EDITOR’S NOTE – This season marks the 10-year anniversary of Ohio State’s 2002 national championship season. We will share stories on all 14 of OSU’s wins that season, including this look at the win over Washington State. That game was played exactly 10 years ago today on Sept. 14, 2002.
Video highlights of the OSU-WSU showdown from YouTube
It is not very often that a 12-point third quarter would be labeled an explosion. But in a tight, defensive battle that kind of period can sometimes mean the world.
Trailing 7-6 at halftime, sixth-ranked Ohio State got a touchdown, a field goal and a safety in the pivotal third quarter and cruised to a 25-7 win over 10th-ranked Washington State before an Ohio Stadium-record crowd of 104,553 Sept. 14. (Check out video highlights above from YouTube.)
"We were down 7-6 at halftime, but we were playing a good team," said OSU coach Jim Tressel, whose team improved to 3-0. "We had not been in that situation a lot and we have a lot of young people playing for us.
"I thought the older guys did a good job working with the younger guys and letting them know what we needed. The crowd also did a good job. It was just a great game."
As many believed, the Buckeyes rode the hard running of tailback Maurice Clarett and an inspired defensive effort to the victory.
Clarett ended up with 230 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries for the Buckeyes. His yardage total stands as the fifth-highest single-game mark in school history and the second most by an OSU freshman.
"The big players make the big plays in the big game," Clarett said.
Clarett fueled OSU's second-half emergence. He had 194 of his yards in the second half. OSU outgained WSU 254-91 and held the ball for just over 20 minutes in the second half.
OSU linebacker Matt Wilhelm (35) intercepted WSU's Jason Gesser in this game
"The defense picked us up today by playing tremendous," said OSU quarterback Craig Krenzel, who attempted just 10 passes, completing four of them for 71 yards.
"The most important thing we showed today was that even when the momentum was not in our favor and we weren't playing well, we stayed together, played tough and we came back out and went after them in the second half," he said.
The defense allowed WSU (2-1) to score on its first possession, but withstood a strong passing onslaught the rest of the way.
"We had an opportunity to play in a big arena, the big show, and we didn't get it done," said WSU coach Mike Price. "It's just as simple as that.
"In the second half, we had some opportunities to score touchdowns and didn't take advantage of them. We left our defense on the field too long, and their running game was too dominant."
WSU quarterback Jason Gesser, a Heisman hopeful, ended up 25 of 47 passing for 247 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
"It comes down to execution," Gesser said. "I didn't hit the hot reads when I was supposed to. I was looking for bigger things and didn't get them. I have to hit the hot reads when they blitz.
"I take full blame for this game. We had chances down there in the red zone. When we get down there, we have to put points on the board and we weren't able to do that today."
The Buckeyes sacked the elusive Gesser just twice. But the strong overall effort helped OSU contain the Cougars.
"Everybody had a job to do," said OSU defensive end Will Smith. "Everybody went out and did their job well. We felt in the first half we didn't stop them the way we wanted to stop them. We got into the locker room, talked it over and did a much better job in the second half."
"I believe we made a statement," added OSU defensive end Darrion Scott, who notched one of the sacks with a brutal hit on Gesser. "They have a pretty good offensive line. For us to come out and hold that team to seven points is pretty good. They have a highly explosive offense. What more can we do than that?"
As It Happened
OSU had the ball to open the game and, on the first play from scrimmage, Krenzel faked and threw a deep out to Jenkins for a 33-yard gain down to the WSU 32.
But a false start penalty stunted the possession and, after Krenzel found Chris Gamble for an 8-yard gain down to the 26, the Buckeyes had to settle for Mike Nugent's 43-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead with 13:19 left in the first quarter.
Washington State answered with an 11-play, 80-yard scoring march. Gesser connected on 5 of 6 passes on the drive, converting a pair of third downs on a 10-yard pass to Scott Lunde and a 39-yard screen to Cole Sheridan down to the OSU 5. On third-and-goal there, Gesser dropped and threw a fade to Devard Darling over OSU corner Richard McNutt. The play put WSU up 7-3 with 8:33 left in the first quarter.
The Cougars were in business on their next possession, driving down to the OSU 38. But WSU went for it on fourth-and-6 and Gesser, under heavy pressure by OSU's Kenny Peterson, threw incomplete.
OSU used an eight-play, 45-yard possession to trim the lead to 7-6. The key play was a 36-yard run by Lydell Ross on his first carry of the game. Working out of a split backfield with Clarett, Ross used a big block on the frontside linebacker by Clarett to rip off his big run down to the WSU 19.
