Saturday, September 6, 2003

OSU QB earns keep


Senior Krenzel has become key for No. 2 Buckeyes

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COLUMBUS - The last time Ohio State faced San Diego State, Craig Krenzel was buried so deep on the depth chart that his coaches let him skip town.

It was Oct. 20, 2001, the date of his sister Krysten's wedding. That was to have been OSU's bye week before Sept. 11 changed everything - including that game, originally scheduled for Sept. 15 - but Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel wasn't worried about missing a third-string quarterback.

Today, when the Buckeyes reunite with San Diego State in Ohio Stadium, Krenzel ranks as much more of a factor.

"He can't go this year," Tressel quipped, "if he's got another sister."

The senior is now the cornerstone of a defending national champion team, owner of a 16-0 record in games he has started and finished.

He is the first Buckeye quarterback to beat Michigan in back-to-back seasons since Cornelius Greene in 1974 and '75. He is maturing fast enough that he's getting Heisman Trophy buzz, and The Sporting News predicts he'll wind up the greatest QB in school history.

No less significant, he is the poster boy for all that's good in college athletics. Krenzel is a molecular genetics engineering major with a 3.75 GPA and is part of a select research group at the OSU Comprehensive Cancer Center that's working on a cure for acute myeloid leukemia.

In the wake of the Maurice Clarett mess, Krenzel's is the face OSU would prefer to present - and it's he who has graced the cover of Sports Illustrated three times in 2003, including twice in the past month.

Last Saturday, in the season opener, he distanced himself from the smart-guy-who-happens-to-also-play-football tag. Krenzel completed 15 of 27 passes for 203 yards - just the third time he had exceeded 200 yards - and rushed for two key touchdowns.

It's the second consecutive game he has had two rushing touchdowns, including his efforts in the Fiesta Bowl when he was the game's leading rusher with 81 yards.

"I think the number of starts, having all that experience under my belt, allows me to be more confident when I step out on the field," Krenzel said.

Teammates said they aren't surprised with Krenzel's success.

"He's so smart, he knows everything about everybody on the team," junior tailback Maurice Hall said.

Said senior tight end Ben Hartsock: "He was as prepared as a true freshman (in 1999) to play against Miami in the Meadowlands as he was to play Miami in the Fiesta Bowl."

Krenzel was still waiting, though, behind starter Steve Bellisari and backup Scott McMullen late in the 2001 season.

"I was frustrated at times," Krenzel said. "But I knew that eventually ... there would be an opportunity for me to show what I can do. I just waited for that opportunity."

When Bellisari was arrested for drunken driving Nov. 16, 2001, he was suspended for a game, and Krenzel relieved McMullen in a loss to Illinois and played well. A week later, Krenzel got the start at Michigan and led a stunning 26-20 upset, OSU's first victory in Ann Arbor in 14 years.

That momentum carried to last season, when Krenzel threw for 2,110 yards and 12 TDs in 14 games and made the critical plays late in close victories over Cincinnati, Wisconsin, Purdue and Miami.

"The most important thing the quarterback does is make decisions," Tressel said.

The conservative Buckeyes called two running plays for every pass play the last two years - the highest ratio in the Big Ten - and ranked last in the league in passing offense last season with 173.2 yards a game.

But they could be changing their tune. Krenzel attempted 18 passes in the first half last Saturday and 27 in three quarters, after throwing more than 22 times in a game just once last season.

"I don't care if I throw the ball 10 times a game or 50 times a game, as long as we're moving the ball well and winning football games," Krenzel said.

As for the 2001 meeting with San Diego State: OSU won 27-12, though the Aztecs led 12-6 at halftime before turning over the ball on five consecutive possessions.

Yet this SDSU team had an unimpressive 19-9 victory last week over Division I-AA Eastern Washington and has lost QB Adam Hall for a month to an ankle sprain. His replacement is sophomore Matt Dlugolecki, who had not played since he was a high school senior in 2000. He was redshirted as a freshman at Illinois in 2001 and sat out last season after transferring to SDSU.

No. 2 Ohio State vs. San Diego State

Kickoff: 12:10 p.m. today, Ohio Stadium (101,568), Columbus.

Records: OSU 1-0, SDSU 1-0.

TV: Ch. 9, 7.

Radio: WBOB-AM (1160), WPFB-AM (910).

Series: OSU leads 1-0.

Line: OSU by 31.

What to watch: The Buckeyes will try to disrupt Aztecs QB Matt Dlugolecki, who has had to take over because of an injury to Adam Hall.

OSU Team stats SDSU
345Offense avg.318
142Avg. by rush167
203Avg. by pass151
262Defense avg.217
7Avg. by rush117
255Avg. by pass100
28Avg. points for19
9Avg. pts. against9

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E-mail nschmidt@enquirer.com




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