A few months back, when things were really looking bad just after the Stanford affair, Brad and I debated the relative merits behind the proposal to bench Cyler Miles. Cyler, indeed, did get benched for one week but was quickly reinserted after RS Fr Troy Williams struggled with the basic elements of reading defenses and working progressions in one of the stormiest nights in which a Husky football game has ever been played.
Today, Kirk and I turn our attention to next season and ask ourselves whether Cyler should be exposed to an open competition for the 2015 starting QB job. Given that there has been a turn in fortunes for the star-crossed Husky signal caller, we thought it might be a good time to stir the pot on the most commonly debated question in the world of Football fandom: Who should our QB be?
The Pro: Cyler Miles Goes Into 2015 as the Huskies Clear Starter
I know you guys hate this trick, but I'm going to do it to you anyhow. Here are some key stats for the four youngest QBs in the Pac 12:
a) 58.2%, 7.1 yards per attempt, 3.9 TD:Int ratio, 17.7 Att:TD ratio
b) 62.1%, 7.8 yards per attempt, 5.0:1 TD:Int ratio, 14.5 Att:TD ratio
c) 66.7%, 7.3 yards per attempt, 5.3:1 TD:Int ratio, 18.1 Att:TD ratio
d) 65.3%, 6.4 yards per attempt, 1.9:1 TD:Int ratio, 17.7 Att:TD ratio
The difference between Cyler and the three other guys on this list? Jared Goff, Anu Solomon and Sefo Liufau are all considered the "unquestioned leaders" of their young teams and, yet, the numbers of those QBs are hardly discernible from those of the other three QBs when measured over a full season and a comparable number of starts.
Another key difference? Every single one of those guys has had the pleasure of having the same QB coach for the last two seasons. Cyler has had a new one in each of his three seasons with UW.
The last point is important because Cyler put up comparable numbers to the other young QBs of the Pac 12 despite having the shortest learning curve of any of those guys. His suspension from all team activities during the two months in the spring when everybody else was getting to know the Chris Petersen staff only complicated the situation. If you were to narrow your window of evaluation of Cyler's last seven starts to allow for an adjustment period to his new playbook, his stats (inclusive of the Oregon game) sharpen up at at time when every one of his peers were declining:
68.6%, 7.9 yards per attempt, 3.3:1 TD:Int ratio, 19.1:1 Att:TD ratio
Nearly 69% and 8 yards per attempt are Brett Hundley level statistics and would put Cyler in the national conversation amongst top 25 QBs in the nation if stretched out over a full season.
There are legitimate questions that can and have been raised about what Cyler's ceiling could be. His delivery is too slow and his arm is too weak. These are unquestioned limiters to Cyler's ultimate potential. But the question to be debated isn't whether or not Cyler can be the second coming of Marcus Mariota. We are debating whether or not Cyler has shown enough to go into next fall as the christened starter.
The truth is, there are very successful college QBs that have a similar mix of strengths and weaknesses when compared to Cyler Miles. Anu Solomon is less accurate. Jared Goff is less mobile. Sefo Liufau is less accomplished in decision-making. The tools that Cyler has shown this season - mobility, grasp of offense, increasing ability to make progressions and throwing accuracy - are all the tools that Chris Petersen is going to need next season when he's breaking in four new starters on the offensive line. It's too much to expect another young, inexperienced QB to come in and handle that kind of transition.
I'm not here to say that Cyler is the second coming. However, if we can glean anything from the way that Chris Petersen has on two different occasions re-inserted Cyler back into the starting lineup early on a Monday morning, it's that Cyler is way ahead of the other QBs on whatever rating criteria the coach is using. Imagine what a full offseason - his first - with Coach Pete and Jonathan Smith will do to help him pad that lead before you even consider the reps he's banked as the starting QB all season. Cyler will open 2015 as your starting Husky QB.
