Ohio State's Devin Smith, left, outruns California's Damariay Drew for a touchdown in the first quarter.
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BERKELEY, Calif. — There is no quarterback controversy at Ohio State.
Not that backup Kenny Guiton is making coach Urban Meyer’s life easy.
With star Braxton Miller a late scratch, Guiton proved as adept starting as he is in relief in guiding the fourth-ranked Buckeyes to a 52-34 victory over California before a raucous bi-partisan crowd at Memorial Stadium.
"That," Meyer said, "was fun to watch."
In Guiton’s first start since high school, the fifth-year senior from Houston threw four touchdown passes and ran for 92 yards to add the latest storybook chapter to his unlikely legend.
He found Devin Smith blistering down the right sideline for a 90-yard touchdown pass on the second play from scrimmage, and kept this stadium at the foot of the Berkeley hills — filled with nearly as much scarlet as yellow — rocking for the duration.
A career backup who admittedly once considered transferring, Guiton threw touchdown passes on OSU’s first three drives — including a 47-yard connection with Smith two plays after the first one — then ensured a balanced Buckeyes offense remained on the winning side of a shootout.
Ohio State's Kenny Guiton, left, Andrew Norwell, and Devin Smith celebrate Smith's touchdown against California.
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Guiton, coolly running the read-option and displaying a deft passing touch, completed 21 of 32 throws for a career-high 276 yards and enjoyed ample help. Not in the least, his effort overshadowed a career day from senior running back Jordan Hall, who ran for 168 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries.
By the end, OSU fans vastly outnumbered Cal supporters and the Urban Meyer era had reached a new offensive high. The Buckeyes’ 608 yards surpassed the previous high of 578 yards at Indiana last season.
For Ohio State, it was a satisfying end to a week marked by uncertainty.
The leading storyline had centered on the status of the preseason Heisman frontrunner ahead of Guiton. Would Miller play? Or would OSU rest its dynamic junior starter against an inexperienced Pac-12 bunch that won three games last season?
Miller went down with a strained left medial collateral ligament last week against San Diego State, and practiced in a limited role leading up to the Buckeyes’ voyage west. By Thursday, though, Meyer said he knew Miller was unlikely to play. About an hour before the game, Miller emerged from the locker room in a scarlet T-shirt and gray shorts, the only Buckeyes quarterback not in full dress.
"MCLs sometimes heal [quickly]," he said. "But [Miller] is the kind of athlete where he has to be fully healed."
That meant Guiton knew he would be starting.
"I killed myself with that film this week," he said. "I wanted to know everything about them."
Ohio State's Steve Miller pressures California quarterback Jared Goff in Saturday night’s game. The Buckeyes improved to 3-0.
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It showed, the Buckeyes opening purposefully for the third straight week. Guiton threw the two TD passes to Smith in the first four plays — including the 90-yarder that marked the longest play from scrimmage in school history — then capped the third drive with a one-yard TD toss to his roommate, Chris Fields, to push the lead to 21-0.
Asked if he was trying to make coaches face a decision when Miller returns to full health, Guiton smiled and said, "No, no."
"I’ll just be the guy I’ve been forever," he said. "I’ll be a leader, I’ll be helping Braxton, and if my number is called, I’ll be ready."
OSU coaches also put to rest the far-fetched notion there was a brewing quarterback dilemma.
"When Braxton gets healthy, that train probably moves as it was before," offensive coordinator said Tom Herman said.
Still, Meyer said Guiton deserves to play a role.
"I think Kenny will get in the game a little bit," he said. "He’s throwing the ball better than he has been, especially throwing the ball downfield. That’s something I’ll need to think about."
OSU’s defense endured their share of struggles against Cal’s breakneck spread — an offense that came in averaging 97 plays per game.
True freshman quarterback Jared Goff, who led the nation with 935 passing yards through the Bears’ first two games, answered OSU’s early salvo with touchdown passes of 61 and 42 yards to bring Cal within 10 points and 24-14 by the end of the first quarter.
In all, Goff completed 31 of 53 passes for 371 yards and three TDs and an interception. Cal finished with 503 yards of offense.
Yet Guiton, Hall, and the Buckeyes ultimately proved too much. Hall ran for a one-yard TD and Guiton floated a six-yard pass to receiver Corey Brown in the right corner of the end zone to push OSU ahead 45-20.
Freshman Dontre Wilson added 59 rushing yards on five carries while Smith finished with three catches for 159 yards.