The Ohio State Buckeyes enter Saturday's contest with Cal in a unique position. On one hand they have arguably the most dynamic athlete in college football as their starting quarterback. On the other, they also have, probably less arguably, the best backup quarterback in in college football as their number two guy.
And that's exactly why Ohio State should rest Miller and play Kenny Guiton.
Before we go any further, I am not saying Guiton should replace Miller; that's just preposterous. When he's 100%, Miller gives the OSU offense a dynamic that can't be accurately game planned for. His speed getting to the edge allows him to do things that few else can do, and it gives the offense an added dimension that is next to impossible to counter.
But when Miller sprained his MCL on the opening drive against San Diego State, Guiton played nearly the entire game – and the offense didn't skip a beat. In fact, I would argue it ran as smooth as it has in a long time.
When your starting quarterback goes down, there's usually an offensive game plan adjustment. The backup is either too inexperienced to utilize the full playbook, or isn't athletic enough to run the full offense, or a combination of both. With a luxury like Guiton, those aren't problems. Let's look at it a little more in depth.
For one, Guiton's a senior. He's used to playing in pressure situations and isn't fazed with the game on the line. Last year, he came in and played for Miller against Michigan State briefly, and finished off a scoring drive. Against Purdue, he came in with OSU down eight points, and he proceeded to drive OSU down the field to tie it at the end of regulation, and win it in overtime. Last week, he took over and OSU's offense hummed, taking the Buckeyes to a 42-0 lead early in the third quarter.
Guiton executes the read option flawlessly. Earlier this week, the LGHL staff was chatting at our world headquarters, right outside of Gahanna (as far as you know), and we all noted that Guiton essentially never makes a bad read. He executes the handoff as well as anyone in college, and waits until the last possible moment to either give the ball to the running back or keep it himself. He forces the opposing defensive end to commit before he does, and it almost always results in solid yardage for the Buckeyes. Now, the argument was made that Miller doesn't need to wait because his natural athleticism overcomes the end, and he can outrun him more often than not. That's true, but could you imagine the results if Miller's read option was as refined as Guiton's is?
Guiton is athletic enough. No, he's not Miller, but he's pretty good. In the passing department, he can make all the throws required of him. He was 19/28 for 182 yards with two suh-WEET TD throws to Philly Brown. He was also the team's leading rusher with 83 yards on only nine carries. He had a 44 yard keeper for a TD early in the second quarter that went right up the middle, on that play he blew by the contain end that over-committed and he outran everyone, splitting the safeties:
The offense isn't limited with Guiton. At a lot of positions, the primary backup is just as capable, in many ways, as the starter. At running back, for example, the Buckeyes can put in a cavalcade of guys and have no discernible drop off in production. But at quarterback, there is usually some limiting factor that prevents the offense from working at full capacity. In 2011, when Terrelle Pryor was suspended and then left the team, Joe Bauserman was unable to execute basic throws, and a freshman Miller could not run the entire offense. The playbook had to be scaled way back, and Ohio State suffered through one of the worst offensive seasons in school history. You don't have that issue with Guiton – he has demonstrated an ability to step in and run the offense exactly as it was game planned during the week, and for an offense that has looked at only a portion of plays at their disposal, that's huge.
OSU can beat Cal without Miller. Cal is going through a transition from Jeff Tedford to Sonny Dykes, and they weren't great last year. Even though the game is on the road, Ohio State matches up very favorably to Cal on both sides of the ball, and with or without Miller, they should be able to win this game. As far as knee injuries go, a sprained MCL is about the best you can hope for, so in that regard, Ohio State is very fortunate. It can still be a bothersome issue, and even if he's 99%, it might not be a bad idea to give him the week off to let the knee get completely healthy.
Braxton Miller is still the key component to the Buckeye offense moving forward, and Ohio State is going to need Miller at 100% when the conference schedule opens. They have two tough games right off the bat (Wisconsin, at Northwestern), and they'll need Miller at full strength, especially for those games. Making sure he is physically at his best should be the number one priority of the coaching staff, and if there's a chance at re-aggravating the knee and missing more time, don't risk it and play Guiton.