The Con: Cyler Miles Faces an Open Competition for 2015
There's no question that Cyler Miles developed into a rather efficient QB over the course of the 2014 season. There were signs of improvement - his willingness to stand tough in the pocket in the face of pressure, his decisions to throw downfield, the rapport he built with TE Josh Perkins over the 2nd half of the season - these were all encouraging signs. After largely avoiding keepers on the zone read, he was pushed into more designed runs with the addition of old-school option plays, and he looked more willing to use his legs as a weapon. His regular season numbers ended up quite good, as he currently ranks 28th nationally in pass efficiency at 144.2. That ranking is built heavily on a high completion percentage (66.7%) and a very low interception rate (1.0%). When you look closer though, you also note that what he was asked to do within this offense - and what he succeeded at doing - were things that somewhat "game" that rating formula. Namely, he completed a lot of lateral passes for shorter gains which aided that gaudy completion percentage and limited his picks, but resulted in a pedestrian 10.97 yards/completion.
I don't really need to spend much time discussing his physical limitations, but they are necessary for the purposes of this debate - namely, his odd mechanics and slow release combine to limit his throwing velocity and how quickly he gets rid of the ball. We all saw the limits of his arm strength in the Apple Cup as a hesitation in throwing the bomb to John Ross early in the game resulted in a woefully underthrown pass as the pattern had exceeded Miles' range; then there was the added humility of seeing Jeff Lindquist inserted specifically to throw the end of half Hail Mary because Miles couldn't huck it that far. More critically, the slow release and lack of velocity meant that a staple of this offense - the bubble screens - were limited in their effectiveness. The ball simply didn't get out to the receivers quickly enough for these plays to result in an advantage for the offense.
More subtly, when you watched Miles you saw a guy that, while he would get the ball near his receivers, didn't always put the ball in the best location. Often the pass was close enough for the receiver to catch it, but off-target enough to limit (or completely eliminate) yards after the catch.
Now, you may think "but he still put up pretty good numbers - doesn't that say something for his ability?" Yes, clearly he developed a pretty good feel for the offense, and while we may quibble about how much he really tested and stretched a defense downfield, his ability to avoid interceptions was a valuable trait. But I would also suggest that what those numbers show is also an offensive system that was well-conceived, and that even better numbers could (and should) be posted by a QB with a stronger arm. It may be somewhat heretical around here to suggest some praise for the offensive system as that implies some praise for OC Jonathan Smith, but there you go.
I don't think there's any question that Miles heads into the off-season as the leader at the QB position. Clearly he executes the offense better than the other guys on the roster in the view of the coaching staff. They're not dummies - they see the same throwing mechanics issues we do, and I'm sure if they could, they'd try to adjust his motion (that's far easier said than done however).
But I also am not convinced that he's so far ahead of the pack that there can't - and won't - be a serious competition for the starting job in 2015. And really, the gap between Miles and the rest (certainly between him and Lindquist & Williams) is in many ways a litmus test of Smith's ability to coach his QBs. Because the thing holding back Lindquist and Williams are the things that more directly trace to QB coaching - their decision-making abilities, how well they read defenses, their understanding of the playbook and knowing what the coaches want them to do, etc. K.J. Carta-Samuels has a lot of ground to make up given his time spent in a run-heavy/not sophisticated passing offense in high school and having less than a year on campus, but the word is the coaching staff is very high on him and have liked what they've seen, so he could very well be in the thick of things come this spring and fall.
Lest this feel all too negative, I look at this situation as a positive. Even with his notable limitations, Cyler Miles produced a reasonably good season (and with no spring practice sessions to help him acclimate to a new staff & system). While there will be some notable losses up front that may change the dynamics of the offense, and could potentially lead to some regression in the QB play (see: Keith Price, 2012), it's not unreasonable to expect that Miles should improve with more time in this system. If the guys behind him can unseat him, that should only mean even better things for this offense.
If I were a betting man I'd still bet Miles ahead of the field as the starter to open 2015, but I think that gap is very small, and it would not shock me to see someone else taking the opening snaps.