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 Purdue. That game was played exactly 10 years ago today on Nov. 9, 2002.
Video highlights of OSU-Purdue in 2002
Ohio State’s 10-0 record as well as its Big Ten and national championship hopes had been whittled down to one play.
The second-ranked Buckeyes, trailing host Purdue 6-3 in a defensive standoff, faced a fourth-and-1 situation at the Boilers’ 37-yard line. The clock had moved inside two minutes and was rolling. It was do-or-die time for OSU. Without a first-down conversion, the Buckeyes were headed to a certain defeat.
Luckily, the Buckeyes had heady (or better yet, plucky) quarterback Craig Krenzel on their side.
Krenzel looked off his underneath receiver, stepped up in the pocket and, as tailback Lydell Ross plucked off a blitzing Purdue defender, he threw deep down the right side to receiver Michael Jenkins. Jenkins got behind Purdue’s Antwaun Rogers to get open and made an over-the-shoulder grab as he was headed into the end zone for the 37-yard touchdown that would stand as the game winner.
As ABC’s Brent Musberger entoned, “Holy Buckeye!”
Ohio State’s season of destiny stayed right on track as the Buckeyes, benefitting from a Chris Gamble interception in the final minute to seal it, took a dramatic 10-6 win over the stunned Boilers Nov. 9 at Ross-Ade Stadium.
It was looking dicey as the Buckeyes, who improved to 11-0 overall and 6-0 in Big Ten play, were down to one play. Krenzel could have thrown underneath for Gamble, who again doubled as a receiver and corner for OSU. But he took the gamble and it paid off in another huge win for the Buckeyes.
"We had Chris underneath and he was open, too," said OSU coach Jim Tressel . "That was a big throw by Craig, a nice read by our offensive line and a great catch by Mike. He didn't have that much separation, but he had enough for the kind of throw Craig made."
Craig Krenzel vs. Purdue
Jenkins added, "That's what a receiver has to do. We have to separate when the ball is coming,'' Jenkins said.
Trailing now by four, Purdue (4-6, 2-4) went to quarterback Kyle Orton in search of a late comeback bid. And Orton had a receiver, Taylor Stubblefield, open deep down the middle of the field. He heaved the pass down there, but the athletic Gamble recovered to make the interception that capped it.
"That ball seemed like it was up there for an hour," Tressel said. "But that was a great play Chris made. It sealed the game for us."
It was a day for the defenses, to be certain. Krenzel ended up 13 of 20 passing for 173 yards with that heroic touchdown and one interception.
"They played some excellent defense against us," Krenzel said. “We really didn't do a very good job of converting third downs today. You have to give the credit today to our defense. They've just been playing out of their minds for the past several weeks. They really bailed us out today."
True enough: For the fifth straight game, the Buckeyes' opposition failed to score a touchdown.
OSU corner Dustin Fox averted an early Purdue threat with an interception. Purdue drove deep after a Krenzel interception, but came away with a 21-yard field goal by Berin Lacenic.
That 3-0 score stood until late in the first half, when OSU linebacker Matt Wilhelm picked off a pass and gave the Buckeyes a scoring chance.
OSU was out of timeouts and the clock rolled inside 20 seconds as Krenzel scrambled for 8 yards, but came up just short of a first down. The OSU field goal unit raced on to the field. They got the ball snapped just before the first-half clock expired and Mike Nugent drilled a clutch 22-yard field goal to tie it at 3-3.
Purdue coach Joe Tiller argued to officials that time had expired before the snap, but television replays indicated that there was one second showing when the ball was snapped.
Ohio State then took a hit early in the second half as 1,000-yard rusher Maurice Clarett was lost on the third play after halftime when he re-injured his ailing shoulder. He ended up with 52 yards on 14 carries.
"You just don't know how those nerves will respond," Tressel said of Clarett’s reoccurring injuries. "The weakness comes and goes, but Maurice is tough and he wanted to play. He went as long as he could."
The deadlock stayed in place until Purdue quarterback Brandon Kirsch hit Ray Williams for a 58-yard gain. But a Wilhelm sack and a false start penalty forced the Boilers to settle for Lacenic’s 32-yard field goal and a 6-3 lead with 7:50 left in the game.
Purdue’s Tiller said he would have been perfectly happy with a 6-3 win.
"You may not believe this, but this game played out just about the way we hoped it would," Tiller said. "We wanted to try and hold them under 100 yards rushing and keep things close. Then, in the third quarter, they score about a zillion points and give up none.
“So when we held it tied after three quarters, we felt the pendulum would swing in our favor. It just didn't happen that way and you have to give a lot of credit to Ohio State."
For OSU, Jenkins had five catches for 87 yards and the touchdown, while Gamble contributed three catches on offense for 51 yards and also had three tackles and his interception on defense.
For Purdue, Orton completed 18 of 28 passes for 169 yards, but he also had three interceptions. Kirsch backed him up and connected 9 of 11 times for 116 yards.
"That was another example of a great Big Ten football game,” Tressel said. “No matter what stadium you go to in this league it will be a battle until the end. Both teams fought extremely hard and Purdue prepared extremely hard and fought like crazy. We said all week they could be sitting there with eight or nine wins.
"Our players kept playing and our coaches kept coaching. Purdue came out with a great plan for us and used their two weeks well. Our guys didn't fold and kept hanging in and kept plugging away. We always talk about if we keep banging something good is going to happen."
Tressel was asked about the BCS standings and whether or not he believed another close call for the Buckeyes would drop them in those rankings.
"We can't concern ourselves with those kinds of things," Tressel said. "We're not going to drop in the Big Ten standings and that's what's important to us."
A reporter asked the OSU coach, “Is winning the essence right now?”
Tressel’s reply: "That's the main thing."
* The Buckeyes are off to their fourth 11-0 start in team history, joining the 1975, 1979 and 1995 teams. They will go for their first-ever 12-0 mark next Saturday at Illinois.
* Nugent has made 22 straight field goals dating to last season and is closing in on the NCAA Division I-A career record of 30 straight, set by Washington's Chuck Nelson. Nugent has made 21 straight this year and is within reach of the single-season record of 25, which Nelson set in 1982.
* Ohio State played without wide receiver Chris Vance, who was attending his brother's funeral.
Next Up: The Buckeyes visited Illinois on Nov. 16, 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
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Allow 2 weeks for shipping.