Ohio State senior quarterback Braxton Miller reinjured his throwing shoulder during practice Monday afternoon—a setback that will sideline him for the entire season and deals a heavy blow to the Buckeyes' title hopes.
The No. 5-ranked Buckeyes were one of a handful of teams expected to make a run at the inaugural College Football Playoff. Miller, the reigning two-time Big Ten MVP and Heisman Trophy hopeful, fueled those expectations because of his nearly irreplaceable playmaking ability.
Can Ohio State bounce back without the centerpiece of its offense?
That's a question that won't be answered until the team takes the field, but here are three things the Buckeyes must do to survive without Miller in the fold.
Even before Miller's injury, the Buckeyes' title hopes hinged on co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash's ability to rebuild a beleaguered defense. That unit, which opponents gashed regularly a season ago, is fueled by top-end talent and loads of potential.
If Ohio State wants to maintain its status as a Big Ten contender, the defense will need to step up and realize that potential.
Stocked with 5-star talent across the board, the Buckeyes boast one of the country's strongest defensive lines. Joey Bosa and Noah Spence are terrors coming off the edge, and Michael Bennett, Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt are the kind of run-stuffing/pass-rushing combination that offenses hate to deal with.
The Buckeyes lost their most productive linebacker when Ryan Shazier opted for the NFL draft, but the unit should see a boost thanks to stronger depth and fundamentals.
The secondary is the biggest question mark. The Buckeyes allowed opposing offenses to throw for 268 yards per game in 2013, which ranked No. 110 in the country. This season, Ash has Ohio State's corners playing press coverage instead of ineffective zone schemes—a move that made a drastic difference during the spring game, according to Michael Felder of Bleacher Report.
If Ohio State's defense can return to elite status, the loss of Miller won't sting as much.
Get J.T. Barrett Ready
Without Miller, Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes have to get option No. 2 ready for the week-to-week grind of the college football season.
J.T. Barrett, a former 4-star prospect and the No. 3-ranked dual-threat quarterback from the class of 2013, is primed to fill that role.
Barrett won't know the nuances of Ohio State's offense like Miller, who ran Meyer's system at a high level during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. He doesn't have the top-end speed or the arm strength that made Miller such a dangerous threat, either.
But he's still capable of orchestrating a powerful Buckeyes attack. Although he struggles with his accuracy at times, he has a strong arm and enough speed to be a threat in the run game.
Those characteristics propelled Barrett past Cardale Jones in the Buckeyes' backup quarterback competition.
"The offense moves better when he's in there," offensive coordinator Tom Herman said of Barrett, according to Tim Shoemaker of Eleven Warriors. "He's probably completing more balls and making more of the right reads in the run game."
That's exactly what Ohio State will need from Miller's replacement because Meyer has stacked this offense with weapons at every level.
Solidify the Offensive Identity
Without running back Carlos Hyde and four multiyear senior starters along the offensive line, Meyer and the Buckeyes were planning to reshape the offense in 2014. Instead of bulldozing over defenses with an array of interior runs, Meyer wanted to utilize Ohio State's speed at wide receiver to attack the perimeter.
That shouldn't change with Barrett at quarterback. Bubble screens and quick passes to the perimeter will help Barrett settle into the offense as he develops the mid-range and deep passing attack.
With players such as Dontre Wilson, Jalin Marshall, Devin Smith, Michael Thomas and Johnnie Dixon, the Buckeyes have a number of lethal options on the edge. Each of those receivers has the ability to take a screen pass to the house, so the Buckeyes can build their aerial attack around the quick throws.
On the ground, nothing should change schematically. Barrett has the skill set to run the read-option offense—along with the other elements Meyer uses to keep defenses off balance. Miller's speed will be the only thing Barrett can't replicate, but a deep stable of running backs will help offset that.
Of course, Ohio State's offense won't be as potent with Miller sidelined, but Meyer was already building an offense that would utilize perimeter speed. Even with their star quarterback out for the season, the Buckeyes still have the tools to attack the edge.
David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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