COLUMBUS — In Ohio State's charmed run to perfection last season, backup quarterback Kenny Guiton forged his reputation as a closer.
He's not so bad in long relief, either.
"The old right-hander steps in again," coach Urban Meyer said with a smile.
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A day that began with a pall over Ohio Stadium ended with the sold-out crowd of 104,984 in good spirits as Guiton guided the third-ranked Buckeyes to a 42-7 victory over San Diego State — and word came that Braxton Miller was OK.\
After Miller went down with a strained left knee in the opening minutes — he is expected back this week at California — Guiton led OSU (2-0) into the end zone on three of its first four drives, and an offense that sizzled and fizzled in the season opener only continued to pile on this time.
Guiton threw two touchdown passes and ran for another — a 44-yard draw in the second quarter — pushing the Buckeyes to a 42-0 lead before the hosts shifted into autopilot.
"I think I've heard coach Meyer say he's as good a backup quarterback as there is in the country,'' said Aztecs coach Rocky Long, who last week touted Miller as the leading Heisman candidate. "'I don't know how they decide which one starts, to be honest with you. They're both of them very good players.''
Meanwhile, an OSU defense fortified by the return of junior All-American cornerback Bradley Roby and senior safety C.J. Barnett delivered a forceful statement. The Buckeyes needed only three possessions to drive junior quarterback Adam Dingwell from the game and forced three-and-outs on all but one of the Aztecs’ first five drives.
The other drive? San Diego State (0-2), which was coming off a numbing 40-19 loss to FCS Eastern Illinois, wishes it could have got off so easy, with the Buckeyes' tandem of Grants combining to force the first of three Aztecs turnovers. Linebacker Curtis Grant leveled Dingwell as his pass floated into the clutch of cornerback Doran Grant.
OSU held the Aztecs to three yards in the first quarter, 99 in the first half, and 280 overall.
"Our defense played outstanding," Meyer said.
For the Buckeyes, it was a feel-good finish to a day that began anything but.
On the seventh play of the game, Miller lost his helmet on a fourth-and-1 keeper and appeared dazed after he was sandwiched between two Aztecs defenders. The junior remained on his back with both hands on his head, though his knee proved the bigger worry. He was soon carted to the locker room.
Yet the early scare gave way to news it was only a strain, and an OSU spokesman said Miller was fitted for a brace that would have allowed him to return if necessary. He jogged back to the sideline with no sign of a limp.
"We had a long discussion on the sideline," Meyer said. "I think he could have [came back]. But the things that make him dangerous are his wheels. And I don’t think he would have been as [effective], so we all decided it was best not to. I think there’s a chance he’ll be ready next week."
Guiton is used to this by now. A year ago, the fifth-year senior from Houston relieved a briefly out-of-service Miller on drives in the Buckeyes’ first three Big Ten games — each of which resulted in a touchdown — then led them to a 29-22 comeback win over Purdue.
But he had never played what amounted to a full game. This was his chance, and his teammates put the same belief in him Saturday that they had weeks earlier in naming the backup a captain.
"Kenny is one of the best leaders I’ve ever known," senior left tackle Jack Mewhort said.
On Guiton’s first play, freshman Dontre Wilson took an option pitch for a seven-yard touchdown.
Guiton later connected with Corey Brown for touchdown passes of 27 and 24 yards and provided the most improbable highlight when he ran a draw left behind an uprooting block by Mewhort, then knifed back to the middle of the field for a 44-yard score. He completed 19 of 28 passes for 152 yards and ran for 82 yards on nine carries.
"I’ve gotten opportunities, and with those opportunities, I’ve tried to succeed," Guiton said, understated as usual.
Said Meyer: "He’s too slow, doesn’t have a strong enough arm. But all he does is lead, manage, and distribute, and he has an incredible knowledge of the game."
For one Saturday, the backup was king again.