Here's a scary thought: Braxton Miller has a lot of improvement to make as a quarterback. Mind you, this is the same Braxton Miller who came in fifth in 2012 Heisman voting as a sophomore and just landed a Sports Illustrated cover that depicts him going full Kool-Aid Man on a basketball montage. The same Braxton Miller who was the Big Ten's Quarterback of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year. The same one who was fourth in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game and second in passing efficiency by about one point, behind Taylor Martinez.
That Braxton Miller is just now scratching the surface of his potential. Look out.
As Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch noted on Tuesday, Miller spent time with George Whitfield Jr.—one of the top quarterback coaches in the nation—back in December, and Whitfield came away raving about Miller's arm. Here's more from the Dispatch:
“Braxton has one of the biggest arms in college football,” Whitfield said. “I know people see his speed and his playmaking ability. But I am talking about, he’s got rare, rare arm talent.”
Whitfield got the call from Miller in December. Despite coming off the most prolific season of total offense in OSU history, Miller urgently wanted to get started on 2013.
“He said he did not want to wait,” Whitfield said. “He was excited about how Ohio State had gone undefeated, but he said, ‘Coach, honestly, I could have done so much more. I left a lot of plays on the table.’ I was excited about that.”
Whitfield has no need to exaggerate, because as the Dispatch reports, he has worked with such quarterbacks as Andrew Luck, Ben Roethlisberger, Johnny Manziel, Cam Newton...we could go on. You get the point.
Moreover, that arm strength has been on display since Miller's freshman year. Wisconsin fans should probably turn off their computers right now, but for the rest of you readers, surely you remember Miller sinking Wisconsin's battleship with a last-minute Hail Mary to secure a 33-29 win.
Watch the play again. Take special note of how insanely difficult that throw would be. Miller has to escape right, unable to even look downfield until he's past two pursuing tacklers who can only manage to put a hand on him. He's closing on the sideline quickly, to say nothing of the line of scrimmage. He's got a guy breaking open, but about 50 yards downfield—and with no time to set his feet.
No big deal, though. Miller uncorks a beautiful spiral on the run, which finds a waiting Devin Smith for the game-winning score. It'll go in the books as a 40-yard score. The ball actually traveled closer to 49 yards in the air, based on these dimensions and our old friend the Pythagorean Theorem. 49 yards, perfectly placed, on the run and with about a second to identify and aim. And, as Larry Munson would say, "My god, a freshman."
That? That is a rare arm.
Miller didn't have quite as many ridiculous throws in 2012, mainly because he was developing perhaps the most lethal scramble game in college football last year—and that ain't going anywhere—and he was never in the requisite desperation mode to heave-ho one of those passes instead of taking off for an easy first down (as he could have in the Wisconsin highlight above).
But one play in particular stood out as a further affirmation that Miller is the most talented passer in the Big Ten as well as the most talented scrambler. Michigan State fans, your turn to turn off the computer now. If you don't, you don't get to complain. We warned you.
That's Devin Smith once again, this time being guarded by one of the best cornerbacks in the Big Ten, Johnny Adams. Smith's running a straight fly route and Adams is providing excellent coverage.
Miller takes his drop back, sets his feet, throws an excellent spiral with excellent mechanics (funny how that works), and places the ball in pretty much the only place it can be for the play to succeed. And it does, for a touchdown that gives Ohio State a lead it would never relinquish in the 17-16 victory.
If Miller throws it a yard or two farther downfield, it's incomplete. Smith was in a dead sprint and never slowed for the ball. If it's a yard or two shorter, Adams is either breaking it up or picking it off with ease, and we're all questioning Miller's judgment as a passer ("couldn't he see Smith was covered?"). Any closer to the sidelines and Smith might catch it on his way out of bounds. Any closer to the middle of the field and the best-case scenario is Smith draws a pass interference call as he fights back toward the ball, since Adams has effectively bodied Smith off that line.
But no. The ball is placed perfectly. Smith catches it in full stride, shakes off an ineffectual tackle attempt from Adams and waltzes in. Ohio State takes the lead and keeps it. Undefeated season: intact.
Miller is not a perfect passer, of course, and he could stand to crank up that passing efficiency quite a bit if he wants to be a serious Heisman contender. But he knows that, and it was the very impetus toward working with Whitfield to begin with. And if he's looking at the season he had and concluding that it only merits harder work, look out.