Players Put Purdue Party In Perspective
October 23, 2012
The numbers seemed to hang up on the Ohio Stadium scoreboard longer than normal on Saturday afternoon, like the home team’s most improbable win in perhaps quite a while was marinating in its own juices.
Ohio State 29, Purdue 22.
That came in overtime, and it came after the No. 7 Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) allowed visiting Purdue (3-4, 0-3) to score on the game’s first play from scrimmage, find the end zone again on a 100-yard kickoff return and then stretch its lead to eight points and less than a minute showing on that same illuminated board.
Many in the crowd of 105,290 had given up and left – maybe 25,000 of them – and the Buckeyes’ undefeated mark under head coach Urban Meyer was circling the drain.
Of course, you know the rest of the story since you are a follower of Ohio State football. You are fully aware that the Buckeyes rallied behind their second-string quarterback, Kenny Guiton, after superstar QB Braxton Miller was injured, and put together a very unlikely 61-yard scoring drive that took the game clock from 47 seconds to three ticks and ended with deep-down-the-bench wideout Chris Fields making a diving catch in the end zone.
You know that led to Guiton tossing a two-point conversion to Jeff Heuerman, a talented sophomore who is just now settling into the OSU offense – a play led to an outright eruption of glee at the Horseshoe and set up the heroics of overtime.
You saw the Buckeyes skipping around like schoolkids after their suddenly rejuvenated offense scored on the first possession of the extra session and their much-maligned defense shut down PU on four plays to secure the victory.
You know all of this because you either watched the game or at least watched the highlights and perhaps maybe even heard the roars emanating from inside the stadium.
But what you don’t get to do is go into the postgame interview room and listen to the players and coaches describe the nuances of the battle and share their own versions of what just transpired.
Sometimes it’s a cliché-ridden blah-fest that offers no real insight, and that could have been the case if the Buckeyes had won by a number somewhere in the neighborhood of the 18-point spread.
But after such a movie-like comeback and uplifting result that even included Meyer pumping his fist like Knute Rockne for overjoyed fans in the South Stands and some wiping tears from their eyes after the playing of “Carmen, Ohio,” the quotes flowed.
Much of the postgame conversation, of course, centered on OSU’s obsession with staying unscathed but also delved into the difficulty of that team goal.
For one, Miller was thrown to the ground, appeared unable to walk, and was carted away. It turned out that he is very sore from the impact of the tackle – Meyer even equated it to whiplash – but did not suffer a concussion or any damage to his neck.
A sophomore phenom who is being mentioned prominently in Heisman Trophy discussions, Miller was injured very late in the third quarter after a 37-yard gallop down the OSU sideline. Cornerback Josh Johnson was not flagged on the play but came close to horse-collaring Miller.
The Buckeyes trailed 20-14 at the time and Purdue later tacked on a safety as Guiton appeared to race out of his own end zone for a first down only to have Heuerman nailed for an illegal block in the back.
The OSU defense stiffened after Drew Basil kicked the ball back to Purdue, but Guiton and company hit another snag when the QB was picked off on a deep pass aimed at Devin Smith with 2:40 to play.
The Buckeyes managed to get the ball back with less than a minute and never gave up on their newfound leader.
In fact, center Corey Linsley said he had a feeling “Kenny is going to do this thing” when the offense took the field for a do-or-drive beginning at the OSU 39. It’s doubtful the OSU fans were as confident but cheered anyway.
When Guiton found Fields in the front left faction of the end zone, belief only grew. In fact, members of the offense were so fired up they began to politick the coaches to run Carlos Hyde for the two-point conversion.
“Screaming,” is how Meyer put it.
“We were excited,” left tackle Jack Mewhort said. “I think Carlos was barking in there. Yeah, we knew we could get a couple yards but obviously they know better than us. It worked out well so we’re happy with it.”
First-year offensive coordinator Tom Herman actually overruled his head coach and those on the field by staying with his original play call from the press box – a semi roll right throwback lob to the tight end.
“I was like, ‘I’m all for running the ball but this play is going to work,’ ” Linsley said. “The play he called, you can’t defend it. So I was cool with whatever, because I knew we were going to get it in, I knew we had them on the ropes and I wasn’t sure how much they were going to fight back.”
Added Heuerman, “We practice that every Thursday, so I’ve had tons and tons of reps at it. They told me back before that drive ‘We’re going to have to go for two; here’s the play.’ They called it, you take a few deep breaths and it’s, ‘let’s go.’ Waiting for the all, seeing it up in the air and then knowing that you caught it, it’s the best feeling in the world.”
Linsley knew the offensive line was going to have to hold up well for the play to work.
