When Braxton Miller didn't get up from a violent collision with the turf late in the third quarter against Purdue on Saturday, Ohio State fans had every reason to be worried. Here was the Big Ten's best player, out for the game, and the Buckeyes were staring a 20-14 deficit in the face.
In came Kenny Guiton. Buckeye fans were used to seeing him in spot situations whenever Miller needed a break, but Guiton had never been tasked with a situation like this. You've got a six-point deficit that's about to become eight. Miller couldn't make this offense run, but now you have to. You have one quarter. You'll need all of it. Go.
As we now know, Guiton needed all of that quarter and then some to make the comeback happen, but he got it done, leading a last-minute rally to tie the game and then scoring an overtime touchdown that Purdue had no shot of matching. 29-22 Buckeyes, and the perfect season was still alive.
But it almost didn't happen like that. Guiton almost wasn't a Buckeye at this point, and if things had gone just a little differently, Ohio State would have been looking for a backup quarterback last Saturday while Guiton either languished on someone else's roster while he waited out his ineligibility, played for some FCS team...or sat at home with a dead dream of being a quarterback.
"[Guiton] was ready to get a one-way bus ticket back to Texas when I first got here," Meyer said per Mark Schlabach at ESPN.com. "Then he changed really dramatically."
Buying that bus ticket would have been a perfectly understandable decision for a junior who's relegated to sitting behind a sophomore quarterback like Braxton Miller, whose name might as well be etched into the top spot of the depth chart for as long as he's in Columbus. Quarterbacks want to quarterback, not hold clipboards—especially when they're just a few short years from being so well-regarded that they earned a scholarship offer from the Ohio State.
But instead of doing some simple roster math and heading out of town, Guiton accepted the challenge of simply improving as a quarterback at Ohio State and waiting for his opportunity, and the Buckeyes are awfully lucky that he did. It's to the point that he's now no longer just a backup quarterback—he's an integral part of the team's leadership.
“I don’t think I stood out enough; I don’t think I did anything to be a quarterback,” the amiable Texan said about starting out in Meyer’s doghouse. “Quarterbacks stand up and be a leader. I was probably just another guy, going through the motions.”
He’s come so far since then that Herman calls him “Coach Guiton” in the film room, on the practice field and along the sidelines, where he stood ready for the big moment that arrived Saturday.
The "Coach Guiton" moniker is one the Ohio State coaches have been touting since before the season, so this isn't euphoric bluster after the rally against Purdue. They've trusted him all year, and this is the end result.
And remember, Ohio State does have experience trying to close out a game without a trusted backup quarterback. Remember Joe Bauserman coming in for Miller at the end of the Nebraska game? Buckeye fans sure do, and his 1-for-10, 13-yard, one interception line is now seared into their brains.
So having someone like Guiton around is a veritable luxury, and it's essentially the only reason Ohio State is still undefeated. Not bad for a kid who wanted out a year ago.