10 Things We Learned from a Stunning Comeback
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It was another wild and unpredictable day for the 2012 Buckeyes and first-year head coach Urban Meyer on Saturday.
Backup quarterback Kenny Guiton threw the game tying touchdown pass to Chris Fields and Johnthan Hankins blocked a key field goal in the second half as Ohio State overcame the loss of Heisman Trophy candidate Braxton Miller.
Here’s a look at the 10 Things We Learned from a stunning come-from-behind victory at Ohio Stadium.
1. It’s not over until it’s over. I’m sure I’m not the only one who had friends at the game Saturday who decided to leave early. Heck, even athletic director Gene Smith was heading for the elevator as I made my way down to the field just in time to see Purdue take over on offense after the interception by Kenny Guiton. Things were looking bleak, and the crowd was thinning out by the minute, but then something switched. The defense forced a three-and-out and Guiton found Devin Smith on that 39-yard pass in the final minute of the game.
Fans stopped moving, many returned to their seats. The energy shifted and the place was so loud at one point Urban Meyer had to quiet the crowd before the two-point conversion. Those who stayed were treated to one heck of a finish, and a pretty decent celebration with the players afterward. It’s something most of them will always remember, even if it wasn’t a monumental win for the program. Those who left? Well, they’ll have to catch the highlights on Sportscenter.
2. Braxton Miller is not the entire offense. Watching this team over the first seven games of the season, there was an overwhelming feeling that everything was hanging on the health of sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller. Not only is he the leader of this offense, but at times he was this offense. It always seemed as though Ohio State had a tough time getting things in gear offensively until they finally cut Miller loose.
His dynamic running ability was not only a dangerous weapon for the offense, it was often downright demoralizing for the opposing defense. Guiton had a few nice showings in relief, but there was a sense that if Miller were to miss more than a few snaps, everything would unravel.
For a moment on Saturday, it looked like that’s exactly what was going to happen. Guiton couldn’t finish of the first drive and then took a safety on the next one (even though it wasn’t his fault and probably never should have been called for that penalty on Jeff Heuerman). Then Urban Meyer got in the face of his backup quarterback and told him to go win the game. And guess what? He did, but not all by himself. Guiton had a lot of help. Devin Smith made a big play. Evan Spencer had a catch and caused an interference penalty in the end zone. Jake Stoneburner snagged a big catch in OT and Heuerman redeemed himself with the two-point conversion play.
3. Expect the unexpected. Then of course there was the touchdown catch from Chris Fields. This is a kid who had barely played all season and did not have a single catch in the first seven games of the year. He was buried on the depth chart with no end in sight, but then, suddenly, he reappeared at the most opportune time. Fields finished with three caches for 44 yards Saturday. He probably should have scored on the 35-yard grab, but the “Turf monster” got him. When the team needed him most, however, Fields came up big. He got his hands under Guiton’s pass and held on tight for what ultimately became the game-tying touchdown scoring. What a great story for a kid who has endured a lot of adversity over the last two years.
4. Miller is still, by far, the best player on this team. It had to be nice for Meyer and Tom Herman to see Guiton and the entire cast of characters on offense step up their game with Miller in the hospital, but let’s not get carried away about what makes this football team go. It’s still Braxton Miller. They did a good job getting in the end zone twice without him on Saturday, but long term (which for this team means the next four games) this team needs No. 5 to run the show. He’s the best player on the OSU offense and one of the most dynamic athletes in the country. Guiton played well when his team needed him most, but he’s not Braxton Miller.
5. The Buckeyes are very susceptible on just about any given week. That’s two weeks in a row now where the Buckeyes have nearly lost to a team they were favored to beat by nearly three touchdowns. Go back to the Cal game and this 2012 Ohio State team is destroying Meyer’s reputation against the spread.
Playing at night on the road after two big games was a believable excuse for nearly blowing that Indiana game last week, but how do we explain this one? Purdue has played well against the Buckeyes recently, but not in Columbus.
The reality is, this team is a very lucky 8-0. Now it really is better to be lucky than good sometimes – assuming you can’t be both – but this team has some major issues that can pop at any moment.
6. Special teams is an ongoing, rather frustrating problem. It starts on defense, but it’s not just the defense. Yes, the Buckeyes gave up an 83-yard touchdown pass on the first offensive play for Purdue, but the larger concern has to be the 100-yard kick return for a touchdown. It seemed like just a matter of time before someone got out of the gates and didn’t let Drew Basil bring him down. Losing De’van Bogard to what looks like a serious knee injury is not good for a kick coverage team that’s already without Armani Reeves (ankle), Najee Murray (knee) and Jamie Wood (shoulder).
7. It can also be a blessing. The Buckeyes also should have come up with at least one of the fumbled punt returns today, but nobody seemed to have enough awareness to fall on the football after it squirted free. It also looked like Ben Buchanan could have had at least one of his punts blocked, but it was hardly a total loss for the OSU special teams. Meyer’s teams really do have a knack for changing the game with a big play on special teams, and that was certainly the case against Purdue. Consider the fact either blocked kick (the extra point or the field goal) would have won Purdue the game.
8. This team has whatever “it” is, and it’s exactly what last year’s team was lacking. It’s easy to call this team more lucky than good at this point in the season, but the reality is that this team trained as hard as any team in the country to make sure they would have luck on their side this season. Remember, luck is simply where preparation meets opportunity, and every time this team has had an opportunity to fail or to give up, it hasn’t. It keeps coming back. It finds a way to win, against whatever odds, which is about as polar opposite as can be from the team we watched a year ago.
9. Ryan Shazier played a hell of a football game. This week’s 10 Things piece would be remiss without at least mentioning the tremendous play of linebacker Ryan Shazier. He isn’t a perfect player yet, far from it, but Shazier is easily the best linebacker this team has and one of its most indispensible players. He always seemed to be around the football Saturday, and I thought he played maybe his best game of the season against Purdue. He led the team with 12 tackles, including seven solo stops and 1.5 tackles for loss. More importantly, he cut back on his missed tackles and poor leverage, which might explain why the defense allowed only 14 points this week after giving up 49 to Indiana a week ago.
10. Noah Spence is ready to play big boy football. Another guy who really took his game to another level this week is freshman defensive end Noah Spence. He had seen spot duty in some other games this year, but Saturday was the first time where any freshman at any position was truly a part of the gameplan. Spence saw by far his most time on the field in week eight, and he was asked to play in some pretty critical situations, including the final possession for the Boilers. Spence gives OSU another talented pass rusher out there and he also allowed Nathan Williams to help out at linebacker.
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