CHAPTER 20 Purdue: Guiton’s moment
Prairie View A&M.
That was where Kenny Guiton was likely headed until that unexpected offer from Ohio State.
Guiton had been offered scholarships by such schools as Kansas, Iowa State and his hometown University of Houston, but those vanished when other quarterbacks committed first. Guiton wasn’t on Ohio State’s radar until quite late in the recruiting process in 2009, either. The Buckeyes wanted Tajh Boyd or Austin Boucher to serve as an understudy to Terrelle Pryor and then possibly succeed him. But Boyd went to Clemson and became a star. Boucher turned down Jim Tressel’s late offer and stuck with his original commitment to Miami University, where he spent his first three years as a backup. With Joe Bauserman the only other scholarship quarterback on the roster, Ohio State was desperate to sign someone else, even if all he contributed was another arm for practice reps.
With the other offers gone, Guiton had resigned himself to settling for Prairie View, a Football Championship Subdivision school northwest of Houston that plays in the historically black Southwestern Athletic Conference. Its stadium holds 6,000. When Ohio State offered, Guiton couldn’t quite believe it.
Not much was expected of Guiton. He certainly wouldn’t challenge Pryor for the starting job, and the Buckeyes figured to recruit Pryor’s heir apparent later, which turned out to be Miller. Guiton did have a chance to win the starting job in 2011 after Pryor left and Miller was a raw freshman, but he didn’t do much to distinguish himself. He appeared in one game all season – against Nebraska -- and had no statistics. When Urban Meyer arrived, he knew little about him as a player but was thoroughly unimpressed by Guiton’s reputation. It didn’t help that Guiton was one of the players late for Meyer’s first team meeting the morning after the Gator Bowl. That he was tardy only because he’d stopped to pick up Orhian Johnson after the safety’s car wouldn’t start wasn’t much of a mitigating factor in coaches’ eyes.
“In January, I called him in and said we had some things happen here that a quarterback shouldn’t do,” Meyer said. “I said, ‘I’m not coaching you. It’s time for you to go.’ It was a bad meeting. I found out some things he did in the past.”
Guiton doesn’t recall being told he was on the verge of being booted. But he knew he was in the doghouse.
“I’m not really sure (why),” Guiton said. “I guess I had a history of partying. This is what I was told: I was known as the guy who got people together for parties.”
His parties weren’t wild ones, Guiton said, but Meyer impressed upon him the need for a quarterback to set an example in all ways.
“At the time, I didn’t get it and didn’t know why I was being pointed out as that (negative) guy,” Guiton said. “Now looking back on it, I see the effect I have on teammates and how much of a leader I can be. If my actions were that, I didn’t mean for them to be that. That’s what the coaches had heard and that’s the mentality they’d come in with, thinking that I was. I didn’t think it was a fair characterization of me, but I like to have fun, just like anybody else.”
With an easy-going personality and an ever-present smile, Guiton was always liked by his teammates. Now he had to earn the respect of his coaches.
“I definitely thought that they didn’t want me around at the time,” Guiton said.
The only way he could prove his value was to work hard in the offseason, and he did. Mickey Marotti quickly identified him as one of the team’s leaders, despite his backup status. By the end of spring practice, Meyer’s opinion of Guiton had changed 180 degrees.
“Kenny Guiton is a very powerful guy,” he said. “Kids migrate to him. They listen to him. They like him. He’s a unique kid, and a great kid. He was a critical guy to (buy in).”
Guiton had another incentive to get with the program. He learned in February that he would become a father.
“I was a little scared but excited at the same time,” he said.
He knew he wouldn’t be playing just for himself anymore, and his dedication reflected it. When Meyer had his post-spring practice individual meetings – many of which were unpleasantly blunt – his review with Guiton was glowing.
"I don’t know if he was expecting that,” Meyer said.
“Throughout spring practice, I saw the growth of a young person into a young man, which was really cool. He was very unselfish player, a player who can lead this team. I don’t know if he’d ever been told that. He had this look in his eye like, ‘This is unbelievable.’”
Even with that ringing endorsement, he wasn’t going to beat out Miller. But at least the Buckeyes entered the season knowing they had a viable alternative if anything happened to Miller.
Something would against Purdue.
X X X
Other than playing undefeated Notre Dame tough in a 20-17 defeat, Purdue gave little indication that it would be the team that would throw the biggest scare of the season into Ohio State.
