COLUMBUS — Ohio State’s stunning 29-22 overtime victory Saturday over Purdue will be remembered for the silence and the roar.
For the most stomach-churning scare and the most intense joy of the Buckeyes’ season.
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For the play that sent star quarterback Braxton Miller to the hospital in an ambulance — and cast a pall over an already wretched day for the home team — and the hopeless situation his backup conquered.
When Miller crashed to the turf with an apparent serious head injury late in the third quarter, it was seventh-ranked OSU’s latest in a line of nightmare games against the 18-point underdog Boilermakers. Yet on this afternoon — a contest coach Urban Meyer said swung more than any other in his career — the narrative detoured into the realm of fairy tale.
At a Columbus hospital, Miller learned he was fine and that his understudy who had never seen extended meaningful action improbably saved OSU’s perfect season.
Here was the situation fourth-year junior quarterback Kenny Guiton faced as the Buckeyes set off on a final drive from their own 39-yard line: Purdue 22, OSU 14. Forty-seven seconds left. No timeouts.
“A longshot situation,” Guiton said afterward.
This time, though, OSU (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) made the halfcourt shot. The same quarterback whose interception on his previous throw sent thousands in the crowd of 105,290 to the exits restored belief with a 39-yard pass to Devin Smith, then produced the roar with a two-yard touchdown pass to a diving Chris Fields with three seconds remaining.
Needing a two-point conversion to tie the game, offensive coordinator Tom Herman called a delayed tight end throwback called Y-Hide. Guiton rolled to the right before turning and floating a strike to Jeff Heuerman in the left corner of the end zone.
After Carlos Hyde punched in a 1-yard touchdown on the first drive in overtime and a maligned OSU defense held Purdue on four plays, a stadium and a sideline erupted.
Meyer later approached the student section in the south end zone, swept his fist through the air and wildly gestured for more noise.
“Some of the efforts I saw today were legendary,” Meyer said. “I mean, this is a moment that I’ll certainly never forget.”
For so long, it looked to be a day OSU would not forget for a different reason.
Purdue (3-4, 0-3) came in as walking get-well card — a panacea for all that ailed the Buckeyes. The Boilermakers had allowed 771 rushing yards in back-to-back blowout home losses to Michigan and Wisconsin and its bumbling offense had auditioned three different quarterbacks a week earlier.
OSU quickly conjured the ghosts of upset losses past, most notably at Purdue in 2009 and last season. The Boilermakers fired the opening shot with an 83-yard touchdown pass from Caleb TerBush to Akeem Shavers on the first play from scrimmage, though Ohio State’s defense went on to hold its own. It was instead an offense that had delivered consecutive 50-point outbursts for the first time in 16 years that sputtered.
The Buckeyes’ first eight drives resulted in five three-and-outs, an interception, a fumble, and a touchdown. Miller endured his toughest game of the season, completing 9 of 20 passes for 113 yards and rushing for 47 yards on 12 carries.
Still, when Miller was dragged to the ground from behind at the end of a long run with OSU trailing 20-14, the Buckeyes’ hopes appeared to leave the stadium with him. Miller remained on the turf for three minutes before woozily struggling to the bench, where his family met him from the stands. He was carted off the sideline and then to the hospital.
No one, though, knew the severity of the injury, leaving the stadium deflated.
The Buckeyes had struggled with Miller — perhaps the most valuable player to any team in the conference — mustering only 238 yards of offense through three quarters. Perhaps the only person that didn’t panic was Guiton, a 6-foot-3, 206-pound, Houston native who had won over coaches with his preparation and attitude despite serving as a backup for his first four seasons.
“You just to have patience,” Guiton said, who had briefly relieved Miller each of the past three weeks. “For young guys like us on the team, not a lot of people have it. I’m not going to say I’ve always been up about it. But I try not to get down about it.”
Guiton was hardly an instant fix, with two of his first three drives ending in a safety that put Purdue ahead 22-14 — Heuerman was called for an illegal block in the end zone — and an interception with 2:40 remaining. But OSU got the ball back with 47 seconds left.
That was all he needed.
“Coach Meyer said this is one of the biggest and most exciting wins he’s ever been part of and it’s the most exciting win I’ve been part of,” said left tackle Jack Mewhort, a St. John’s Jesuit graduate. “It was a lot of fun.”
At least in the end.
Said defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins: “This is unbelievable.”
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.