But another OSU false start, followed by a sack of Krenzel, forced the Buckeyes to again settle for a Nugent field goal, this time a 43-yarder, with 12:09 left in the second quarter.
The Cougars again threatened late in the half, moving 68 yards in 13 plays down to the OSU 12. But on fourth-and-goal there, a bad field goal snap hit holder Collin Henderson in the helmet and the Buckeyes took possession.
"We had a chance to go ahead maybe 14-6," Price said. "But we have to kick it instead. Then, it looked like we snapped the ball before the holder was ready. He is supposed to wait until the holder puts his hand up."
The Cougars then had the ball to open the second half and picked up 27 yards before the Buckeyes forced a punt.
OSU took over on its own 9 and moved 91 yards in an efficient eight plays to grab the lead. On the first play, Clarett went left behind a block from guard Bryce Bishop and rolled for a 44-yard gain. WSU defensive back Erik Coleman had an angle on Clarett and pulled him down from behind, otherwise he would have been gone for the long touchdown.
"I knew I was going to get caught so I just kept on running," Clarett said.
Krenzel then found Chris Vance for a 14-yard pickup. Krenzel then converted a third down with a 6-yard run down to the WSU 23.
On first down there, Clarett went right and bounced off a pair of WSU defenders on his way to a 20-yard scamper down the sideline. On the next play, he powered in for the 3-yard touchdown behind right tackle, giving the Buckeyes a 13-7 lead with 8:37 left in the third quarter.
Things went from bad to worse for WSU as Gesser was intercepted by OSU's Matt Wilhelm on his next pass attempt. Wilhelm stepped in front of a pass intended for Darling and tipped it to himself for the pick.
"I put a hand out to try and stop the ball," Wilhelm said. "I ended up being able to tip it to myself. I gained my balance and was able to control it. It was a lucky play."
The Buckeyes could not convert that miscue into points, but they did score on their next possession as Nugent drilled a 44-yard field goal to make it 16-7 with 1:57 left in the third.
Disaster then struck one more time on WSU, which was pushed back on its ensuing possession by a holding penalty. A fourth-down punt snap by Troy Bienemann sailed over punter Kyle Basler's head and out of the end zone for a safety, extending the OSU advantage to 18-7 with 47 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Buckeyes then got possession after the free kick and rolled 66 yards in 10 plays to their final touchdown. Clarett was the workhorse, carrying seven times for 36 yards.
Krenzel set up the touchdown, however, with his 29-yard scamper down to the WSU 1. On first-and-goal there, Clarett scored standing up behind right tackle, pushing the OSU lead to 25-7 with 10:41 left in the game.
Washington State then enjoyed its best offensive push of the second half, going 66 yards in 13 plays. But Gesser's fourth-down pass was intercepted by OSU freshman Tyler Everett at the OSU 4 with 7:10 left.
"We were in man coverage," Everett said. "I was supposed to switch, but I went with the guy who was in motion. Then, I saw the guy (Darling) cross my face. I knew there wasn't a safety in the middle of the field so I had to get back there and make the play.
"The quarterback threw it up and I just jumped up and grabbed it."
The Buckeyes then succeeded in running out the final 7:10 on offense, converting a pair of first downs in a 12-play possession.
* OSU improved to 8-0 all-time against Washington State, including 7-0 in Columbus.
* This was OSU's first home win over a top-10 team since a 28-9 victory over No. 7 Penn State on Oct. 3, 1998. OSU was ranked No. 1 at the time.
This was also OSU's first home win over a top-10 ranked nonconference team since a 36-33 win over No. 7 LSU 36-33. The Buckeyes were not ranked for that game.
The Buckeyes are now 22-22-4 all-time against top-10 teams at home, including 4-5-1 against nonconference top-10 opponents at home.
OSU is now 59-43-8 all-time against top-10 opponents. OSU record against top-25 ranked opponents improved to 98-94-12.
* Tressel's record at OSU improved to 10-5 and his career mark stands at 145-62-2.
* The crowd total eclipsed the previous record of 104,407 set last year against Illinois.
Next Up: The Buckeyes went down to the Queen City to tackle Cincinnati on Sept. 21, 2002.
Relive The Memories
You can still purchase our book on the 2003 Ohio State-Miami (Fla.) Fiesta Bowl, "The Greatest Game Ever Played," directly on eBay with a credit card.
You can click here for more details on the book, including sample pages of the cover, table of contents, my introduction and the chapter on the pivotal second overtime.
To order directly online, click this link for eBay.
Or you may send a check or money order for $20 ($17 for the book, $3 for shipping) to:
P.O. Box 34
Pataskala, OH 43062
Allow 2 weeks for shipping.