudy numbers in the process. While the stench of a failed professional career may cloud some people’s judgment, the former Florida star is, perhaps, the greatest college football player of this generation (or ever).
After Meyer unceremoniously bolted Florida in 2010 — and subsequently took a year off — it didn’t take him long to discover a new star as Miller was already on campus at State having played as a freshman under then head coach, now defensive coordinator, Luke Fickell.
The 6’2″, 215-pound Miller has 4.4 40-yard dash speed and is built similar to an every-down running back. He has adequate arm strength and is a threat to break an explosive play anytime the ball is in his hands.
He earned freshman of the year honors and brought home the Big 10 Player of the Year award the following two seasons. It’s as if Miller is Tebow 2.0 as he’s even more athletic and has steadily improved as a passer.
It all culminated with Miller generating 24 passing TDs, opposed to just seven INTs, for 2,094 yards (63.5 completion percentage), while rushing for 1,068 yards with another 12 TDs on the ground last season.
And when it looked as though Ohio State had a prime chance to win it all coming into the season, Miller suffered a season-ending shoulder surgery two weeks prior to the season.
But in typical Meyer fashion, redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett epitomized the next-man-up theory leading the Buckeyes to an 11-1 finish in the regular season and looking every bit like college football’s next superstar in the process (34 TDs, 10 INTs, 2,834 yards with a 64.6 completion).
While Barrett may not be quite the athlete Miller is, rushing for 938 yards, with 11 TDs, says he’s definitely in the ballpark. And when Barrett recently went down with a season-ending injury of his own, redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones stepped up and won the MVP of the Big 10 Championship Game placing Ohio State in the College Football Playoff.
So needless to say Meyer has an embarrassment of riches at the QB position. He could potentially have the next three seasons with Barrett at the helm — with Jones potentially serving as the backup for two.
Or he could turn back to Miller for one season only to have the super senior looking over his shoulders with every little mistake; Miller’s transfer could potentially be a win-win situation for all parties involved.
Scheme-Specific Fit With LSU
There’s no doubting that Miller could eventually learn the nuances of a pro-style attack, like the one he’d be etched in at Arkansas, but he’d only have one year to get up to snuff. While he’s rarely lauded for his pro prospects, he’s shown marked improvement in his ability to distribute the ball from the pocket.
But in the Arkansas offense he’d perform primarily under center opposed to being in Shotgun, virtually exclusively, like at Ohio State. He’d also have to get used to performing back-to-the-defense play-action fakes, resetting and delivering the ball with accuracy in the short-to-intermediate game.
At LSU, a lot of the concepts Miller learned at Ohio State would be in play: read-option runs, heavy Shotgun ball-handling, designed QB power and plenty of downfield passing. While coordinator Cam Cameron does run a version of a pro-style offense (mostly with the vertical-passing game and certain run elements), the spread element became very evident in his scheme this past season.
Incumbent QB Anthony Jennings has shown promise, at times; he’s decent in the run game; he’s innately a play-maker; he’s a scheme-specific fit. But Miller is far superior in every category at this point in his career.
Freshman QB Brandon Harris also showed a little bit of promise, but the fact that he couldn’t beat out a struggling Jennings reminds me of when highly touted QB Russell Shepard couldn’t beat out much-maligned starter Jordan Jefferson a few seasons ago.
And ultimately multiple BCS National Championships were lost.
Here we see Harris executing a read-option keeper under Cameron’s expanded playbook; Miller could do this with his eyes closed.
One season under Cameron would do wonders for Miller like it did for former University of Georgia transfer Zach Mettenberger.
Cameron’s chameleon-like offensive approach would improve Miller’s draft stock while putting him right back in the public eye as he would instantly be the best returning QB in the SEC.
Miller would threaten the defense with his athleticism, which would in turn lessen up coverage for LSU’s bevy of star receiving targets — most notably receivers Travin Dural, Malachi Dupre, John Diarse and Trey Quinn.
The run game, behind super sophomore Leonard Fournette, may be tops in the conference and would be even more so with the addition of Miller. Defensively, LSU returns the premier secondary with highly touted freshman Kevin Tolliver III set to be in the rotation.
Combine the run game and defensive capabilities with the unique skill set of Miller and you could very well have the favorite for the national title next season. It would also allow Harris and Jennings another year to develop with a young roster that could be just as strong the following season.
And with LSU’s reported courtship of the No. 1-ranked JUCO QB Chad Kelly, who recently signed with Ole Miss, you know it’s in the market for more talent at the position.
Make it happen, Braxton.