At one point it looked as if OSU's perfect season had come to a close, but a backup quarterback led an improbable drive with less than a minute remaining before finding a seldom-mentioned wide receiver for the late touchdown to help lift the Buckeyes to victory.
If head coach Urban Meyer hadn't already created memories that he'll carry with him for the rest of his life this season in his first year with the Buckeyes, he certainly has one now. The following are some observations from OSU's latest win over Purdue:
• Seems as if it was a matter of time with Braxton Miller – We still don't know the extent of Miller's injury, but all indications are pointing to him being just fine. That's obviously good news for the Buckeyes, though his status for next weekend's game at Penn State is still undetermined. The point I'm making is simple – I've been saying all year that he's at risk for being hurt and against the Boilermakers it happened. While there is no way to predict when freak plays will happen like the one where his head injury occurred, it is hard not to be concerned if you're an OSU coach about Miller's health. That becomes even truer when you start thinking about next year and the Buckeyes' national title hopes. Miller means everything to this team, and I am not sure what needs to be done to help lower the chances that he'll eventually have to leave a game.
• I was a Kenny Guiton doubter – Though the backup quarterback relieved Miller in each of the last three weeks to finish of scoring drives, there was still plenty to doubt with Guiton. Could he possibly come into a game and lead the offense for an entire quarter with his team trailing? Like, throwing real passes down field in the process? Before he proved it by playing a heroic part in OSU's latest win, I would have said no. Boy was I wrong – it looks as if all that talk about Guiton mentally preparing and being a fantastic backup was much more than just coach-speak. Hand it the Guiton for being prepared to relieve Miller, make big plays in crucial, pressure situations and lead this team to a win. I didn't think he had it in him. Guiton is a lot more valuable to this team than any one of us could have ever fathomed before Saturday, especially moving forward into next year.
• This team learned how to win – While a lot of the things that haunted Ohio State have lingered into this season, the biggest change we have witnessed from last year's 6-7 team to this year's 8-0 squad is just the ability to know how to win. OSU was in a lot of games last year that it simply couldn't pull out. This season, the Buckeyes are making all the crucial plays each week to survive, adapt and progress. This team would have lost this game last year (just see last year's game at Purdue). Though OSU has more flaws than I have time to list, there is something to be said for simply being undefeated, regardless of what it looks like.
• Meyer doesn't give up on anyone – When was the last time you thought about Chris Fields? A forgotten member of OSU's receiving corps, Fields all of a sudden emerged from the bench and became a hero against the Boilermakers. Though he was on the field as much as he was at the end of the game because Corey "Philly" Brown was injured, Fields earned his way back into the Buckeyes' plans during practice during the week. And Fields made a few big plays that helped OSU stay unbeaten. The obvious one was the TD catch he made to pull his team within two with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game, but don't forget about the crucial 10-yard punt return he had to help that drive start off on the right foot. Hand it to Fields for not only being a difference-maker in this game, but more importantly for not giving up and settling for a reserved – and forgotten – role.
• Perfect two-point conversion call at the end of the game – As I watched Guiton roll out from the sidelines on OSU's two-point conversion attempt, I thought to myself – "what on earth are they doing throwing the ball?" Given Purdue's inability to stop the run at times, I thought it was a clear choice to run the ball and try to muscle it in for two. Meyer agreed with me, but offensive coordinator Tom Herman overruled the head coach and put his trust in Guiton, who rolled right before turning back left and finding a wide open Jeff Heuerman. I think that play displayed a certain imagination that didn't exist here for quite some time.
• Devin Smith can get behind defenders – Guiton missed a wide open Smith streaking down the sidelines with a terribly underthrown pass. That's not the point – I just find it unbelievable how Smith can continually get behind defenses in crucial late situations. Had Guiton put more air under that throw, it would have been yet another bomb touchdown to Smith with the game on the line.
• Hand it to the defense – Aside from one drive in the second half and the first play of the game, I don't think you could have asked for a better performance from the defense after giving up 49 to Indiana. OSU was down by six – and then eight – points from late in the third quarter until the final seconds of regulation, a span in which Purdue had four possessions. OSU's defense clamped down and didn't allow Purdue to even get a field goal, which would have been a crushing blow to OSU's chances to win because it would have extended the lead to two scores. Breakdowns happen and the opposing teams can make plays, but I am not sure if the defense could have had a better collective effort.
• Are you thankful for the safety? – Looking back on it, was the safety a blessing in disguise? Had it not happened and the Buckeyes been forced to punt from deep in their own end zone, Purdue likely would have taken over near midfield on the next possession, simply 20 yards from a field goal attempt that could have extended the lead to two scores. The safety, though questionable, actually may have saved the Buckeyes by keeping the game at a one-score difference while changing up the field position a little bit. Think about it.
• Purdue's punt strategy is nifty – I like what Purdue does on their punts where they allow the punter to roll out and either kick a rugby-styled punt or pull the ball down if he sees running lanes and is confident he can pick up the first down. Though you'd have to have an immense amount of trust in your punter to pull it off, I think it is an exciting design that could eventually turn into a game-changer. Purdue's punter took a risk deep in his own territory on a fourth-and-short in the first half, but he pulled it down and got the first down. Just thought it was worth mentioning.
• Nothing to play for? Think again – The dramatic way in which the Buckeyes beat Purdue made for one of the most special atmospheres in Ohio Stadium since I started covering the team in 2009. The stadium, though far from full because a good portion of fans left, was as loud as it has ever been at times and the atmosphere was simply electric. Now 8-0, OSU has no bowl game in its future. However, you'd be mistaking yourself if you don't think this team and staff is dying to go undefeated.