“They have a heck of a D-line with (Kawann) Short and those guys,” he said. “That’s the strength of their team. Just year-in and year-out, just look at the guys they have in the NFL. That’s pretty much why they gave us trouble.”
The O-line matched that challenge down the stretch and on the two-point conversion while Guiton showed uncanny patience to stand tall in the pocket and wait for Heuerman to emerge from a clump of players in the middle of the end zone.
“It says a lot about his discipline, his composure, the confidence he has, but it also says a lot about the faith he has in this team,” Linsley said. “I know exactly how the play develops, and I remember sitting there waiting for it to develop and seeing it. It took a lot more time than it usually does. It says a lot that he stayed with it.”
Guiton is known for his cool but hopped up and down like an excited rabbit after the play.
“I was too happy,” said the well-regarded junior. “I wanted to tell my team to calm down because I knew it wasn’t over. I was happy, but at the same time I was ready to go again.”
Guiton had to overcome his own deep disappointment just moments earlier when his aerial to Smith was picked off on third-and-long.
“I wasn’t down, but at the same time I felt like I had let my team down,” he said. “I’m a backup coming off the bench, and I just want to do well for my team. That’s when it took the offense to pick me up and let me know that the game wasn’t over and we were going to get the ball again.”
A big reason why Guiton was able to recover mentally was because Meyer looked him in the eye and professed his faith in the player he calls “the ol’ righthander.”
“He threw the pick, and I grabbed him,” Meyer recalled, “I said, ‘You’re going to go win us a game.’ He looked right at me. I think he was down. I think that moment kind of picked him up. And we have confidence in Kenny Guiton.
“And the one thing is we’re real honest with guys around here. If we didn’t, I would tell them, ‘We don’t have any confidence in you. Here’s what you need to do.’ That’s not the case.”
As Meyer explained Guiton’s Houdini act, a wry smile came across his face.
“Forty-seven seconds, no timeouts,” he said, shaking his head. “I just can’t say enough about it. But it’s kind of recurring theme every time we bring up his name.”
The euphoria was a sight to behold. Even though they were heavily favored and had produced a lackluster performance for the vast majority of the game, the Buckeyes let the waters of victory wash over them.
“I’ve never been a part of a comeback like that,” said senior co-captain Zach Boren. “Everything was against us – fans leaving, injuries, field position – and we managed to pull it out. We clicked at the right time.”
Boren was the poster boy for selflessness a week earlier as he willingly moved from his comfortable position of starting fullback to linebacker. He contributed five tackles on defense against Purdue – and understood the issues the offense had.
“With the way the defense was put in situations toward the end of the game, we had to come up big, and I think we did,” he said. “The defensive line played great up there and we held them.
“And the offense had to keep on competing. Granted, they didn’t have the greatest of days but they’re struggles with an offense. You see it on every level. The offense can’t be on all the time. But they showed toughness. They were grinding and grinding.”
Added Hyde, who finished with a game-high 91 rushing yards and scored the game-winning TD in overtime, “It’s just part of football. Sometimes you’re not going to be able to get a huge lead and sometimes you’re going to have to play from behind, play catch-up. It’s about having confidence in your guys that their going to be able to get out there and do their job. Down in those last seconds, that’s exactly what everybody did.”
In the extra session it was both units that came out triumphant.
“It was kind of surreal,” Mewhort said. “The clock is ticking. Obviously we never lost faith, but it was just a lot of fun to come out on top, to be 8-0 with a chance to be 9-0.”
Ironically, that chance was afforded in part because of two blocked kicks by the OSU special teams. Garrett Goebel swatted down the first extra-point attempt seconds into the game and Johnathan Hankins rejected a 34-yard field-goal try late in the third quarter. Those two plays kept the deficit to one score – even after the Boilers tacked on the two points via the safety.
Last year at Ross-Ade Stadium it was the Buckeyes who couldn’t convert on a late extra-point try and lost in overtime at Purdue.
“I’m sure guys thought about that,” Hyde said, “about that time we were at Purdue, and I’m sure guys we’re telling themselves, ‘It’s not going to happen again.’ As soon as we scored, got the two-point conversion and got it into overtime, I’m sure the whole team had all the confidence in the world that we were about to win that game.”
“That was a heartbreaker last year because of the effort that guys gave and everything,” Mewhort recalled. “To leave Purdue with a loss was heartbreaking, so we kind of know how those guys feel but we got them back this year. I think their coach (Danny Hope) made a comment – and I don’t know when it was – that Ohio State better get used to losing to Purdue. That felt good to make him eat is words. We’re really excited about that.”
Added safety Christian Bryant, “We didn’t try to make today about revenge but today I felt like it was.”