By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
This is the year they start selling beer in Milan Puskar Stadium, so it’s only natural that we proclaim the following:
“It’s Miller time!”
Only this time we’re not talking about a beer, which used the catch phrase to elbow its way into the American consciousness, but about cornerback Pat Miller, who is trying to elbow his way into the consciousness of West Virginia University fans.
Like the beer that had to battle Budweiser during its meteoric rise, Miller is trying to replace a giant at the top of the heap himself in Brandon Hogan, who is NFL bound when an injured knee heals completely.
While he isn’t being thrust into Hogan’s left-corner spot, that being reserved for the talented Keith Tandy, an All-American candidate who moves over from the right side, Miller gets Tandy’s open spot if he can stay ahead of Broderick Jenkins, and indications are the kid out of Birmingham, Ala., is ready for it.
“Miller is starting to show he can be an every-down corner,” cornerback coach David Lockwood, himself something of a legendary corner at WVU, said. “Yesterday they ran a corner route and No. 7 (Tory Johnson) makes a heck of a catch. Miller comes back the next play, knees bent, and executed his technique.
“Last year, if he doesn’t make a play, he comes back and goes through the motions. This year he’s playing faster; he’s starting to mature.”
He had better mature because he will be tested, sitting there on the other side from Tandy, who last year led the Big East in interceptions.
Many people thought that was the result of him being across from Hogan, an All-Big East performer, but Lockwood says that’s not the case.
“You watch film and it was the other way around. They kind of threw at 22 (Hogan) a little more than they threw at 8 (Tandy). He’s in that league with Hogan. He had a good year last year, and I’m looking for him to have a better year this year,” Lockwood said.
And so it will be that Miller will be tested, over and over by the best the Big East has to offer.
He says bring it on.
“I know they are going to come at me first. I’m planning to shut the whole left side (of the offense) down so there’s nowhere to go,” he said. “There will be a lot of opportunities. I feel I have to capitalize off the opportunities to make a name for myself.”
If that sounds confident, it is, for he believes he’s already tasted the depths, having been burned badly last year in the Maryland game, learning to cope with it from both Hogan and Tandy.
“I talked to Hogan and Tandy about that. Hogan had his problem against the University of Pittsburgh; Tandy had his problem against the University of South Florida. Each year they got better. Well, I had my problem with Maryland. Hopefully it will work the same way.”
The one thing that is vital in a cornerback is a short memory, for you do not win every battle.
“At our position, you are bound to get beat,” Miller said. “You can’t have a mindset that, ‘Ah man, I have to play differently.’ You have to stay confident, get in his face and play the game. After one play is over, you’ve got to play the next play.”
It’s the strong who survive, on the field and, yes, in the film room, where the mistakes are played over and over.
“It’s not a lot of fun,” Miller admitted. “If you make a good play, they say you did good, but they aren’t going to stay on that play too long.”
Last season he was a third-down back, at least until Hogan was injured and he had to fill in for the bowl loss to N.C. State.
All of it is supposed to lead to improvement this season, the kind that will allow the WVU defense to continue without much change from the defense that ranked third nationally last year in total yards allowed.
“I learned a lot from Hogan and Tandy, more understanding the game than just footwork or technique. I learned how to be more aggressive,” he said.
That, in a way, was finishing school for a cornerback. In high school, you do things on natural ability.
Then you get to college.
“You start over,” Miller said. “Coming out of high school they got you for a reason. They know you can play. Now it’s time to learn how to play. Technique is way more important than it was in high school. I had to change a lot about my game. I had to learn to play lower, learn how to shuffle my feet.”
You learn that along with humility.
“I was the man in high school, but now you are a freshman. You are not the man; you have to work for it,” he said.
The work is on the field and off.
“I learned from Hogan. We were roommates in the hotel. I was watching,” he said.
“Everyone has an older player he looks up to when he is young. I had Hogan and Tandy. They were starting for a reason. I picked up a lot of little things they showed me, then put it together with the talent I have, and now I’m starting.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @bhertzel.