Exchanges are some of the most fundamental actions in football. Center to quarterback. Quarterback to running back. If a team struggles to execute these simple things, then it is highly likely that team will not be successful.
Last week in the blowout of Penn State, Urban Meyer debuted a new formation and teased the possibility of a new exchange rarely if ever seen. With 4:01 left in the third quarter, backup quarterback dynamo Kenny Guiton lined up in the shotgun. Starter Braxton Miller was split out wide left. Guiton took the snap from Corey Linsley, calmly surveyed the Nittany Lion defense, and jazzed his way into the end zone from two yards out.
Meyer has hinted at the possibility of putting his two quarterbacks on the field together for weeks. As early as September 24, just four days before the Miller’s return to the lineup against Wisconsin, the Ohio State coach said of his two quarterbacks, “I’d like to get them both in the game.” Last Saturday, four games after Meyer first made those comments, that idea finally became a reality.
Granted, Guiton’s touchdown run came on a play where Miller did little but stand in place on the field. But the fact that the two signal callers were deployed simultaneously gave Buckeyes fans a hint at what future games could hold.
I’ve written about Kenny G’s immense skill set before. He is a player who would start – effectively – for almost any other team in the nation. It makes sense to have him on the field instead of holding a clipboard and wearing a hat on the sideline. Now combine his abilities with the constant threat that is Braxton Miller, and defensive coordinators will find themselves waking up in cold sweats.
At its core, football is a game of numbers. The read option is in vogue right now because it forces a defense to account for the quarterback as both a runner and a passer. Multiply that threat of a quarterback run by two and a defense has even more threats to consider and defend. Add the possibility that either of the two quarterbacks on the field could show run and then loft a pass over the linebackers’ heads and defensive players will slow up for an extra half-second as they wonder whether to step up or drop into coverage. That slight hesitation is all either of the Buckeyes two ultra-efficient quarterbacks needs to make a defense look helpless.
The Buckeye offense already looks unstoppable – just ask the Penn State defense that was gashed for a school record 408 rushing yards last weekend. Braxton Miller has shown continual improvement as a passer. In the last four games he’s showcased the full array of throws: back shoulder lasers; rollout, against his body strikes; and short clock, pinpoint bullets. In spite of all that, his 11 touchdown passes are two fewer than Guiton’s 13, a figure which is still good for 37th in the nation in spite of the fact that he hasn’t started a game since September 21. Carlos Hyde is an unstoppable battering ram, and Dontre Wilson continues to find his footing as an offensive weapon.
With all of those other options clicking, adding the two quarterback formation just seems unfair. While Meyer only used the package for one play against Penn State, I fully expect him to continue experimenting with more numerous and innovative plays out of the dual QB set in the coming weeks. This week, the Buckeyes travel to West Lafayette, Indiana to take on 1-6 Purdue. While Ross-Ade Stadium has proven to be a challenging place to play for recent Ohio State squads, this year’s edition of the Boilermakers is allowing 34.4 points for game under former Ohio State assistant and first year head coach Darrell Hazell. That number is good for 106th in the country, and a big reason why Purdue’s only win is against FCS Indiana State.
With that weak Purdue defense in mind, I would not be the least bit surprised to see Meyer throw Miller and Guiton on the field together again on Saturday. Even if he does not plan on using the package later in the season, it will at least give future opponents an additional threat to consider during film study.
However, I suspect that the cagey Buckeyes coach has real plans for the dual quarterback system. While he may not show his entire hand, the possibility of a second look at the innovative formation will hopefully be enough to keep this game watchable for all 60 minutes.