The Buckeyes were 17-point favorites against the Boilermakers. Purdue usually gives the Ohio State fits at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette. At Ohio Stadium, it’s typically a different story. The Boilermakers hadn’t won in Columbus since 1988. The Boilermakers had rotated three quarterbacks, none of whom had been able to seize the job. Purdue had some talented players, most notably nose tackle Kawann Short, but its season was already in the midst of a slump that would cost coach Danny Hope his job.
For the first 59 minutes of the game, however, it was the Buckeyes who could do little right. On the game’s very first snap, the Boilermakers called for a wheel route to fullback Akeem Shavers. Co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers said the Buckeyes had schemed for a version of that play, but to the boundary – short side – of the field. Purdue ran it to the far side, trying to exploit Orhian Johnson and Storm Klein, who was still starting instead of Zach Boren. Purdue sent a receiver in Johnson’s direction hoping to isolate Klein in man-to-man coverage. Johnson did as Purdue hoped, going to that receiver. Klein, especially with his ailing back, couldn’t keep pace with Shavers. He caught the pass from Caleb TerBush in stride. Klein made a futile dive at Shavers, who ran for the 83-yard touchdown for a 6-0 lead.
“They were really trying to take advantage of our Mike linebacker,” Withers said. “It was a little bit of a thing throughout the year, because of that position. It was one of those plays that they really schemed us. They got us. It might have gotten a lot of teams not prepared for that play.”
Garrett Goebel blocked Purdue’s extra-point kick, and that would loom huge by game’s end. It was the sort of overlooked-but-significant play the unassuming defensive tackle made all season.
“I just remember being really pissed off that they scored,” Goebel said, “and I was trying to come off the ball hard. I got out on the guy across from me, and I ended up getting my hand up and blocking it.”
If the Ohio State offense had played the way it had in Big Ten play so far, that quick touchdown might have become a mere blip. But a Purdue defense that had given up 771 yards rushing the previous two weeks suddenly became stout against the Buckeyes. Carlos Hyde ran for 91 yards in 19 carries, but Miller was held in check. Until his fateful final carry, Miller was limited to 11 carries for 10 yards.
“They made a decision to take away our quarterback, a little bit like Wisconsin did (later),” Meyer said. “Something we call zero hole. No safeties deep. We should have thrown it all over the place. (But) that’s not who we were. They did a good job. Purdue had good players and they schemed us pretty good, and we weren’t playing well.”
Even when Ohio State’s offense got untracked, the Buckeyes couldn’t enjoy it for long. Ohio State took a 7-6 lead later in the first quarter on a 67-yard touchdown drive capped by an 8-yard Miller touchdown run. But Akeem Hunt – the Buckeyes had a tough day stopping guys named Akeem – took the kickoff and ran it back 100 yards for a touchdown.\
In the third quarter, Ohio State went 80 yards in eight plays. On third-and-10 from the Buckeyes’ 44, Miller threw to Philly Brown for a 19-yard completion. But Brown sustained a concussion when tackled and left the game for good. Chris Fields replaced him. The junior started eight games in 2011 without distinction. This year, he’d been almost a forgotten player. He didn’t even play the UCF, Cal or Michigan State games as he battled shoulder and shin split injuries. Fields hadn’t caught a pass all season.
“It was very humbling to me,” Fields said.
Braxton would give him a chance to make an impact on the very next play, and he did. Fields caught a pass along the left sideline for a 35-yard completion. That set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Hyde.
Again, however, Purdue countered. The Boilermakers drove from their 18 to the Ohio State 31. On first down, TerBush threw a quick wide screen to Gary Bush. Purdue blocked C.J. Barnett and Travis Howard, and Bush raced between them for the touchdown to make it 20-14.
Purdue had a chance to extend its lead when it forced a fumble by Miller at the Ohio State 30. But Johnathan Hankins blocked Paul Griggs’ 34-yard field-goal attempt to keep it a one-possession game with 29 seconds left in the third quarter.
The next play, however, looked like it might doom Ohio State for the day – and the season. Miller finally broke free on a keeper. As he ran past the Ohio State sideline, Miller tried to stiff-arm Purdue cornerback Josh Johnson. Miller and Johnson battled for leverage until Johnson grabbed Miller’s jersey and body-slammed him to the ground. Miller had dodged serious injury numerous times in 2012. Instantly, this looked different. Miller didn’t move as the stadium hushed.
“My eyes were blurry,” Miller said. “I couldn’t really see. I looked up and tried to hear stuff and couldn’t hear. I couldn’t hear, I couldn’t see. So I just closed my eyes and tried to blink. When (trainer) Doug (Calland) came out there, I actually opened my eyes. ‘OK, cool. I'm good.’ But I couldn’t walk because everything was shot down from my spine. When you get slammed down on your neck like that, it’s really dangerous. I didn’t know what was wrong because I couldn’t walk by myself.”
