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. Today, we look back at the OSU-Kent State game. That game was played exactly 10 years ago today on Sept. 7, 2002.
QB Craig Krenzel and coach Jim Tressel talk strategy
Ohio State faced its annual "no-win" home game with an instate Mid-American Conference opponent Sept. 7 as Kent State invaded Ohio Stadium for the very first time.
The eighth-ranked Buckeyes, a four-touchdown favorite to crush the visiting Golden Flashes, jumped out to a 38-0 lead midway through the second quarter and cruised to a 51-17 win before 98,689 on a red hot 86 degree day at the Horseshoe.
"Obviously, goal number one we accomplished and that was to get a win in Ohio Stadium," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "I thought our guys came out of the gate really well coming off the open week."
OSU (2-0) scored on its first four possessions -- as well as on two of Kent's via defensive touchdowns -- in building its huge early lead. Safety Mike Doss and freshman linebacker A.J. Hawk each victimized KSU sophomore quarterback Joshua Cribbs and returned interceptions for touchdowns to fuel the rout.
"We played a really excellent football team in Ohio State," said Kent State coach Dean Pees, whose team fell to 1-1. "They do a lot of things well. We knew we were going to have to play mistake-free football to try and get this thing to the fourth quarter and then maybe pull something out, but we couldn't do that."
In the numbers can be deceiving category, OSU outgained Kent State just 412-358. In fact, KSU had 22 first downs to OSU's 17 and held a 39:12-20:48 advantage in time of possession.
But when Ohio State had opportunities to score, the Buckeyes took advantage of them.
"The first quarter-and-a-half, we were really out of sync on offense and they were throwing the ball well," Pees said. "Their receivers were making some really good catches. We played sloppy on defense and missed some tackles."
On offense, quarterback Craig Krenzel was in a real groove. He connected on his first 11 passes and ended up 12 of 14 for 190 yards with one touchdown.
Including his one incompletion at the end of the previous game against Texas Tech, Krenzel tied an OSU record with 12 straight completions over two games.
"It was pretty easy because I had a lot of talented guys running a lot of great routes," Krenzel said. "With that combination, it's not hard to complete some passes."
Tailback Maurice Clarett enjoyed another fine performance, rushing for 64 yards on 12 carries. He had touchdowns on the ground and with a pass reception.
Backup tailback Maurice Hall added a 28-yard touchdown run as well. Kicker Mike Nugent was good on all three of his field goal attempts, hitting kicks of 40, 33 and 45 yards.
Backup quarterback Scott McMullen hit on 7 of 11 passes for 78 yards, including a late touchdown to tight end Ryan Hamby. Chris Gamble led the Buckeyes with six catches for 87 yards, while Michael Jenkins had four catches for 89 yards.
Perhaps the only negative was the fact Clarett and Hall each lost fumbles.
"Probably the biggest thing that displeases us was fumbling the ball there," Tressel said. "That allowed them to get the ball in our territory."
KSU's Cribbs proved, at times, to be tough to handle. He kept the Golden Flashes in the game with his running and throwing ability, doing a good bit of damage against the Buckeyes after they began liberal substitutions in the second quarter.
He ended up 14 of 31 passing for 160 yards with two touchdowns and the two costly picks. He also carried the ball 21 times for 94 yards.
"As a quarterback, you get hit a lot against this defense," Cribbs said. "And when you run the ball, too, you get hit a lot more."
As It Happened
OSU's first touchdown was set up when Donnie Nickey partially deflected a KSU punt out of bounds at the KSU 31-yard line.
"Our special teams coaches are geniuses," Nickey said. "We schemed them up. They did what they usually do and we exploited it. We knew they left their 'A' gaps open and it just came wide open."
The Buckeyes needed five plays to convert that opportunity. Krenzel hit Clarett for a 9-yard gain and tight end Ben Hartsock for 8 more. Clarett then had a bruising 9-yard run down to the 2. Finally, Clarett went over right tackle and fought through a pile of four KSU defenders to get into the end zone on the 2-yard touchdown run, putting the Buckeyes up 7-0 with 12:16 left in the first quarter.
Cribbs then overthrew receiver Neil Buckosh and Doss was on the spot near the east sideline at the Kent 45 to pick it off. He cut back all the way across the field, getting a block from teammate Dustin Fox to complete the interception return for the score and a 14-0 OSU lead with 9:21 left in the first.
"The quarterback rolled out and overthrew his receiver," Doss said. "I considered it a gift. I caught it and saw the whole offense converging on me. I cut back to other side of the field. I was just trying to get into the end zone and get us on the board."
