We're on the precipice of witnessing something special in Columbus. Sure, it's only been two games, but what we've seen from sophomore Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is legitimately awe inspiring.
Miller leads the Big Ten in rushing yardage—not just among quarterbacks, mind you, but the entire conference—and he's third in the Big Ten in passing efficiency. He's the unquestioned leader of that offense and what makes it tick, and as long as he stays healthy, he has a monster year in front of him.
In fact, in order to find a corollary for what Miller's doing for the Buckeyes, one doesn't have to look far—either in the past or on a map—to find a Big Ten counterpart. And loathe as OSU partisans might be to see one of their own compared to a Michigan Man, the way Braxton Miller is looking this year reminds us of another super sophomore—Denard Robinson, circa 2010.
Let's take a closer look.
My God, the Wheels
Now, let's be clear: Nobody's got 10-yard acceleration like Denard Robinson. He makes Dante Hall look like a tractor. So the running styles aren't perfectly similar. That said, both men are utterly lethal in the open field, and that's a measure of both top-line speed and top-level instinct. Rarely will you see either player either get caught from behind or make a misread while in the open field.
And considering these long runs are rarely blocked to be big gainers (unlike, say, a perfectly executed Nebraska triple option with defenders getting toppled 10-15 yards past the line of scrimmage), the fact that Miller and Robinson are and have been that adept at finishing the big runs is what separates them from dozens of other mobile quarterbacks.
Puttin' the Team on His Back
The reason we're picking 2010 Denard Robinson over the Denard Robinson of the next two seasons, however, is the sheer workload Robinson saw under Rich Rodriguez, including both usage and pace of play. There, Robinson rushed for over 1,700 yards and threw for 2,570 more. Miller's passing might not hit that level—Urban Meyer doesn't have his guys running nearly as many deep routes as Rich Rodriguez did—but the rushing is absolutely in play.
No, Braxton Miller isn't going to play UCF and Miami University's defenses over and over for the rest of the season. That would be ludicrous. But there are some rather wretched rush defenses in the Big Ten, and as long as Miller's holding up, his topping 200 yards in one Big Ten game is totally in play.
In fact, given the caveat that this is only after two games, let's extrapolate out how Miller's numbers would look at the end of the year and how they look compared to Robinson's 2010 year.
Robinson 2010: 256 rushes, 1,702 yards, 14 TDs; 182-291 passing, 2,570 yards, 18 TDs, 11 INTs
Miller 2012 (Proj.): 264 rushes, 1,812 yards, 24 TDs; 192-288 passing, 2,172 yards, 18 TDs, 6 INTs
Now, obviously the touchdowns aren't going to keep coming that readily for Miller against a stronger Big Ten. The interceptions will probably rise if Miller throws that many passes, too, though by and large he's at least further ahead as a passer than Robinson was as a sophomore. (That's not saying much about either guy, either.)
But you see where the usage is closely paralleled—including about 20 rushes per game—and that's a pretty insane workload to put on someone. But at the end of the day, it's beyond nice when it works out to about 4,000 yards of total offense coming from just your quarterback.
Still Works in Progress
Now, that said, Denard Robinson was a rather significantly flawed quarterback in 2010, and that was evident every time he threw the ball under pressure. In fact that's still evident. He was fourth in the Big Ten in passing efficiency (and 20th in the nation), but the amount of throws he missed that, say, Kirk Cousins wouldn't have was rather significant.
On that note, Miller isn't throwing opportunities away very often, but as was mentioned several times during the Ohio State-UCF game, his footwork needs plenty of...well, work. The form on the one bad interception Miller threw was Taylor Martinez-esque, and that's a habit Ohio State can't afford for Miller to keep.
But what we see on display already from the sophomore, like what we saw from Robinson in 2010, is exciting and amazing. It gives us ample reason to look forward to the rest of Miller's career, knowing the next great play could be just a snap away.
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