By Jim Naveau
COLUMBUS – All those big plays. All those times he eluded violent hits. And it was a little pass – maybe not even 10 yards – in a no-contact practice situation that brought Braxton Miller down.
Ohio State’s senior quarterback learned Tuesday that his 2014 season was over before it began.
An injury to his throwing shoulder that happened during a Monday afternoon practice delivered a devastating blow to Miller and put Ohio State’s hopes of a national championship-caliber season into major doubt.
OSU confirmed Miller will have more surgery and miss the season late Tuesday afternoon.
“My thoughts and prayers are with Braxton and his family,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said in a press release. “This is an unfortunate injury to a young man who means so much to this program and to Buckeye Nation.”
Miller, who is scheduled to graduate in December, said he intends to return to Ohio State to play the 2015 season as a graduate student.
Does playing without Miller make it impossible for Ohio State to get through its schedule unbeaten?
No. But it makes it much more difficult. Miller is a game-changer from anywhere on the field and a starter since his freshman season.
ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said Miller “is as important to his team as any player in college football in 2014” during a network teleconference on Tuesday.
It’s hard to disagree with that.
Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, who hasn’t played in a game since tearing his ACL, MCL and meniscus in the fifth game of his senior season in Wichita Falls, Texas, appears to be Miller’s probable replacement.
Barrett moved ahead of Cardale Jones in preseason practice in the last two weeks after Jones, a sophomore known best for saying on Twitter he didn’t like to go to class, came out of spring practice as OSU’s No. 2 quarterback.
One scouting service called Barrett the best dual threat quarterback in the 2013 recruiting class. He was a 4-star recruit.
But, like Jones, his actual game experience is limited. They didn’t make much of an impression in the Buckeyes spring game. Barrett completed 17 of 33 passes for 151 yards and Jones was 14 of 31 for 126 yards. Neither threw a touchdown pass.
Barrett does not appear to have an exceptional throwing arm and does not run as well as Miller.
Ohio State survived nicely last year with No. 2 quarterback Kenny Guiton, who played brilliantly when Miller missed two games and almost all of a third game with a sprained knee.
Fan favorite Guiton, like Barrett, did not have an extraordinary arm and was not the runner Miller is. But he was a senior who at least had the game day experience of rescuing Ohio State under pressure in an overtime win over Purdue when Miller was knocked out of the game by an injury in 2012.
Miller first injured his right shoulder early in the Orange Bowl against Clemson in January.
Ohio State tried to treat it without surgery. But eventually surgery was performed in February and he did not participate in spring practice.
Early in his rehab, he appeared to be ahead of schedule. He threw during the summer with OSU’s receivers and pronounced himself 100 percent recovered.
At the Big Ten football media days in late July, Meyer said Miller was “in the best shape of his life.”
But once preseason practice began, Miller began to experience soreness in his shoulder.
The coaches were cautious and limited his throws. They insisted they expected him to be ready for the opener against Navy on Aug. 30. As late as Monday morning, offensive coordinator Tom Herman said he would not use the word “concern” to describe his assessment of Miller’s status.
And then it all went terribly wrong in practice Monday afternoon.
It’s a tough thing for Miller, who dreamed of a big senior year, including a national championship and a Heisman Trophy.
“I would like to go out with a nice run this year and I would like to be known as a champion,” he said earlier this year.
It’s a tough thing for Ohio State, too.
The Buckeyes were pointing to 2014. They’re built to still have a very good season without Miller. Optimism hasn’t left town. But having a great season just became a lot tougher.