What To Do with Kenny
Meyer Contemplating Ways to Involve Both His QBs
By Brandon Castel
Urban Meyer has a Heisman Trophy candidate sitting on his bench, how long can he stay there?
Braxton Miller in street clothes before the Cal game.
Photo by Jim Davidson
If the answer to that question depended solely on the play of his current quarterback, it might mean Braxton Miller would spend the rest of the season watching the Buckeyes from the sideline, the way he did Saturday against Cal.
Except this is Braxton Miller we’re talking about, and while Kenny Guiton looked like he could start for just about any team in the country on Saturday, Ohio State already has a starting quarterback.
“Braxton is the guy,” wide receiver Devin Smith told reporters on Monday.
That being the same Devin Smith who caught three passes for 149 yards and a pair of touchdowns from Guiton this past week in a 52-34 win over the Golden Bears. It was Guiton’s first start in five years, and the first real chance for everyone to see what kind of player he could be in Meyer’s offense.
“Kenny Guiton has earned some time,” Meyer said Monday during his weekly press conference, “he did a nice job.”
What that means exactly, only Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman might know. After missing last week’s game with a knee injury, Miller was expected to practice Tuesday and the Ohio State coaches would like to see their best player back on the field Saturday. Even if it is against a team they’re projected to beat by more than 50 points.
“We've got a lot of work to do,” Meyer said Monday,” so, no, if he's ready, he'll play this week.”
There is no guarantee Miller will be fully ready to face Florida A&M by Saturday, at least in terms of being the guy who ran for nearly 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns last season while leading the Buckeyes to a perfect 12-0 season. After all, he’s less than two weeks removed from a sprained MCL that knocked him out of Ohio State’s 42-7 win over San Diego State.
in action against Cal.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Guiton finished off that game with a pair of touchdown passes to Philly Brown, and a 44-yard jaunt to the end zone that proved he could be a little more effective running the ball than people expected. He finished with 83 yards on nine carries in that game, and racked up 92 rushing yards on just 14 carries against Cal.
“I think Kenny is a natural option quarterback,” Meyer said Monday.
“Braxton is not quite as natural pitching the ball. I would say that's probably the one area that Kenny excels at. There’s a couple that were – right now, in the last two games, we've run more option than we've run in a long time.”
Guiton has also thrown seven touchdown passes and just one interception since Miller was taken off the field in the first quarter of that San Diego State game. He’s completed 67 percent of his passes and nearly set the school record for total offense this past week, but Braxton Miller is the star of the team, and when he’s healthy, he’s one of the most elusive players in college football.
“We didn't have that dilemma a year ago; or not dilemma, but luxury,” Meyer said of the looming decision on how to handle the quarterback position this week.
“So I have not really done that, but we're in conversation about that right now.”
The old football adage says if your team has two quarterbacks it actually doesn't have one. It’s a phrase that really only makes sense to football people, but the point is most midseason quarterback competitions results from some combination of an underachieving starter or an overachieving backup.
The Buckeyes have one of those things in play, as Guiton is coming off a game in which he was named the national Walter Camp Player of the Week. The offense was clicking on all cylinders with Guiton running the show Saturday, and Miller is still dealing with an injury.
“It can linger and that's something that we have to be smart, and I'll have to evaluate that as we go,” Meyer said Monday.
The concern with Braxton Miller is not his straight ahead speed, but rather his ability to change direction quickly with a sprained medial collateral ligament on the inside of his leg. With two good knees, Miller is the obvious choice to take the bulk of the snaps at quarterback Saturday, but how healthy can he be after just one week’s rest?
Without his lateral quickness and escapability, it’s hard to argue Miller is a better fit to run the Ohio State offense than Guiton, who has been dialed in every time he’s stepped out there to fill in for the team’s oft-injured starter.
“I would say Kenny is probably a little more patient in the pocket than Braxton is, but throwing wise I feel they both can throw the ball very well,” said wideout Devin Smith, one of Miller’s closest friends on the team.
“Braxton may have a quicker release than Kenny, but when it's all said any done they both get the job done and that's what we're looking for.”
What about playing them both?
"That would be nice. I think that would work,” Smith said.
Kenny Guiton and Braxton Miller
Photo by Jim Davidson
Meyer has certainly come up with creative ways to get his best playmakers on the field in years past. Most notably, Meyer used a combination of Chris Leak and Tim Tebow to lead Florida to his first BCS National Championship back in 2006. Leak was the established starter and Tebow, a future Heisman Trophy winner, was only a freshman, but Meyer doesn’t see a similar scenario unfolding with Miller and Guiton this season.
Meyer compared Leak and Tebow to a pitcher having a fastball and a curveball at his disposal, which means Miller and Guiton might be more like having two different variations of a slider – one with more movement and one with more velocity.
Miller is listed as the starter on this week’s depth chart and Meyer said he was ‘probable’ heading into his first practice since suffering the knee injury back in week two. If Miller is ready to go on Saturday, that leaves Meyer with a couple options for how he can use both of his guys.
“The obvious (options) are one starts and one plays a couple series,” Meyer said, acknowledging the fact Ohio State could use some sort of rotation against FAMU this week.
“The other is, maybe a couple plays where they're both on the field or being creative and trying to get your best players on the field. We're still working through that.”
Meyer has certainly proven himself to be creative enough to find a way to get both of them on the field at the same time, whether that’s using Miller as an H-back or lining up them up in some sort of loaded pistol formation where either quarterback could be the designed passer. The Buckeyes could even use some sort of reverse pass, but it’s going to be hard even for Meyer to implement more than a handful of plays in such a limited amount of time.
Then there’s the reality that putting both Miller and Guiton out there together would mean taking someone else off the field. That’s going to be tough to do right now, especially with Carlos Hyde coming back from his three-game suspension.
“If he's one of the best 11, you have an obligation to get him on the field a little bit,” Meyer said of Guiton, “and if – I haven't said he's one of the best 11 yet, but that's something we are in the process of as coaches to (identify) that.”
Meyer didn’t mention Hyde, or Jordan Hall, who is coming off a career game against Cal over the weekend. Putting Miller at the H-back position would also mean less Dontre Wilson, who has been as explosive as advertised in that role over the last two weeks.
“The good thing is, once again, there are some choices now,” Meyer said.
“You have Devin Smith, Evan Spencer, Philly Brown and Chris Fields, and Jeff Heuerman is another guy who deserves a ball in his hand. It's a great issue to have, is good players that need to get on the field.”
It seems more likely Guiton and Miller will split time on Saturday rather than share it, but anything is possible with this coaching staff.
“Coach Meyer, he's a smart coach so I know he's going to make the right decision, but for me personally, it really doesn't matter to me who's in,” Devin Smith added.
“They're both winners, they both can throw the ball, they both know the offense. So we're not going to miss a beat with whoever's in.”
Especially with who they’re playing on Saturday.