Cody Cousino / Multimedia editor
It’s amazing how much something can change in a matter of minutes. A desolate crowd can morph into one of utter jubilation. An unheralded backup quarterback can become a celebrated hero. A sure-loss can, somehow, transform into an improbable win.
Such was the case in Ohio Stadium on Saturday, as Ohio State escaped Purdue for an overtime victory, 29-22.
The scoreboard read Purdue 22, OSU 14, with a little more than two minutes left on the clock. I watched as hundreds, if not thousands, of scarlet-and-gray-clad fans departed for nearby exits. They left in droves, most wearing looks of disbelief and agony.
And why wouldn’t they? They had just witnessed nearly a games-worth of uninspiring Buckeye football. Sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller was not on the field, but instead in a nearby hospital, nursing an injury that looked extremely severe at the time. His replacement, junior Kenny Guiton, had just thrown a late-game interception.
Lowly-Purdue (3-4, 0-3 Big Ten) was going to beat the Buckeyes for the third time in four years.
But those that stayed clung on to an ounce of hope, as OSU regained possession at its own 39-yard line, trailing by eight, with 47 seconds and no timeouts. In that span, wishful thoughts became reality.
Guiton opened the drive by connecting on a 39-yard strike to sophomore Devin Smith. His next attempt was a completion too, moving OSU into the rezdone.
For what seemed to be the first time in forever, the thinned-out crowd erupted, as fans urged Guiton toward the north end zone with chants of “Kenny!”
With three seconds left Guiton answered the call, hitting junior receiver Chris Fields for a touchdown. On the next play, Guiton found sophomore tight end Jeff Heuerman for the two-point conversion. And just like that the game was tied, heading into overtime, where the Buckeyes would eventually find a victory.
Now, I’ve been to a fair share of great Buckeye football games. In 2006, I watched No. 1 OSU prevail against No. 2 Michigan. I’ve felt the ‘Shoe shake during heated tilts against top-ranked opponents. But I’ve never witnessed anything quite like that comeback.
“I’m still trying to figure this bad boy out,” said first-year coach Urban Meyer after the game. “We won, right?”
Yes coach, you did. Though I am still scratching my head, trying to figure out exactly how.
It was an exciting win, but not a great one
It’s easy to become a prisoner of such an exciting moment, but let’s not confuse an exciting win for a great one.
This is a Purdue team still searching for its first conference win. A team that was embarrassed at home by Michigan (44-13) and Wisconsin (38-14) in each of the last two weeks.
Even without Miller, it was surprising to see OSU struggle with its run game. Purdue was gashed by Wisconsin last weekend for 467 yards on the ground. Michigan had plenty of success the week earlier, rushing for 304 yards.
But the Buckeyes, who entered the game ranked as the eighth best rush offense in the country, could not get it going against the Purdue front seven. OSU was held to 152 yards on the ground, well below its season average.
With two-thirds of the season in the books, OSU is 8-0. But I’ve seen little reason to believe that this team can finish off with an undefeated season.
In the past two weeks OSU has struggled to separate themselves from the Big Ten’s bottom feeders, Indiana and Purdue. The early-season victory at Michigan State looks less impressive by the second – the Spartans (4-4, 1-3 Big Ten) lost again on Saturday.
And the final third of the team’s schedule is definitely the most difficult portion. Setting aside the black hole that is Illinois football, OSU travels to Penn State, Wisconsin, and hosts a scorching-hot Michigan team in the season finale.
Next week’s opponent, PSU (5-2, 3-0 Big Ten), rides a five-game winning streak and might be the Big Ten’s hottest team. Playing in Happy Valley is always a tough task, and next weekend’s 5:30 p.m. kickoff will only enhance that effect.
If the Buckeyes play like they did against Purdue, don’t expect them to return home next weekend with another win.
Give an extra helmet sticker to…
For as much as the Buckeyes have relied on Miller this season, it’s only fitting that in a game they had to win without him, a collection of unusual suspects would lead OSU to victory.
First and foremost there is the aforementioned Guiton, who is gaining notoriety as a clutch player, not just a capable one. The junior has relieved a banged-up Miller several times this season, but his role was drastically different on Saturday. This time OSU was trailing and Miller wasn’t coming back.
And for a while, it looked as if Guiton wasn’t up for the task. The junior completed just two of his first five passes, on three drives that culminated in a missed field goal, a safety and an interception.
But when things looked most bleak for the Buckeyes, Guiton proved his merit, as he threw for a touchdown, and then the game-tying conversion.
The recipients on those passes were equally unlikely heroes.
Fields entered Saturday’s game still searching for his first reception of the season. The junior caught three passes, none bigger than his first-career touchdown reception with seconds remaining.
Heuerman is a backup tight end, who has been seldom used this season. But his number was called on the two-point conversion, and the sophomore brought down the game-tying reception.
The unusual suspects produced a smash hit performance on Saturday. Time will tell if they can be more than just one-hit wonders.