Miller has had his share of injuries, but this, he said, was the scariest he’d ever had.
“On a scale of 10, it was a 10,” he said.
Miller was helped to the sidelines, though he was clearly in agony. His father, Kevin, came down from the stands to be with him before he was taken to the locker room and eventually by ambulance to the hospital.
X X X
Kenny Guiton had watched the play unfold from the sideline. He stood behind the Purdue defense to get a better angle of the play.
“He made the long run and it went right past me,” Guiton said. “I’m thinking it’s a touchdown. ‘Touchdown, Braxton!’ Then the dude got him. Once he hit the ground, I could tell he was hurting a little bit. But I didn’t know what the extent of it was. I saw how long he was down, and that’s when the nerves kind of took over, like ‘Oh, man, he might not be coming back in. We’re down and I’m going to have to try to win this game for the team.’”
October had already been a whirlwind for Guiton. His son, Jordan Zyaire, was born on the first day of the month in Dayton.
“It was a great feeling,” Guiton said. “Holding him in my arms, I realized I was a dad and all kinds of thoughts ran through my head, like how when I was a child my father was a great father to me. At that moment, I thought how good of a father I wanted to be.”
Now he had a chance to provide a memory he could share with his son forever.
“I felt like that whole game was just for him,” Guiton said. “I got in and wanted to do so good.”
But first he had to conquer his nerves. Guiton may have looked calm on the outside, but the butterflies were buzzing inside of him. It took awhile for Guiton to settle into the game. Guiton’s first pass was an incompletion on third-and-4 from the Purdue 33. Drew Basil’s 50-yard field-goal attempt hit the left upright. Things would get even worse.
Purdue’s punt after its next possession was downed at the 1. On second-and-5, Guiton dropped back to pass in the Ohio State end zone. Tight end Jeff Heuerman pushed a Purdue rusher in the back to keep Guiton from being sacked, and Andrew Norwell did the same to another pass-rusher after Guiton stepped up in the pocket. The umpire threw his flag for holding. The referee announced that the penalty was on Heuerman, though the game log would say it was on Norwell. It didn’t really matter. Holding in the end zone is a safety, and the Buckeyes now trailed 22-14 with 10 minutes left.
After a 4-minute Purdue drive ended with a punt, the Buckeyes took over at their 20. On third-and-13, Guiton rolled out and saw Jake Stoneburner deep near the Purdue sideline. He heaved the ball, but it was underthrown. Stoneburner went up for the ball with the Boilermakers defender, and the ball deflected high in the air into the waiting arms of Purdue’s Landon Feichter.
With 2:40 left, a difficult outlook now became dire. Buckeye fans sensed that too, and many of them left the stadium. The Buckeyes had only timeout left. One of the two they’d used was called early in the fourth quarter because they lined up on defense with only 10 players.
Sometimes the biggest rallies begin almost imperceptibly. Ohio State’s began with a flinch by a Purdue player. Fullback Brandon Cottom moved just before the Boilermakers’ first play after the interception. The false-start penalty made it first-and-15 and changed the entire dynamic of the series.
“It was huge,” Meyer said. “When I saw that, I knew it was a big play.”
Running for a first down now would be difficult, and Ohio State knew the Boilermakers were unlikely to throw a risky pass that could be intercepted. Purdue’s next play was a short pass. Bradley Roby made the tackle for a gain of only 1 yard. The Boilermakers ran twice more and didn’t come close to a first down. Cody Webster’s low punt bounced a couple of times and then rolled before Fields, Brown’s backup as a punt returner as well, wisely picked it up. He raced to the right sideline and gained 9 important yards.
Still, the Buckeyes faced steep odds. They had the ball at their own 39 with 47 seconds left and no timeouts. The Buckeyes’ offense gathered.
“It was just sort of like, ‘We’ve got to do this,’” center Corey Linsley said. “Everyone was screaming and yelling, but you could just see the look on Kenny’s face. He was cool, calm and collected. He was pumped up for the opportunity he had. It kind of calmed us down. We were like, ‘We’re about to win this.’ We had a level of confidence about ourselves that we hadn’t had to that point.”
Guiton took command in the huddle. He told his teammates they needed a big play and reminded them that it was essential to get out of bounds. The first-down call was called “Cross Country,” Guiton said. Devin Smith would run a deep crossing pattern behind the linebackers.
They were confident it would work if he could get protection, because the play required time. Meyer sensed that Purdue wouldn’t blitz.
