Miller's fine: Guiton gains Ohio State's trust

10/22/2012
BY DAVID BRIGGS
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Ohio State's Kenny Guiton led the Buckeyes to a comeback win over Purdue on Saturday.
Ohio State's Kenny Guiton led the Buckeyes to a comeback win over Purdue on Saturday.

COLUMBUS — In this exasperating and charmed season, Ohio State got word of its most fortunate escape hours after Saturday’s thrilling overtime victory against Purdue.

Braxton Miller was fine.

"All good,” he posted on Twitter after being released from a campus hospital

A state could exhale. Coach Urban Meyer said through a school spokesman the sophomore star quarterback was free of concussion symptoms or further injury. He will update Miller’s status today.

With or without their Heisman Trophy contender, the ninth-ranked Buckeyes said they will carry on to Penn State with confidence.

On the same day OSU (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) lost Miller to what seemed a serious head injury late in the third quarter, it once again gained faith in backup Kenny Guiton.

The fourth-year junior right-hander from Houston had relieved a briefly out-of-service Miller on drives in each of the Buckeyes’ first three Big Ten games, and every time they reached the end zone. Then on Saturday, when Miller was sidelined for good in a 29-22 win against Purdue, Guiton cast aside an unsteady start to become the toast of Columbus.

“His save-to-blown-save opportunities is off the charts right now,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said with a laugh.

Added center Corey Linsley: “If Kenny plays a full game, we’ll go. Obviously with Braxton, there’s a reason he’s a starter. … But nobody doubts Kenny. Nobody has a shred of doubt. We actually feel confident the same way we do with Braxton.”

For Guiton, his improbable leading role was made possible by a dramatic about face — and by Meyer’s faith in him evolving from zero to complete.

Meyer said he was not a “big fan” of the career backup when he arrived, questioning the quarterback’s attitude and work ethic. Coaches told Guiton as much in no uncertain words.

“He was ready to get a one-way bus ticket back to Texas,” Meyer said.

But Guiton vowed to prove otherwise, poring so much energy into school and football that Meyer now calls him “coach.”

“Kenny, because of some things that happened early in our tenure, had gotten off on the wrong foot,” Herman said. “But within a month or two, he had done a complete turnaround. There’s definitely a difference between a bad kid and a good kid that makes mistakes.

“Most coaches will tell you most of the kids we deal with are inherently good kids that happen to make a mistake or two. So it took some tough love to get Kenny to respond and to be aware of that.”

Now, where would OSU be without the perpetually upbeat player his peers affectionately call “Kenny G”? Not perfect. Though lacking the speed, moves or arm of Miller, Guiton possesses an innate cool and an advanced grasp of the offense.

Listen to those who know him best after Saturday’s game.

John Simon: “You guys don’t see him at practice, but he gets every mental rep possible. He’s coaching people all the time. … Any time you get to see Kenny go out there and perform and get everything he deserves, it’s awesome.”

Jeff Heuerman: “There’s no one more deserving than Kenny. I love the guy.”

Meyer: “That is a special kid.”

Meyer said he never lost confidence in Guiton, who completed 6 of 11 passes for 77 yards, a touchdown, and an interception.

After Guiton directed the 61-yard touchdown drive in the final minute to pull OSU within two points, Meyer faced a defining decision. Would he trust Guiton to execute Herman’s preferred two-point conversion play: A delayed tight end throwback to Heuerman?

“The offensive line was screaming at me to run the ball,” Meyer said. “I mean, like screaming, and the same with [running back] Carlos Hyde. I almost changed the play and said, ‘Tom, let’s pound ‘em.’ He said, ‘No, let’s go with this.’ So he won that battle. Great call.”

The substitute quarterback rolled right, pivoted and floated a pass that will be talked about for years.

With or without their star, the Buckeyes were in capable hands.

“This is what I play football for,” Guiton said. “I’ve always wanted the shot and I felt like I got it and went out and had fun.”