COLUMBUS — One Ohio State quarterback is an impeccable decision-maker, the other an electric playmaker.
One is the reigning national player of the week, the other the preseason favorite for national player of the year.
One is a popular veteran captain, the other, well, a popular veteran captain.
For now, the fourth-ranked Buckeyes do not face a quarterback dilemma.
Junior Braxton Miller will return as the starter when his sprained left knee is healthy — possibly as soon as today against Florida A&M.
That is a given. Miller is the unsurpassed dual threat, the record-setting star the Buckeyes almost certainly need to fulfill their highest ambitions this year. Who’s to argue he too would not have incinerated the defenses of San Diego State and California?
Yet in an everybody-loves-the-backup world, senior Kenny Guiton’s recent prosperity has added an unlikely new dynamic to Ohio State’s season.
Coach Urban Meyer said this week Guiton has earned time — even if it means he and Miller are on the field together — while it is unspoken that the Buckeyes now have a proven reliever if the starter were to lose his way.
“If Braxton throws two interceptions last year, then you stick with him because he's your guy,” former OSU quarterback Stanley Jackson said in a phone interview. “You don't know what you've got behind him. But now, if he's not playing [well] or he gets injured, there's no hesitation. Kenny Guiton goes into the football game.
“The thing to look out for with Braxton Miller is how he navigates that space. Does he press or is he just as confident as he's always been?”
Though a vastly different scenario from the Buckeyes’ current puzzle, Jackson knows well the pressure of a quarterback gazing over his shoulder. Jackson started all but one game in 1996 and 1997 but shared time with Joe Germaine. It was the backup Germaine, for instance, who led OSU on a game-winning 65-yard touchdown drive in the final 1:40 of the 1997 Rose Bowl against Arizona State.
“There were times in my career that knowing Joe was there led me to bad decisions,” Jackson said. “Just because you begin to press and you want to play more and you realize it's the third possession and you haven't scored yet. You think, ‘Well, Joe's probably on deck.’”
Jackson and Germaine disliked the two-quarterback system, but vowed to handle it with class. Still, the controversy divided fans — “I was loved a lot more as [Bobby Hoying’s] backup than I was playing in front of Joe,” Jackson said — and, to an extent, the team.
“The media was asking questions that I thought were damaging,” Jackson said. “They'd ask the receivers, ‘Who would you rather have throw it to you? Who throws it better?’ I read that. Joe reads that. Dee Miller says me. David Boston says Joe. That's a problem. I stopped talking to the media my senior year because of it.”
Meyer has experience with a two-quarterback system, playing Andy Sahm and Josh Harris at Bowling Green in 2001 and Chris Leak and Tim Tebow at Florida in 2006. But those arrangements had a yin-and-yang logic to them. On the Gators’ national title team, Tebow served as a bruising dual threat in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
“The thing that Tebow and Leak gave us is two unique-style quarterbacks where it’s the curveball and fastball,” Meyer said.
Miller and Guiton each have their strengths. Miller wields a bigger arm, a quicker release, and big-play speed and elusiveness. Guiton is more comfortable running the zone read.
“I think Kenny is a natural option quarterback,” Meyer said this week. “Braxton is not quite as natural pitching the ball. I would say that's probably the one area that Kenny excels at. In the last two games, we've ran more option than we've run in a long time.”
Ultimately, though, Meyer said Miller and Guiton are too “similar in ability” to consider a two-quarterback system.
“I'm not sure that would be a good idea,” he said, “But I can see getting Kenny a couple reps in there sometime.”
That is fine, Jackson said, as long as Miller knows he is the guy. “You’ve got to be careful about eroding Miller’s confidence,” he said. Or, for that matter, dividing the team — a possibility Meyer dismissed.
“I think it would be [a problem] if there was personality conflicts, if there was agendas,” he said. “There's certainly none here.”
In that sense, Guiton is the perfect teammate. The fifth-year senior knows he could start elsewhere, knows that his performance against Cal turned heads nationally. But he knows his role and has grown close with Miller. He is a mentor now and, if Meyer has his way, will be a coach later.
Guiton should again see significant time for at least one more Saturday with Miller expected to ease back in an undefined role against FAMU. Beyond that, as long as the Buckeyes keep piling up wins, he will enjoy the ride.
“I'm here, I'm OK,” he said. “I'm in my senior year having fun. I'm a captain, I don't regret anything. ... I'm happy with whatever [the coaches] decide to do. I'm all with the team. I've been that way for 4 1/2 years. Why change now? When my number is called, I'll be ready.”