Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
Ohio Stadium was holding its collective breath.
OSU sophomore quarterback and Heisman candidate, Braxton Miller, was lying on the ground, motionless, after suffering an apparent injury. First-year coach Urban Meyer, standing over his quarterback, along with the majority of the Buckeyes’ team, stared at the scoreboard in the south end zone in disbelief. “Purdue 20, OSU 14,” it read, with just more than a quarter of play remaining.
About 10 yards away, Kenny Guiton swiftly began to warm up. The redshirt junior backup quarterback took practice snaps from redshirt junior center Corey Linsley and threw 15-yard passes to Buckeye receivers, getting ready to enter the game.
Guiton had been there before – he’d relieved Miller after an injury three previous times this season, and led OSU to a touchdown each time – but never in a situation quite like this.
Miller left the field on a cart, exited the stadium in an ambulance and would not return to action after getting hit on a 37-yard run with 21 seconds left in the third quarter. For the first time in his three-plus year career at OSU, the game belonged solely to Guiton.
A quarter later, the 105,000-plus fans in attendance were again holding their breath. OSU still trailed the Boilermakers, now by eight points, 22-14, with 47 seconds remaining in the game.
Guiton had struggled in replacing Miller. His first drive ended in a 50-yard missed field goal by junior kicker Drew Basil. The second ended in a safety. The third ended in an interception.
“I felt like I had let my team down. I’m a backup coming off the bench and everything, I just wanted to do well for my team,” Guiton said of what he was feeling before he got the ball with 47 seconds left on the clock.
His coach picked him, though, and he responded.
“(Meyer) told me I was going to be OK and everything. I told the offense we need big plays now and we’re going to get it,” Guiton said.
Guiton’s fourth drive ended in jubilation, in a frenzy, that turned the Horseshoe into the very inferno Meyer has been pleading for since he arrived to Columbus.
“That was louder than the Nebraska game,” Meyer said.
The redshirt junior drove the Buckeyes 61 yards down the field with less than a minute to play and no timeouts remaining. His two-yard touchdown pass to redshirt junior wide receiver Chris Fields cut Purdue’s lead to two points with three seconds left on the clock. His lofty toss to sophomore tight end Jeff Heuerman – a two-point conversion – tied the game, forcing overtime.
Guiton’s fifth drive was capped by a touchdown run by junior running back Carlos Hyde. It was the last drive of the game from Guiton – OSU’s defense stopped Purdue on its lone overtime drive – and it was a game-winning one.
“That’s the thing everybody plays football for, to shock everybody and show them what you can do,” Guiton said.
The career backup was now the hero; the big reason why OSU is 8-0, with its shot at a perfect season still alive, after its 29-22 overtime victory against Purdue Saturday.
“He’s a special guy. I hate to say it, but even if he doesn’t complete that pass (to Heuerman) that’s a special kid. He’s all Buckeye now,” Meyer said of his backup quarterback.
As Purdue’s fourth-down pass in overtime fell incomplete and OSU players and coaches rushed the field, Guiton was surrounded by a sea of his teammates.
“Kenny G! Kenny G!” they yelled, embracing Guiton with bear hugs and high-fives.
For OSU, Guiton’s performance – 77 yards passing, one touchdown and one interception – did not come as a surprise. The team was happy for Guiton – thrilled, more likely – but numerous Buckeyes said they knew he had it in him.
“Kenny Guiton is like (Los Angeles Lakers guard) Kobe (Bryant) in clutch time. He knows the game and I feel like he’s a coach for us on offense. He’s doing a good job. I never lose faith in Kenny,” said junior defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins.
OSU senior defensive end John Simon agreed.
“Everyone on the team had full faith in (Guiton) at that point,” Simon said.
The Buckeyes were disappointed and worried when Miller went down, sure. But with the respect they have for Guiton, they were excited to see him get a true opportunity to make a name for himself.
“(He’s) coaching people all the time, so any time he gets in the game, the team gets excited. You never want your starter to go down, but any time you get to see Kenny go out there and perform and get everything he deserves – which he does – it’s awesome to see,” Simon said.
Every practice, Guiton shadows Miller. He stands about 15 yards behind the Buckeyes’ starting quarterback, mimicking Miller’s moves on each play.
That’s the life of a backup quarterback. Guiton always has to be prepared to come into the game if Miller goes down. He hasn’t always been ready, though.
When Meyer arrived at OSU, Guiton was near the bottom of a list of players Meyer said he was excited to coach. Meyer said since then, Guiton has grown tremendously, making a “180” in his life on-and-off the field.
Guiton now embraces his role as the team’s safety net.
“One thing we always say is ‘next man up.’ When one man falls, we have to have faith in the next guy that he can do it,” Guiton said. “I’m not going to say I’ve always been up about (being a backup), but I try not to get down about it.”
It’s been about six years since Guiton was in a similar situation to the one he was in Saturday.
Guiton’s first start of his high school career at Eisenhower High School in Houston, came when he was a sophomore, playing against Aldine Nimitz High School, also of Houston.
“My first game starting was the same exact way. Tie game, fourth quarter, and I actually threw an interception and they ran it back (for a touchdown). We came down, two minutes to go, tied it up, went to overtime and ran it in. After th
at, defense stopped them and we won,” Guiton said.
Saturday, Guiton showed everyone in Ohio Stadium the type of player he is, and was, while he was a three-year starter in high school.
The fourth-quarter comeback was the “shining moment” of Guiton’s career thus far at OSU. The next best moment? Playing in OSU’s spring games, Guiton said.
No one knows if Guiton will get a chance to play meaningful minutes again as a Buckeye. Saturday’s performance against the Boilermakers could be the lone “shining moment” Guiton has at OSU.
Miller was released from the Wexner Medical Center Saturday evening after passing all tests and scans. If everything goes according to plan, Miller will be back in action in OSU’s next game, against Penn State.
If it doesn’t, though, Guiton said he is looking forward to playing, and silencing the crowd, at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pa., this Saturday.
OSU and Penn State are scheduled to kick off at 5:30 p.m.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story had the score with 47 seconds remaining as 28-20. It was, in fact, 22-14.