“We practice that every week,” Meyer said. “That’s what we call one of our chunk plays. It takes forever to open up. You just hold it for so long that a lot of times you get sacked. If you can hold on to it long enough, it’s usually open.”
Guiton did look to be threatened for an instant when Purdue defensive end Ryan Russell got around left tackle Jack Mewhort and got an arm on Guiton. But Mewhort pushed Reynolds before he could really grasp Guiton, who stepped up in the pocket and floated a pass in stride to Smith. The receiver caught the ball at the 38, saw he had room to run and went upfield instead of stepping out of bounds. He was finally tackled at the 22 with 37 seconds left. The Buckeyes hurried to the line, and Guiton completed an 8-yard sideline pass to Evan Spencer, who got out of bounds. After Guiton threw the ball out of the end zone with no open receiver on second down, the Buckeyes faced third-and-2 with 23 seconds. They handed the ball to Hyde, who bulled ahead for the first down, barely. If he hadn’t, the Buckeyes would have had to scramble just to get off a fourth-down play.
Guiton spiked the ball on the next snap. The Buckeyes averted disaster on the next play when Guiton threw a slant-in to Spencer at the Purdue 2. Had Spencer made the diving catch, he would have been a yard short of the first down, and time would have expired. The 2012 SEC championship game ended on a similar play when time ran out on Georgia against Alabama after a Bulldogs’ completion.
“I had pressure in my face, and I made bad decision to throw that one,” Guiton said. “So I was happy that went into the dirt.”
Guiton went back to Spencer on the next play. This time, Josh Johnson was called for an obvious pass-interference penalty, giving the Buckeyes the ball at the 2 with 8 seconds left. Ohio State then called the same play that Spencer caught for an 8-yard gain on the second play of the drive. This time, though, Guiton looked in the other direction. Fields lined up inside on the left side. Guiton rolled out to his left. Hyde blocked a Purdue pass-rusher to give his quarterback more time. Fields was open, but Guiton’s pass was low. Fully extended, Fields dived and cradled the ball in for the touchdown.
“I used to play baseball,” Fields said. “I played centerfield for 13 years. I always taught myself to get that glove under (the ball) – scoop and score.”
Guiton felt as though Fields bailed him out.
“That was a little powder-puff pass,” he said. “I should have put more on it. I wish I didn’t make it so hard on him. He was wide open.”
The play was reviewed to make sure the ball didn’t touch the ground, which it clearly didn’t. That gave the Buckeyes extra time to debate the 2-point conversion needed to tie the game. A year earlier, their season-ending losing streak began when a blocked extra-point kick against the Boilermakers kept Ohio State from winning in regulation. Now the Buckeyes needed to execute a more difficult conversion. On the sideline, their offensive linemen lobbied Meyer to run the ball.
“Our offensive line, which was our bread and butter, and Carlos had that look in their face,” Meyer said. “They were saying, ‘Run the ball, run the ball.’ So I told Tom, ‘I’m thinking about running the ball here.’”
But in the press box, Tom Herman was adamant. The Buckeyes had practiced for this situation with a delayed-action pass to the tight end. Ed Warinner, who’d normally be predisposed to side with his linemen, agreed that the pass was the right call. As co-coordinator, Warinner had been involved in making sure that was part of the game plan. Warinner said he’d used that play while coaching at Army, at Kansas and at Notre Dame.
“That play has never failed me,” he said. “I consider it to be undefeated.”
The key to the play is to make the defense think that the tight end is a blocker. That means that the tight end, Heuerman in this case, does have to block at the beginning of the play. Then he sneaks to the opposite side and catches the pass once those in pass coverage follow other receivers. Meyer weighed all the vehement voices and decided to go with the coaches and stick to the pass.
“Tom said, ‘We’ve practiced the wide play. It’ll be there,’” Meyer recalled. “My concern was if we ran the ball, they’d put too many in there to block. Tom said that we’ve practiced that play for three weeks now. I said, “OK, let’s go with it.’”
The play may have worked in practice, but that was with Miller at the helm. Guiton had never run the play. But his diligence in taking mental reps in practice and studying in the meeting room gave him confidence.
“I knew how to execute it, so I just tried my best to go out and do it,” he said.
The play, like most, did not go exactly according to plan. According to the play design, Heuerman was supposed to block defensive end Ryan Russell, and then go toward the goal line before crossing to his left. That’s not what happened, and Heuerman jokingly blamed right tackle Reid Fragel, his roommate.
“We were supposed to double-team the guy for a minute and then I was supposed to go over top,” Heuerman said with a laugh. “But Reid’s big ass came through and just annihilated the dude and threw him in front of me. So I got a little stuck behind him for a second and had to find a way out, one way or another.
