Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer spoke to his players before they arrived at Ohio Stadium and told them an analogy that many coaches have told many players through the years.
“When it gets really hard, the people who don’t work very hard just let go of the rope and do something else,” Meyer recalled telling his Buckeyes before departing the team hotel near Ohio Stadium. “If you work really hard, you just hold onto that rope.”
That might be a little cliché, but it’s also fairly accurate. Take Saturday for example. The Buckeyes earned a dramatic 29-22 overtime victory against visiting Purdue, and two players who have chosen to hold onto that proverbial rope provided much of the heroics.
Backup quarterback Kenny Guiton engineered a nearly flawless final minute touchdown drive to tie the game, and capped that march with a perfectly-executed two-point conversion completion to tight end Jeff Heuerman.
Of course, it’s worth mentioning that the players who caught the TD pass before the two-point attempt was Chris Fields. The junior wide receiver has been buried on OSU’s depth chart and stepped into the spotlight when it mattered most.
Guiton and Fields held the rope, and the Buckeyes remained unbeaten.
For Guiton, the game was the culmination of a turnaround that began during the offseason. The junior quarterback did not make a good impression on Meyer when the two-time national champion coach took over the OSU program. Then, over time, Guiton won Meyer over. On several occasions prior to – and during – the season, Meyer has gushed about Guiton’s change and his emergence as one of Meyer’s favorite players.
Gution had made a handful of appearances this season and looked solid, though he had only thrown 10 passes – completing six for 51 yards and a touchdown. But he was thrown into a high-pressure situation against the Boilermakers when starting QB Braxton Miller went down with an apparent head injury late in the third quarter with the Buckeyes trailing 20-14.
Things did not start well on Guiton’s first full drive. A good Purdue bounce on a Cody Webster punt allowed the Boilermakers to down the boot at the OSU 1-yard line. After a 5-yard rush by Carlos Hyde gave the Buckeyes some breathing room, Heuerman was flagged for an illegal block in the back penalty in the OSU end zone, resulting in a safety.
Now trailing by eight, 22-14, the Boilermakers failed to make much headway on its ensuing drive before punting. Guiton and the OSU offense then took over with 6:03 remaining at its 20 following a touchback. Unfortunately for Guiton, the drive ended when he forced a pass down the field intended for Jake Stoneburner. It was well covered, tipped and was ultimately intercepted by Purdue safety Landon Feichter.
As Guiton came off the field, Meyer grabbed him and told him that Guiton would get another shot and lead the Buckeyes to victory.
“I think he needed that because how many times has he been in that situation? How many times has anybody been in that situation?,” Meyer said.
Guiton confirmed the conversation, and afterwards the junior went to his teammates as the defense took the field.
“I told the offense we need big plays now, and we’re going to get it,” he said. “Let’s go. Let’s keep our heads up and win this game.”
Purdue took over with 2:40 remaining and recorded only one first down, though the Boilermakers did force Ohio State to use its final timeout. Webster gave OSU the ball back with a punt that was fielded by Fields at the OSU 30 and returned to the 39.
With 47 left on the clock and no timeouts remaining, Guiton took the field with an undefeated season hanging in the balance.
“This is what you play football for. I’ve always wanted the shot, and I felt like today I got it,” Guiton said.
The final OSU drive of regulation began with a big play. Guiton avoided pressure, rolling to his left before finding an open Devin Smith for a 39-yard gain to the Purdue 22.
“The whole time I was watching Devin,” Guiton said. “I saw the defense hadn’t reacted to him, so I was ready to hit him. I had some pressure, but the O-line protected well and Devin was wide open.”
With OSU now in Purdue territory, Guiton found Evan Spencer for an 8-yard gain to the PU 14. Spencer was able to stop the clock with 33 seconds left by getting out of bounds. After an incomplete pass intended for Stoneburner on second down, the Buckeyes took a slight risk by handing the ball to Hyde, who gained a first down with a 3-yard run to the Purdue 11 with 23 seconds left.
Guiton then got the offense to the line of scrimmage and downed the ball with 15 seconds left. He caught a break on the next play when a pass over the middle intended for Spencer fell incomplete. Purdue then aided OSU’s cause when Josh Johnson was flagged for pass interference on a pass in the end zone intended for Spencer.
That set up the ball at the Purdue 2 with 8 seconds left. As the crowd roared, Guiton took a snap from center Corey Linsley and rolled left. He then stopped and fired a pass toward an open Fields, who was running across the goal line. The former baseball player dove as the low pass sailed his way, just getting his hands under the ball for the touchdown. That set up the two-point conversion play and Ohio State’s eventual win in OT.
“After that catch I probably told him thank you like a million times,” Guiton said. “I was just hoping he could get to it. Once I saw him get his hands under it, I knew he caught it.”
Like Guiton, Fields’ moment was a long time coming. Meyer said the junior would not have seen the field three or four weeks ago.
“He changed his whole dynamic of the way he works, his practice habits and his performance,” Meyer said. “He’s earned that right to be on the field. … I’m very proud of him. My goodness. That was a great catch.”
Fields was thankful after the game.
“I’ve always pushed myself and told myself that my opportunity will come,” Fields said. “My moment would come, and it did today. My opportunity doesn’t stop here. I’m going to keep on working.”