How Bad is Braxton Really?

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Last updated: 05/23/2014 1:37 PM
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Football
Let's Talk About Just How Bad Braxton Miller Really Is
By Tony Gerdeman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Struggling to throw the ball in your final four Big Ten games and throwing a pretty terrible interception at the end of the Orange Bowl is one surefire way to leave a lasting impression upon people.

That was Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller a season ago. He completed just 46.3% of his passes in his final four Big Ten games last season, throwing for a total of 544 yards (136 ypg).

Braxton Miller
Photo by Jim Davidson
Braxton Miller

For a quarterback, those completion numbers are unacceptable, especially for a three-year starter. They leave the kind of taste in your mouth that is usually reserved for unflavored tussin.

Those struggles were absolutely legitimate, and until Miller comes back and proves that it won't happen again, people will continue to draw upon those final four or five games when laying down judgment about Miller and the Buckeyes.

Take these comments from ESPN college football analyst Ed Cunningham on Wednesday:

"I don't care what anybody says, Braxton Miller, when it comes down to it, he's not accurate enough – I don't think – to win a big game. I was in the Big Ten a lot last year and I was shocked at how poor the quarterback play was. Just across the board, there wasn't a team that I studied and said, 'One of those quarterbacks could start in the Pac 12, could start for a good team in the SEC.' I know people talk about Braxton Miller, I haven't seen it yet. I have not seen elite play out of him at the quarterback position. I know he's a good runner. I know he can make things happen. His accuracy is off. His timing is off."

Some of Cunningham's criticism is true. Miller does have accuracy issues, and his timing is indeed off at times. But to say that he wouldn't have started for a single team in the Pac 12 last year is a ridiculous statement, and it makes me question anything else he might want to say on the subject.

When I tweeted Cunningham's comments and posted them on our forum, I was surprised by how many "He's right" type of responses that I received. 

Yes, he's right about some things, but that does not make his comments as a whole correct.

I know Cunningham doesn't have much respect for the Big Ten, but Miller has actually won some big games in his time at Ohio State. As a freshman he led the Buckeyes to a win over #12 Wisconsin, and showed some remarkable accuracy on the game-winning pass if you'll recall.

In fact, Miller is 3-0 against the Badgers in his career. Not too shabby.

No, Miller has not won a bowl game yet, but as Alabama has shown us over the years, losses in bowl games don't really count if they don't happen in the BCS National Championship Game.

If you want to say that he's not accurate enough to win a big game, I won't argue that one too much considering the sliding scale nature of the measurables of what is "accurate enough" and "a big game".

And really, that's not my main point of contention with his statement. For me, it's stating that his knowledge of Pac 12 and Big Ten football convinced him that Miller couldn't start for any of the Pac 12 teams.

(I'm not even going to get into the SEC claim, considering Miller would have absolutely started for the SEC champions last season.)

But for Cunningham to assert that Miller wouldn't have even started for Colorado last year? I don't know if that's willful ignorance or simply terrible analysis. 

To crush this point home a bit, Colorado started two quarterbacks last season because one of them didn't get the job done. Their two starting quarterbacks accounted for 20 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Miller? He accounted for 36 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

After the season, one of those Colorado quarterbacks gave up the game altogether. But Braxton Miller wouldn't have beaten him out? Okay.

Let's not forget that ESPN's own invented standard for rating a quarterback -- the QBR -- has Miller rated higher than all but two Pac 12 quarterbacks.

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley are the only two quarterbacks from the Pac 12 rated ahead of Miller, and both are first-round NFL Draft prospects.

Which now brings me to the Mariota discussion. These Ed Cunningham quotes were a subject on afternoon sports radio here in Columbus, and the point was made that what separates Miller from an NFL prospect like Mariota is accuracy.

That's an easy assumption to make. After all, Miller failed to complete over 50% of his passes in three games last season.

Do you know how many times Mariota did the same?

Three as well.

Marcus Mariota completed 63.47% of his passes a year ago. Braxton Miller? He only completed 63.52% of his passes, and that was while missing games against San Diego State, California and Florida A&M. 

Where is that separation again?

I'm not saying Miller is the quarterback that Mariota is, and I'm not saying he isn't, I'm just saying that Miller's accuracy issues aren't all that rare.

And what about those accuracy issues? In those final four Big Ten games when he was completing just 46.3% of his passes and throwing for only 136 yards per game, he was also rushing for 155.8 yards per game while averaging 9.4 yards per carry.

Even though his passing dipped, he was talented and determined enough to pick up his game in other areas.

In those four games, despite poor passing numbers, he was able to average 287.7 yards of total offense per game. That number was 24 yards more than his season average. Even if you take out the San Diego State game where he only played a few plays, his average for the season still only came to 284.3 yards.

Doesn't there have to be something said for a player who can create production when one area of his game is struggling?

Accuracy is nice, but while people will judge him for sailing a nine-yard out route or skipping a quick hitch, they'll completely ignore the fact that only Jordan Lynch had more runs of at least 30 yards than Miller's 21 the last two seasons. 

Miller still finished 13th in the nation in passing efficiency (158.08), which was more than enough to put him first in the Big Ten in that category.

Even with the accuracy issues that he has, did you know that his 63.5% completion percentage last season was good for third all-time in school history? And his 59.3% career percentage is also good for third all-time in school history, ahead of noted accurate quarterbacks Joe Germaine (59.2%) and Bobby Hoying (58.0%).

If he completes passes at the rate that Tom Herman and Urban Meyer want him to as a senior, then he's got a shot to finish first or second in accuracy in school history. Todd Boeckman is currently first all-time at 63.4% and Troy Smith is second at 62.7%.

If that's what is known as "accuracy issues", then we should all be so fortunate.

And just think about the receivers that those guys were throwing to compared to the ones that Miller is throwing to -- names like Galloway, Glenn, Boston, Holmes, Ginn, Gonzalez, Hartline, etc.

I'm not saying that Braxton Miller is a finished product, or that he doesn't have areas where he can make vast improvements. What I am saying is that he should be appreciated for everything that he has been to this point, because it has been really, really good.

Remember, we're talking about just one of four players since 1924 to win the coveted Silver Football Award twice, and if all goes as planned, he could become the first player to ever win it three times.

Archie Griffin won the Heisman Trophy as a senior, but he didn't win the Silver Football.

Be critical of Braxton Miller's faults if you want, but don't look past everything that he has already done, and will continue to do, because you may not ever see anything like it again.

Keep in mind, Miller is on pace to throw for more yards than any Buckeye in school history, and he should be passing Eddie George for second in rushing sometime in late October or early November.

If that doesn't impress you, then you're just not paying attention.

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