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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- When Urban Meyer took over the Ohio State program last January, he assessed that Kenny Guiton was on a one-way ticket out of Columbus. On Saturday night, he was on the toast of the town.
Filling in for injured starter Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes' backup quarterback complete 6-of-11 pass attempts for 77 yards and a touchdown, helping fuel OSU's 29-22 come-from-behind victory over Purdue on Saturday. The Buckeyes' eighth win in as many games this season certainly wasn't impossible, but it was improbable when you consider the circumstances that the team faced when Miller left the game with an apparent head injury with less than four minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Having only attempted one pass- a shovel pass at that- since the Buckeyes' season opener seven games ago, Guiton took over the OSU offense with the team trailing the Boilermakers by six points. After Guiton's first drive of the game resulted in a missed OSU field goal, the redshirt junior credited his teammates with preparing him to play the remainder of the fourth quarter.
"A lot of nerves came through my body and everything," Guiton said. "The people that were around me, they calmed me down, got me ready to go."
The Houston, Texas native's next drive, however, proved to be even less fruitful. After a Purdue punt backed the Buckeyes' offense up to its own 1-yard line, OSU tight end Jeff Heuerman was called for a block in the back in the end zone, which resulted in a safety, giving Purdue an eight-point lead with 10 minutes to play in the game.
The third time didn't prove the be the charm for Guiton either, who followed a delay of game penalty on third-and-eight with an interception that gave Purdue the ball with two minutes and 40 seconds remaining in the game. The pick was enough to put doubt of any potential OSU victory in the minds of many- including some who left the stadium early.
Doubt, however, wasn't present in the mind of OSU coach Urban Meyer, who had a pep talk with his quarterback as the Buckeyes' defense took the field.
"He threw the pick, and I grabbed him, I said you're going to go win us a game," Meyer recalled. "He looked right at me. I think he was down. I think that moment kind of picked him up."
As it turned out, Meyer was right in both assessments.
Getting the ball back with 47 seconds, no timeouts, and trailing the Boilermakers by eight points, Guiton led the Buckeyes on a 61-yard drive that resulted in a two-yard touchdown pass to Chris Fields that gave the Buckeyes' the chance to win the game.
"After that catch, I probably told (Fields) thank you, like a million times," Guiton said. "On the pass, I was just hoping he could get it, and when I seen him get his hands under it, I knew he caught it."
Despite the exhilarating drive- which included a 39-yard completion to wide receiver Devin Smith, the Buckeyes still needed two yards on a two-point conversion attempt before they could send the game into overtime. The offensive line pleaded with Meyer to call a running play for Carlos Hyde, but they were ultimately overruled by offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who preferred a delayed pass play called "Y-Hide."
With Guiton floating a pass over the head of Purdue defensive tackle Bruce Gaston and into the arms of tight end Jeff Heuerman, the play worked like a charm, sending the Buckeyes into overtime with all of the game's momentum on their side.
"I felt like my best pass was probably the two-point conversion," Guiton said. "He had the guy right in front of him, I had to get it over him, so I felt like that was my best one."
All it took after that was five plays and one defensive stand for the Buckeyes to complete their victory- one that was even more unlikely when you consider where the quarterback who orchestrated stood with the head coach of the team less than a year ago.
Throughout the offseason, Meyer made no bones about the fact that his initial impression of Guiton was that his time with the OSU program was almost up. Thanks to a work ethic- or lack thereof- both on and off the field, the first-year OSU coach didn't see Miller's backup quarterback lasting a longtime in his program, which already faced attrition from a number of players seeking playing time elsewhere.
"You come in February, March, when it gets so friggin' hard, you can't give in," Meyer said. "When it really gets really hard, the people that don't work very hard just let go of the rope and do something else."
Maybe as few as six months ago, Meyer would've expected Guiton to let go of that metaphorical rope, but not today. After earning the nickname "Coach Guiton" for his preparation both in practice and in the film room, the fourth-year player finally got his chance to prove his worth to the new coaching staff on the field.
"This is what I play football for. I haven't always had the shot, and I feel like today," Guiton said. "It's just patience."
That patience not only paid off for Guiton, but it helped him earn some more respect from teammates such as John Simon, who has witnessed the quarterback's maturity process since the two arrived in Columbus in 2009.
"He's come a long way. He's a leader on this team, a vocal leader, he leads by his actions," the senior captain said. "You never want your starter to go down, but any time you get to see Kenny get to go out there and perform and get everything he deserves- which he does- it's awesome to see, and everyone on the team had full faith in him at that point."
With Miller being discharged from the hospital on Saturday and deemed "symptom free," it remains unclear what the Buckeyes' current quarterback situation is moving forward. But what is clear is that with his performance against the Boilermakers, Guiton has earned cult hero status amongst Ohio State fans, which is more than anybody could have predicted happening just a year ago.
"It's a long shot situation, but at the same time, you always have to have your head up, and ready to take it on," Guiton said. "That's one thing everybody plays football for: to shock everybody and show them what you can do."
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