The lead ballooned to 21-0 after a four-play, 76-yard scoring march. Krenzel went down the seam to Gamble for a 33-yard gain. The drive was capped two plays later as Hall went right and cut back against the grain, then used his speed to put it away on his 28-yard TD scamper. That came with 4:35 left in the first.
"That was a little stretch play," said Hall, who scored his first career touchdown. "The lineman made a good block. I cut off of him and saw an opening and just tried to take it to the house."
OSU's fourth possession materialized into a seven-play, 66-yard scoring drive. Krenzel was a perfect 5 of 5 on this march. He found Gamble underneath for 12 yards, then went high to Jenkins for 13 more and to a sliding Drew Carter for 9.
After Clarett ripped off a 12-yard run, Krenzel found a sliding Jenkins for a 9-yard grab. Clarett's 4-yard run gave the Buckeyes a first down at the KSU 7. Krenzel threw quick in the right flat to Clarett, who hurdled a pair of KSU defenders at the goal line to complete the 7-yard TD and push the lead to 28-0 with 13:57 left in the first half.
Nugent's 40-yard field goal took the lead out to 31-0 with 9:05 left in the half.
Kent State's ensuing possession ended disastrously as Cribbs tried to throw toward Darrell Dowery. But Cribbs seemingly never saw Hawk, who had dropped into coverage. Hawk made the easy interception and returned it 34 yards for the touchdown and a 38-0 lead with 7:31 left in the half.
"I was kind of surprised," Hawk said. "A lot of interceptions happen like that. You try and get where you're supposed to be. Maybe he didn't see me. He kind of threw it right to me."
Kent State mounted its first major offensive push next, driving 75 yards in 11 plays. Facing fourth-and-12 at the OSU 28, Cribbs rolled out and threw into the end zone for Daryl Moore. Moore, covered by OSU freshman Nate Salley, appeared to juggle the pass as he was headed out of bounds but he was awarded the 28-yard touchdown, trimming the lead to 38-7 with 3:11 left in the half.
OSU's Hall then fumbled at the OSU 36, where Kent's Jacon Avery recovered. The Golden Flashes took advantage with a seven-play, 36-yard scoring possession capped by Cribbs' 13-yard TD pass to Antonio King. That cut the OSU lead to 38-14 with 24 seconds left in the half.
The Buckeyes had the ball to open the second half and marched 47 yards down to the KSU 15. But when the drive stalled, Nugent came on and hit a 32-yard field goal to make it 41-14 with 11:49 left in the third quarter.
Nugent then made a 45-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter to extend the margin to 45-14.
Kent State answered with Travis Mayle hitting a 33-yard field goal, to cut the lead to 44-17 with 8:25 left.
But the Buckeyes, behind McMullen, moved 68 yards in 10 plays to close the scoring. Facing fourth-and-2 at the KSU 18, Tressel opted to go for the first down. McMullen found Hamby on a crossing route and he took it in for the 18-yard touchdown to make it 51-17 with 4:09 left.
"I was the second choice," said Hamby on his first career touchdown. "The first read may have been the fullback. I ran an over route. McMullen stayed on me and hit me.
"Once I caught the ball, all I was thinking about was the end zone. I saw the deepest guy was the strong safety and he was sitting in the end zone. There was no way I was going to let him stop me."
As was the motif for the day, Pees understood that Tressel was in a no-win situation with that late-game decision to go for the first down.
"That's football," Pees said. "It was fourth-and-2. Jim may have been criticized if he had lined up and tried a field goal. Hey, it's football. Line up and play. If you want to show up, then you have to line up and play every down."
* OSU improved to 17-1 all-time against MAC opponents. The lone loss was a 12-6 defeat at Akron in 1894.
This marks the sixth straight year OSU has hosted an Ohio-based MAC team. The Buckeyes struggled in wins over Bowling Green (17-6) in 1992, Ohio U. (40-16) in 1999, Miami (27-16) in 2000 and Akron (28-14) last year.
"The difference was we haven't come out and gone up 38-0 on MAC team," Nickey said. "I think we made a statement today."
* The last time OSU scored 21 points in a quarter was against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1, 2002. The last time the Buckeyes scored 21 points in a first quarter was against Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1999.
* The last time OSU had at least two defensive touchdowns in a game was the 2000 season opener against Fresno State, when the defense scored four times (two interceptions, two fumble returns).
* With 51 points, OSU scored 40 or more points in back to back games for the first time since 1999 wins over UCLA (42-20) and Ohio U. (40-16). OSU opened the season with a 45-21 win over Texas Tech.
* Players making their first career appearance for OSU included CB Stephen Moore, TB JaJa Riley, OL Mike Kne, OL Andree Tyree, DE Bryce Culver, and true freshman OL Rob Sims and Nick Mangold.
Next Up: The Buckeyes hosted Washington State on Sept. 14, 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.