BERKELEY, Calif. – To play or not to play? That was the question.
It provided sports-talk radio in Columbus an entire weeks worth of airtime. In the end, the answer came before the first snap of Ohio State’s West Coast visit to California. Head coach Urban Meyer said he knew the verdict on Thursday: there would be no miracle one-week recovery for Braxton Miller’s sprained MCL.
And there would be no triumph for upset-minded Cal. On just the second offensive play for the fourth-ranked Buckeyes, Kenny Guiton, in his first career start, uncorked a pass down the sideline that landed in Devin Smith’s arms with the wide receiver racing to the end zone untouched. The 90-yard touchdown pass was the longest play from scrimmage in Ohio State history.
“Oh, man. That’s pretty cool,” said Guiton, upon learning his name was in the record books.
For Cal, it was a familiar sight that caused nightmares. Smith was the recipient of the game-winning touchdown pass in Ohio State’s 35-28 win over the Bears last season.
It would mark the first of seven touchdowns for the Buckeyes in their 52-34 victory. Once again, Guiton was electrifying, completing 21-of-32 passes for 276 yards and four touchdowns, one shy of tying the school record. He also rushed for 92 yards.
“He’s a very good distributor,” Meyer said. “He gets the ball to the right people at the right time. What I was more impressed with him were the downfield throws. Those were right on the dot.”
Guiton’s effort was far from what might be expected from someone who hadn’t started a game since 2008, when he was a senior in high school. But as he’s shown time and again, he’s not the ordinary backup quarterback.
The Ohio State offense performed like many believed when Meyer was hired some 22 months ago. They gained 608 yards, surpassing the previous high under Meyer – 578 yards at Indiana last season.
If Guiton has created a quarterback controversy, consider Jordan Hall the main culprit in a running back debate. He had another career night, totaling career highs in rushing yards (168) and touchdowns (three). Suspended starter Carlos Hyde is due to return next week when Ohio State hosts Florida A&M.
Not to be outdone, Smith caught three passes – two for touchdowns – for 149 yards. His average was half the football field.
“Devin has world-class speed,” Guiton said. “Sending him on deep routes in man coverage, we’re going to try to exploit that. I saw him beat his man and I tried to lay it up for him. He ran under it and he can do the rest.”
What was tabbed as the Buckeyes’ first road game of the season was anything but when one glanced at the crowd. An estimated 25,000 of the 62,467 fans in attendance were decked out in scarlet and gray.
On Ohio State’s second possession, Guiton connected with Smith again. This time Guiton threaded the needle with Smith catching the pass in the end zone as a defender was draped over him. Again, the Buckeyes scored on the second play of the drive.
Ohio State got the ball back on a Cal turnover. Ryan Shazier delivered a blindside hit on Cal quarterback Jared Goff, which knocked the ball loose. Michael Bennett recovered the ball, his second fumble recovery in as many weeks.
It took the Buckeyes a lengthy six plays to make it 21-0. Guiton threw a bullet to Chris Fields on 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line. It put Ohio State up 21-0, but just as the rout was on, Cal answered with an odd 61-yard touchdown pass.
A Drew Basil field goal put the Buckeyes in front 24-7.
Goff answered with another long touchdown pass in the final minute of the opening quarter. The Bears set up a screen to perfection to Chris Harper, who had a running lane to the corner of the end zone.
An hour after the opening kickoff, the first quarter ended. Ohio State totaled 275 yards in the stanza – 165 through the air, 110 coming on the ground. The Buckeyes have outscored opponents 68-14 through the first three games of the season.
The breakneck speed slowed in the second quarter with teams trading punts and only scoring 13 points combined. Midway through the quarter the Buckeyes converted their second 4th-and-goal, this time on a one-yard plunge by Jordan Hall.
Cal answered with a 13-play drive, but it only resulted in a field goal. The Bears got the ball back with 2:15 left in the half backed up to their own 15. It looked like Ohio State had them stopped near midfield. Sonny Dykes rolled the dice, though, and had Goff back as the punter. The Buckeyes failed to adjust and Goff found Caleb Coleman open for an 11-yard gain and a first down. Cal was able to kick a field goal on the final play of the half to cut the Ohio State lead to 31-20.
The Buckeyes’ response to start the second half was textbook. They traveled 75 yards in seven plays in workmanlike fashion with Hall scoring from a yard out. Ohio State gave itself a 25-point cushion as Guiton floated a pass over a diving Philly Brown, who hauled in the touchdown pass.
Cal scored in just four plays on the next possession after Khalfani Muhammed returned the kick to the Bears 47-yard line. Bryce Treggs hauled in a 14-yard touchdown pass.
From there, the Buckeyes and Bears traded touchdowns to finish the scoring.
Goff finished 31-of-53 passing for 371 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Cal gained 503 yards on 90 plays. Brendan Bigelow, who gashed the Silver Bullets for 160 yards and two touchdowns on four carries last year, was limited to 39 yards on 11 carries.