BERKELEY, Calif. — Three games in, what’s both tantalizing and frustrating about No. 3 Ohio State’s march toward bigger and better games and really shiny things is that the Buckeyes, in stretches, look like they can be scary good.
For about 95 percent of teams in their position, losing a starting quarterback — even for a few series — would be just plain scary.
Urban Meyer sleeps well at night, though. As we’ve discovered over the last eight days, this Kenny Guiton can play.
He’s kind of a coach’s dream, too.
Called to make his first career start Saturday at Cal, Guiton played like he’s been in the spotlight his whole career. More importantly, he smartly and efficiently directed Ohio State’s offense through a 52-34 win that was as fast and as wild as the final score indicates. There were 445 yards of total offense in the first quarter and 1,111 for the game.
With Cal playing a freshman quarterback and Ohio State playing its backup.
To simply say Guiton is no ordinary backup would sell him short. For four seasons he’s done a lot of watching and working and not much playing, but over the last two weeks he’s not only outplayed expectations but many longtime starters at a lot of programs. Guiton set one school record against Cal and flirted with the records for total offense and most touchdown passes. Ohio State had 11 drives in the first three quarters, and eight of them ended in scores.
The Buckeyes rolled up 608 yards of offense Saturday, the most in 15 games under Meyer, the man who helped bring the Ohio State offense out of the Stone Ages. Meyer thought giving reigning Big Ten Player of the Year Braxton Miller at least one more week to heal after suffering a sprained MCL on the first drive last week against San Diego State was the right play, and Guiton rewarded his coach’s faith.
Guiton completed 21 of 32 passes for 276 yards and 4 touchdowns, starting with a 90-yard pass to Devin Smith on the game’s second play, the longest play from scrimmage in Ohio State history. That play, Guiton said, “let them know we were out here to take over.”
Guiton also totaled 97 rushing yards on 14 carries. On more than one occasion he froze the defense with either his eyes or a ball fake, waiting to push it out to the edge via option pitch or inside shovel pass. Meyer wants his offense to play fast and keep defenses guessing, and Guiton’s apparent mastery of it keeps his coach happy and keeps the scoreboard operator busy.
“I’m in my fifth year getting my first start and it’s a blessing, man,” Guiton said. “Just a blessing.”
It is. For an Ohio State team that clearly has horsepower but is still figuring out how to navigate its way, he is.
When the postgame press conference questions came about how tough it will be to step away when Miller comes back, Guiton dismissed them — and the thought that such a change will cause any issue.
“I’ll just be the guy I’ve been forever,” Guiton said. “I’ll be there, being a leader. I’ll be helping Braxton no matter what goes on.”
Meyer said Guiton has given him plenty to think about when that situation arises and that Guiton “will probably get in the game a little bit.” For now, anyway, the possibility of having two deserving quarterbacks is not a problem. It’s something else that could give defenses fits in this ever-evolving offense.
Carlos Hyde, Ohio State’s top running back last season, is eligible to return from suspension next week. Seven different Buckeyes caught passes Saturday; last year, Ohio State would have struggled just to complete 7 passes. Jordan Hall is all business in the running game, and freshman speedster Dontre Wilson keeps earning more touches. The guy out of the bullpen has kept all involved while asking for no credit.
“Jordan has been great,” Guiton said. “And the offensive line is doing a job I can’t even explain.”
Guiton has completed 40 passes for 6 touchdowns in the last two weeks. Prior to that, he’d thrown 25 passes in his career. Against Cal, he came one shy of tying the school record for touchdown passes in a game and 29 yards short of Ohio State’s single-game mark for total offense.
“Kenny makes sure he’s prepared each week,” Ohio State wide receiver Chris Fields said. “He knew he was going to be able to start and he took advantage of it. Hard work paid off for him.”
The game’s first pass went to Fields on a wide receiver screen. On the next play, Guiton faked that and threw deep to Smith, who ran past the first and second lines of defense and found Guiton’s pass waiting on him.
Meyer said he knew by the middle of the practice week that Guiton was going to be the starter, and though the practice reps indicated that would be the case he never felt he had to tell Guiton. He knew what Guiton would bring.
“I prepared hard; I killed myself with that film,” Guiton said. “When you’re nervous, that helps you prepare harder.
“I always just prepare like a starter and let the rest handle itself. We have a lot of weapons. Those guys make the plays.
Ohio State had too much for Cal. Guiton got the ball to the right guys in the right spots enough times to make sure the Buckeyes kept some breathing room in the second half.
“He distributes it,” Meyer said. “I’m more impressed with his downfield throws. He’s really worked on that.”
Twice, the Buckeyes had two-play scoring drives. The dagger came in the form of a 15-play, 80-yard march in the third quarter capped by a floating 6-yard pass to Corey Brown in the corner of the end zone, the kind of pass coaches teach quarterbacks to throw where only their intended receiver catch it.
The kind of pass Miller can’t make at this stage of his career, frankly.
Guiton and Hall, who got 190 total yards on 35 touches, provided both sizzle and substance. The Buckeyes still have a long way to go, but they’re clearly moving forward. Guiton has not only helped that but might have accelerated it.
“He looked complete,” Meyer said.
Guiton made it look like it was all just part of a night’s work, like he’s done this many times before.