If you stopped breathing after Ohio State converted on fourth down in the first quarter on Saturday, you were not alone. You stopped breathing because you saw a gray helmet pop off, and the other 10 helmets were squarely on players not named Braxton Miller. You stopped breathing because legs aren't supposed to bend like that without some sort of issue usually involving a three-lettered acronym like "ACL" or "MCL" or, as a result, "SOL". You stopped breathing because the star quarterback for the Buckeyes was limping off the field and heading for a cart, its final destination the locker room.
But respiration was restored when you saw the senior captain of this Ohio State football team take the field.
Kenny Guiton's career arc is an interesting one. He's been at the school for four years, sitting firmly behind Miller and Terelle Pryor and, for some reason, Joe Bauserman. He has a career 34/54 passing line, with 317 total yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions. That's a career line akin to a decent game by Johnny Manziel. But when #13 has been called by his coaches, especially in two instances of fill-in duty for the injured star starter, Guiton has done nothing but show extreme poise in the face of extreme pressure.
If the saying goes, "if your team has two quarterbacks, you don't have any", then Guiton and a healthy Miller are proving just how wrong a platitude can be. And Guiton has done it twice now in as many seasons. We all remember the game-saving performance after Miller had his clock cleaned last year against Purdue. When Miller again went down on Saturday, albeit with a much more manageable tweaked MCL, it was Guiton who had to lead the Buckeyes passed the hapless Aztecs.
But Guiton did much more than that on the day, and got much more help than expected after last week's sluggish, Miller-and-Jordan-Hall-led win over Buffalo. No one expects the San Diego States of the world to put the fear of anything into the Buckeyes, and they did not on Saturday. But game management is game management, and through two games this year, Guiton's win over Buffalo looks as good, if not just a bit better, than Miller's win over Buffalo in the game before.
(On a neutral field, it is tough to know whether or not that same Buffalo team would beat this San Diego State team; most likely because no one would watch, setting up a tree falling in the forest with no one around scenario.)
Guiton was not the only Buckeye to step up in the face of an injured star quarterback. On the ground, Meyer and Offensive Coordinator Tom Herman were more than willing to give the rock to a number of different players, from the elder statesmen in Guiton and Hall, to freshman standout speedsters Ezekiel Elliott and Dontre Wilson. Seven different players rushed the ball, with Guiton leading the team with 83 yards on the ground, the highlight a 44-yard, untouched burst to pay dirt. Hall had 75 yards on 13 carries and a score, and Wilson added 51 yards and a score on five rushing attempts.
Guiton also supervised a very controlled receiving corps, with seven different players catching passes. Corey "Philly" Brown was the statistical leader, with 73 yards receiving, and two very pretty scores to his name on the day. But more impressive than Guiton's arms or legs, was his ability to run the read-option, a skill Guiton has in spades, in many ways better than that of the quarterback he sits behind on the depth chart. Few were the times where the San Diego State defenders had a good idea of where the ball was, or who had it, and all credit to Guiton on that.
The Buckeye defense also showed a different level of play on Saturday, and a great deal of that can be credited to the return of Bradley Roby, back from a one-game suspension for something that, conditionally in the eyes of the law, never happened. With Roby patrolling the defensive backfield, his teammates would make life a living hell for the visiting Aztecs.
Junior Adam Dingwell was chased after just five incomplete passes (well, four and a completed pass...to Buckeye defender Doran Grant). Dingwell's replacement, Quinn Kaehler, didn't fare much better, taking three sacks and
throwing a pick to Armani Reeves. All told, the Buckeye defense caused four turnovers on the day (to just one for the Buckeye offense, a Guiton arm-punt) and held the Aztecs to just 280 yards of total offense, a figure that the Buckeyes almost matched by themselves on the ground.
Through two weeks, the two Buckeye teams we've seen on the field of Ohio Stadium have been very dissimilar. A tremendous first quarter against Buffalo was knocked down to Earth by a dismal second, third and fourth quarter. Against the Aztecs, it was an almost perfect first half, with the backup quarterback at the helm no less, combined with a clock-running blowout offense on the field in the second half. Two games, two wins, two very different brands of Buckeye football on display.
A great many people will say that the 42-7 win wasn't "big enough", or that the quality of the opponent wasn't "good enough" and, in theory, these great many people may be a great deal correct. But through two weeks, the Buckeyes have walked off the field with two wins, fourteen straight since the 2012 Gator Bowl loss to Florida. But more than that, the Buckeyes played a much more complete game against the Aztecs, a noticable improvement from the Buffalo game. Everyone was involved on Saturday, and and that paved the way for a steady, blowout win. While Hall and Guiton have been the MVPs in weeks one and two, respectively, the Buckeyes can embrace the fact that they are beginning to spread the wealth to a new candidate for MVP: consistency.