“There’s no second option. I had to find a way out."
So Heuerman decided to cut under Russell and Fragel and run his route that way.
“When you watch it on tape, it was the smart thing to do,” tight ends coach Tim Hinton said.
But because he had to fight through the muck of linemen, Heuerman was a split-second later than expected running his route.
“While I was at the top of my drop, I was wondering, ‘Where is he? Where is he?’” Guiton said. “I couldn’t find him. Then I saw him coming out and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, this is it.’”
Hinton had momentary panic in the press box while waiting for Heuerman to break open.
“I’m screaming my lungs out, ‘Get out! Get out! Get out!” he said. “You can see the defense starting to collapse on Kenny, and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, this could go bad.’ Then the ball comes out and Jeff is wide open.”
Guiton lofted the ball over defensive tackle Bruce Gaston into the waiting hands of Heuerman.
“I better catch it or I’m not making it out the stadium,” Heuerman told himself.
He did. Tie game. Basil squibbed the ensuing kickoff to Akeem Hunt, and he was quickly tackled to send the game to overtime. Purdue won the toss and deferred. On the first play from the 25, the Buckeyes almost got into trouble when Guiton bobbled Linsley’s high snap. But he secured it and dived back to the line of scrimmage. Guiton then zipped a pass to Stoneburner for a 17-yard gain. Three plays later, Hyde dived in for a 2-yard touchdown.
Now it was Purdue’s turn. TerBush threw to Gabe Holmes at the Buckeyes’ 10, but C.J. Barnett drilled Holmes, jarring the ball free. On second down, Ryan Shazier’s blitz up the middle forced TerBush to throw earlier than he wanted and his short throw to Dolapo Macarthy sailed high. Purdue tried a wide-receiver screen to Holmes on third down, but Johnathan Hankins alertly sniffed out the play and tackled Holmes to keep the gain to only 5 yards. It was the kind of play that endeared Hankins to his coaches, even if it looked like just another tackle in the play-by-play log.
“You watch him and say, ‘Wow, a 325-pound guy on play No. 65 of the game just chased down a screen from behind,’” defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. “You’re not going to find a whole lot of those. It goes down as a tackle for a 4- or 5-yard gain. But when you really watch the game of football, you say, ‘Holy shit.’”
Hankins was shaken up on the play. That gave both teams a chance to contemplate the fourth-down play, and Purdue took a timeout after seeing how Ohio State lined up. It didn’t help. Freshman defensive end Noah Spence, whose mom’s dream about “Urban Meyers” caused them to believe that divine intervention sent him to Ohio State, beat his man off the edge. That forced TerBush to step up in the pocket and then roll right as John Simon pursued. TerBush barely got the pass off before Simon decked him. Safety Christian Bryant stayed right with tight end Crosby Wright, but it didn’t matter. The hurried pass carried over the end zone, clinching the 29-22 victory.
The victory was a backup quarterback’s dream.
“I can’t even explain it,” Guiton said. “It was so fulfilling. You want to come out and win the game as a quarterback. You want to take control of a game and try to win it. As a backup , you’re not given that chance many times. So when you are given that chance, you have to have taken advantage. Just to see all the faith my coaches and teammates had in me -- they all rallied behind me and believed in me -- it’s an experience I’ll never forget.”
While Guiton was leading the comeback, Braxton Miller was at the hospital, still shaken but, amazingly, not seriously hurt. He was given a sedative after taking an MRI and awoke to see Meyer and Mickey Marotti there to check on him.
“After my MRI and they gave me the medicine to make me drowsy, I fell asleep and woke up and felt better,” he said. “OK, I’m able to talk and see.”
The game’s outcome was never far from his mind.
“He kept asking, ‘What was the score?’” Kevin Miller said. “He was trying to keep up with what was going on. He wanted to get back out there.”
Guiton, whose supposed partying ways got him on the verge of being booted in the early days of the Meyer regime, had a low-key evening.
“I didn’t do much at all,” he said. “I hung out with a few friends and went out to get something to eat.”
He and Miller also exchanged texts.
“I tried to call him,” Guiton said. “I don’t think many people got to talk to him on the phone that night. I texted him to make sure he was OK. He texted me back and said he was OK and congratulated me on the win.”
Guiton spent the next day with his 3-week-old son.
“We had a great time just relaxing,” he said. “We took a good long nap together.”
Guiton would throw only one more pass in 2012. No matter. With one remarkable comeback, his legacy at Ohio State was secured.
Prairie View, by the way, defeated Alcorn State 52-37 that day to improve its record to 2-5.