Orange Bowl has a QB showdown

Ohio State’s Braxton Miller has joined Clemson’s Tajh Boyd as established leaders

01/01/2014 12:01 AM

09/08/2014 7:01 PM

It almost feels cliché and novice to make a football game all about its quarterback comparison, but some are worthy of becoming the storyline. Peyton Manning-Tom Brady is the first that comes to mind.

Although Braxton Miller vs. Tajh Boyd in Friday’s Discover Orange Bowl between No. 7 Ohio State and No. 12 Clemson might not have that same aura to some of those Manning-Brady classics, it’s about as good as it gets in the college game.

The comparison: Boyd has thrown 29 touchdowns to nine interceptions. Miller: 22 touchdowns and just five picks. Boyd completes 67.6 percent of his passes and Miller completes 63.2.

With 142 more pass attempts, Boyd threw for more yardage than Miller, 3,473-1,860, this season, but Miller has the dual-threat ability. He has run for more than 140 yards in each of the past four games.

“I love the competition. It makes me bring my game up a level,” Miller said about facing another top quarterback. “It brings competition to all the teammates. When they play a little bit harder, I like it.”

For Miller, though, the numbers weren’t always so stunning.

He was forced into action as a freshman in 2011 when Ohio State finished 6-7 in a season during which the NCAA was investigating the program for lack of institutional control and impermissible benefits for players.

Back then Miller was only completing 54 percent of passes and tossed 13 touchdowns in 12 games while splitting time under center with Joe Bauserman.

Always having the running ability to lean on, Miller improved his passing immensely to earn his 22-1 record as a starter in the past two seasons. That 54 percent mark became 58 in 2012 and now his current completion percentage of 63.2.

His value to the Buckeyes (12-1, 8-1 Big Ten) transcends the stats.

“He’s developed a sense of leadership throughout the whole season,” said the man who snaps the ball to Miller, center Corey Linsley. “You definitely hear his presence more than you have in the past.

“He’s the same person off the field that he was, the cool guy that I know, easy to talk to, very humble, but on the field he’s definitely developed a voice in the huddle — although we don’t huddle most of the time.”

Despite the improvements in the passing game, it almost appears Clemson is still more concerned with his running ability.

“Sometimes one of the worst things you can do is cover guys down the field because then he’s going to pull it down,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said jokingly.

“He can run through trash because of his strength, like a running back. He’s got eyes in the back of his head. He sees guys from all angles. He’s just got an uncanny ability in the pocket to feel pressure.”

Miller is such a weapon on the ground that even Ohio State’s star senior running back Carlos Hyde, who receives 18 carries per game, feels threatened of being outrushed.

“In the Big Ten championship game, I joked around with him and said, ‘You better be ready because I’m going to outrush you today,’ ’’ says Hyde, who some draft prognosticators think might sneak into the first round. “I’m sure I’ll bring it up to him this Friday. … We’ve got that competitive edge in both of us.”

Although in defeat, Miller did end up outrushing Hyde 142-118 in that game, but it was only one of two outings this season where Miller was able to do so with both active.

After the Orange Bowl marks the culmination of his junior season, Miller will have a decision to make — to stay or to go.

If the 6-2, 215-pounder opts to go pro and forgo his senior season, he is ranked the 124th draft-eligible player by Scouts, Inc. The 124th pick in the NFL Draft takes place late in the fourth round. However, NFL teams have proven in the past they will reach for a quarterback if needed.

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