Sunday, August 31, 2003

Forget Clarett, Krenzel's the main man

QB's outstanding play makes you forget what's-his-name

COLUMBUS - Maurice Clarett stood on the Ohio State sideline in red sweatpants Saturday night, and a gray T-shirt that accented his shoulders and neck, which together are the size of Rhode Island. Clarett is suspended without pay, until the authorities decide which book to throw at him.

And that is all we're going to say about Clarett, the best player the Buckeyes don't really need. Now, if someone were to offer Craig Krenzel an illegal beaker or a free centrifuge, OSU would really be in trouble.

We're going to have to stop talking about the Buckeyes quarterback as if he were majoring in, oh, molecular genetics, and start chatting him up as the heart and soul of the defending national champions. Describing Krenzel as an egghead somehow demeans his ability as a player. And that ain't right.

Against No. 17 Washington Saturday night, Krenzel made coach Jim Tressel's supposedly right-of-Reagan offense look positively inspired in a 28-9 season-opening victory. The Buckeyes' meat-and-potatoes reputation lives on defense; they handled Huskies Heisman hopeful quarterback Cody Pickett and their flawless tackling eliminated any notion Washington might have had of running the ball.

The Bucks play bass drum football on defense. Boom and boom.

Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel (16) dives into the end zone for a touchdown in the second quarter.
(AP photo)
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But an unleashed Krenzel makes for something altogether different. There wasn't a seam in the Washington secondary that he didn't plunder. On Ohio State's first TD drive, Krenzel sliced a hole in the Washington zone like he was cutting a diamond, 37 yards down the middle to Drew Carter.

Then, with 2:51 left in the first quarter, Krenzel soft-shoed his way into the end zone from 23 yards out, on a scramble. A flat-footed Huskies cornerback named Derrick Johnson hesitated at the Washington 10-yard line, apparently believing Krenzel would protect himself and slide to a stop.

That made it 14-0 before Keith Jackson's first "Whoa, Nelly." Krenzel added another scrambling TD run, an 11-yarder with 11 seconds left in the first half that concluded with a Lambeau Leap. You thought Michael Vick could run.

We should have predicted some of this. Lost in the Summer of No Love for Clarett was the notion that Ohio State went 3-0 when it was Maurice-less last year.

Something else: Running backs are rarely better than the people who block for them. The five linemen who started the Fiesta Bowl for the Buckeyes started against Washington. They opened doors for Clarett's understudies, Maurice Hall and Lydell Ross (101 yards between them) and allowed Krenzel time enough to study for a midterm.

Washington's hope was that it could run a little against the OSU defense. It couldn't. In the second half, the Huskies stopped pretending they had a running game, lining up five wide receivers nearly every down, as if this were flag football in gym class.

Problem was, their passing wasn't much better. Pickett threw for 255 yards, few of them relevant. Last year, Pickett had more passing yards than anyone in Pacific 10 history, a nice stat in a pass-happy league. On Saturday, he looked like the general who charged up Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg.

The Buckeyes led 21-0 at half. Maurice Clarett stood waving a towel. He seemed to enjoy it. And another pretty Pac-10 team got kicked in the grass.



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