Thursday, April 17, 2003

Buckeyes finally belong to Krenzel

Quarterback solidly is team's leader

The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - Craig Krenzel always knew he was the right guy for the job of quarterback at Ohio State.

All it took was a string of 14 tension-filled wins - and a national championship - for him to effectively hush any talk about others competing for the starting spot.

After watching from the sidelines or looking over his shoulder for the past three springs, there is no dispute that Krenzel is in charge of the Buckeyes' offense.

"He definitely has a new swagger," fullback Branden Joe said. "He's got a different walk now. I definitely notice something. He's a field general out there. He is running the show right now."

Krenzel spent most of the 2001 and 2002 seasons in the background while an erratic Steve Bellisari led the offense. It was only after Bellisari was arrested for drunken driving late in the 2002 season that Krenzel got significant playing time. In his biggest test, Krenzel led the Buckeyes to a victory over Michigan.

Bellisari returned to play most of Ohio State's bowl game that season, and even after Bellisari graduated, Krenzel went into spring practice last year sharing the job with Scott McMullen. Some even said acclaimed recruit Justin Zwick might beat out Krenzel before Zwick attended his first class at Ohio State.

The steady, unspectacular Krenzel won the job during preseason practice in August. Then he grew into the starting job, completing 59 percent of his passes for more than 2,000 yards and 12 touchdowns. More important, he always seemed to make a big play when it was most needed by Ohio State.

The Buckeyes went 7-0 in games decided by a touchdown or less last season. Krenzel seldom made a mistake in the fourth quarter in any of those and frequently kept alive drives with a timely run or pass as the wins mounted.

That was never more evident than Ohio State's 31-24 double-overtime victory over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3. Never fleet of foot, Krenzel was the Buckeyes' leading rusher with 81 yards and two touchdowns.

Krenzel said his approach is similar to what it was in previous years - trying to hang on and prove something to the coaches.

"It doesn't feel any different," said the senior-to-be. "I guess some people would look at it as we won a national championship so I'm the hands-down starter going into next year. But I still look at it as going into every day of practice knowing that there are things I need to do better."

Krenzel is still listed at 6 feet 4 and 225 pounds, but head coach Jim Tressel said he can see his quarterback is standing taller.

"He's obviously carrying himself with more confidence," Tressel said. "I think he always believed in himself. As he looks at things now, he can say, 'I've seen that before.' When you watch him on film, you see a much more mature, more experienced guy."

A year ago, the Buckeyes relied heavily on tailback Maurice Clarett's legs to carry the load on offense.

There is little doubt Tressel plans to shift more responsibilities to Krenzel's right arm.

Tressel has been impressed with how Krenzel has assumed leadership.

"A completion isn't satisfactory to him," Tressel said. "He wants the ball to be in the right spot, too. It's just experience. It's growth."

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