Is A QB Controversy Brewing In Columbus?
By Matt Natali
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio State is in the midst of a quarterback problem that makes most FBS programs as green with envy as the fields played on every Saturday in the fall.
The No. 4 Buckeyes entered the season with a preseason Heisman favorite at quarterback, but by the time the final whistle blew on the third week of the season it was the back-up signal-caller who garnered the headlines and national recognition.
The cupboard is most certainly full at quarterback for Ohio State (3-0).
Junior quarterback Braxton Miller was a game-time scratch against Cal last week due to a knee injury suffered the previous week against San Diego State and backup Kenny Guiton took over and torched the Golden Bears, finishing 21-of-32 passing for 276 yards in the 52-34 road win. He threw for three touchdowns in the first quarter (90, 47, and 1 yard) and had another scoring strike in the fourth quarter while rushing for 92 yards.
Guiton’s added Big Ten player of the week honors and the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week Award to his trophy case following his career-best game at Berkley.
It was the fifth-year senior’s first career start.
“He does a nice job,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said in the Cal postgame press conference, according to the transcript on Ohio State’s official athletics website. “He’s a coach. I told him that. He needs to coach some day because he’s got a really good mind and got incredible leadership skills.”
In the first quarter against SDSU, Guiton stepped in under center after Miller initially sustained the knee injury and the transition was seamless. He led the Buckeyes to a 42-7 win, completing 19 of 28 passes for 152 yards with two touchdowns. He also rushed for 75 yards, including a career-long 44-yard touchdown run.
In the 40-20 season-opening win over Buffalo, Guiton converted on two 2-point conversions in the first quarter.
Both Miller and Guiton are categorized by scouts as athletic, mobile quarterbacks rather than traditional pocket passers and Meyer and his staff don’t adjust the playbook much when either is under center.
However, Meyer did note some differences in their styles of play.
“I think Kenny is a natural option quarterback and Braxton is not quite as natural pitching the ball,” Meyer said in his weekly press conference Monday. “I would say that's probably the one area that Kenny excels and we’ve run more option than we've run in a long time.
“When you say the word ‘distributor,' (Guiton is) a distributor.”
Guiton first flexed his backup muscles last season against Purdue to preserve an unbeaten record that led to a perfect season. Miller was taken to the hospital late in the third quarter with an apparent head injury and the Buckeyes trailing 20-14. After a quick interception toss by Guiton to a Purdue safety early in the fourth quarter, he settled in and led the Buckeyes back with a game-tying touchdown and 2-point conversion with just three seconds left in regulation.
Ohio State then iced the game in overtime.
“Everybody (who has) coached knows at times there are injuries and your (backup) has to go in,” OSU tight ends/fullbacks coach Tim Hinton said. “The beauty of it is that we know that (Guiton is) very capable. Kenny is going to come in and do a phenomenal job and our team respects him.”
Miller’s collegiate success is well-documented and comes from a larger sample size. He threw for 2,039 yards and 15 touchdowns last season and set Ohio State quarterback records for rushing yards (1,271) and total offense (3,310) and rushed for 13 touchdowns.
The junior finished fifth in Heisman voting last season.
“If Braxton Miller is in there, we are going to go play really hard and do really well. If Kenny Guiton is in there, we are going to go play really hard and do really well,” Hinton said.
Guiton has raised lot of eyebrows the last two weeks in his backup role, leaving some begging the question: Is there a quarterback controversy brewing in Columbus?
Meyer squashed that sentiment Monday and definitively said that Miller is “probable” for Saturday’s tilt against Florida A&M.
But some are calling Saturday’s FCS opponent Florida A&M (1-2) the worst Ohio State has faced in many, many years (according to VegasInsider.com, the consensus point spread is Ohio State -49.5), and the Big Ten portion of the schedule looms with No. 24 Wisconsin coming to Columbus next week.
So, does Ohio State:
A. Start Miller against Ohio State’s weakest opponent on the schedule and risk further injury, especially if he is not completely healthy?
B. Stay with Guiton’s hot hand and give Miller another week to heal going into the teeth (term used loosely) of the Big Ten schedule?
If the answer is the former and Miller’s knee is healthy and undeniably 100 percent, it probably is the smarter chess move for Meyer and his staff to start him over Guiton to avoid another layer of a potential controversy, which leads to the latter option …
If Guiton starts against Florida A&M, he would in all likelihood put up astronomical numbers again, thus further extending the discussion of whether or not he should start against Wisconsin heading into the Big Ten schedule. The disclaimer is that the staff would be able to fall back on the fact that Guiton’s numbers are against the No. 112 and No. 120-ranked defenses in the country, respectively, and Florida A&M is ranked No. 24 — in the FCS.
The decision seems pretty clear to Meyer — Miller is Meyer’s guy when he is healthy.
When asked if he thought it was possible Miller would sit again this week, Meyer said, “I don’t think so.” But considering Miller’s ‘questionable’ status resulted in a game-time scratch last week and his ‘probable’ status this week, it is not inconceivable Guiton starts this week.
But it would be a decision based on health rather than talent.
There is a reason Miller has been the undeniable starter and a Heisman Trophy candidate: He is the better quarterback.
Having a serviceable backup whom many believe would be a starter at any number of FBS schools is not a problem for Meyer, but rather, as he put it, a “luxury".
And it is safe to say that it is a problem — rather a luxury — every FBS coach in the country would like to have at any given time.