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 Penn State. That game was played exactly 10 years ago today on Oct. 26, 2002.
Highlights from the 2002 OSU-PSU game
The chips were down -- and so was star tailback Maurice Clarett -- for fourth-ranked Ohio State.
But the Buckeyes rallied behind their defense and special teams to stave off the 18th-ranked Penn State 13-7 before an Ohio Stadium record crowd of 105,103 on Oct. 26.
Ohio State (9-0, 4-0) needed a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown from Chris Gamble, who started on offense and defense and played both ways the entire game. Gamble’s pick-six reversed a 7-3 halftime deficit and helped OSU pull out the win in a turnover plagued game.
"I just want to help the team out any situation I can," Gamble said. "I just want to make big plays."
"He won the game for us," OSU linebacker Matt Wilhelm, who contributed a team-high eight tackles and forced a fumble.
OSU won despite turned the ball over four times, while PSU quarterback Zack Mills had three interceptions.
"I'm not surprised about anything," said Penn State coach Joe Paterno, whose team fell to 5-3 overall and 2-3 in Big Ten play. "When we went into the football game, I expected a dogfight. That was what it turned out to be -- a dogfight."
The Buckeyes lost Clarett on the first series of the game with what was labeled a separated left shoulder. He finished with 39 yards on four carries, allowing him to at least eclipse the 1,000-yard mark on the year. He stands at 1,019 yards on the year.
Chris Gamble's 40-yard INT return for a TD won it for OSU
Lydell Ross (21 carries, 40 yards) and Maurice Hall (eight carries, 20 yards) split time at tailback in Clarett's absence.
"Maurice Clarett was banged up early," OSU coach Jim Tressel said. "But as we've said, you better have some depth because 13 college football games is a lot of games, especially with how many times he has carried the ball.
"Thank goodness we have Lydell Ross and Maurice Hall."
OSU quarterback Craig Krenzel pressed on in Clarett's absence. He completed 13 of 20 passes for 112 yards with two interceptions. He was strong running the ball, gaining 39 yards on 15 attempts.
Defensively, the Buckeyes held PSU to a season-low 179 yards total offense and just eight first downs.
"They know what's going on in there," Tressel said of his defense. "They communicate well and make adjustments. That's what it's all about. They have a good offense, but today they met a defense on a mission and the defense came out on top."
Mills ended up 14 of 28 passing for 98 yards with those three picks.
"We had more than an ample opportunity to win this game and we didn't take advantage of it," Mills said. "We kept shooting ourselves in the foot. We made too many mistakes mentally, and you have to give Ohio State credit. They had a good game plan and they played well defensively."
Maurice Clarett was lost to a shoulder injury in the PSU game
PSU tailback Larry Johnson had 66 yards on 16 carries.
For the second week in a row, the OSU defense dominated in the second half, allowing PSU just 58 yards on 28 second-half plays. For the game, OSU held the ball for almost 37-1/2 minutes.
"We couldn't make a play when we had to," Paterno said. "We couldn't come up with a catch, Zack was a little off here a couple of times and when it looked like we had some running room we get tripped up.
"There were lots of little things, and that's a good football team. That's a very good defensive football team."
And, the special teams came up big as well for OSU.
Just as he did to help preserve the win at Wisconsin a week earlier, OSU punter Andy Groom uncorked punts of 59 and 55 yards in the final five minutes to reverse the field position.
Kicker Mike Nugent chipped in with a pair of field goals, extending his OSU-record consecutive made field goal streak to 19.
"They kicked the heck out of the football," Paterno noted.
Ben Hartsock hurdles PSU defender
As It Happened
The Buckeyes had the ball to open the game and enjoyed one of their best sustained possessions of the season. Clarett got it going with a 30-yard run on the game's second play.
Krenzel completed 4 of 6 passes for 35 yards on the drive, which ended up covering 15 plays for 79 yards and 6:59 of clock time. Three of his passes went to tight end Ben Hartsock for 29 yards.
But Clarett went to the sideline after taking a hit on his shoulder midway through the drive. Facing third-and-goal at the PSU 5, Krenzel tucked the ball and headed for the goal line. But he was popped at the PSU 1 and fumbled. PSU's Anwar Phillips took the ball on a perfect hop and rolled 58 yards the other direction before Gamble could drag him down.
"I put the ball on the ground and that's something that can't happen," Krenzel said. "That should have been a touchdown. If I hold on to it, it would have been. We can't do things like that to ourselves."
PSU was in good shape at the OSU 41, but three plays later Mills had his pass tipped by defensive tackle Tim Anderson and intercepted by OSU linebacker A.J. Hawk at the OSU 43 with 6:59 left in the first quarter.
"I was checking the tight end and the ball was tipped," said Hawk, who started in place of an injured Cie Grant. "I saw it in the air and just tried to go after it."
Penn State got on the board first, moving 80 yards in nine plays on its next possession. The key play was Larry Johnson's 35-yard rumble, where he broke four OSU tackle attempts. Three plays later, Mills threw a perfect touch pass to fullback Mike Lukac for a 16-yard gain down to the OSU 5. On the next play, Larry Johnson took an option pitch and dove at the pylon to get the touchdown.
Johnson was hit by OSU's Mike Doss and Matt Wilhelm and the ball popped loose, but replays showed he appeared to get to the goal line for the score that put PSU up 7-0 with 36 seconds left in the first quarter.
OSU had to punt on its ensuing possession, but got a big break as Mills threw an interception to end PSU's next possession. On the play, Mills tried to drill the ball in to Tony Johnson. But OSU's Dustin Fox got a hand on the ball and tipped it up in the air, where teammates Will Smith and Wilhelm were waiting to grab it. Smith came down with the pick, giving OSU possession at the PSU 32 with 8:57 left in the first half.
Hall had runs of 7 and 5 yards to give the Buckeyes a first down at the PSU 20. But on third-and-9 at the 19, Krenzel's fade pass to Jenkins in the end zone was just out of his reach incomplete. Nugent came on and hit a 37-yard field goal to cut the lead to 7-3 with 6:16 left in the half.
Ohio State missed a golden opportunity just before halftime, taking over at the OSU 25 after a punt with 3:31 left. Krenzel dumped the ball off to Hall for a 16-yard gain and found Ross for a 28-yard pickup on a screen, giving the Buckeyes a first down at the PSU 34. A roughing the passer penalty on PSU's Anthony Adams moved it down to the 19.
But on first down there, Krenzel threw underneath to Chris Vance. He was hit by PSU's Chris Harrell and fumbled. PSU's Shawn Mayer recovered it at the PSU 15 with 1:32 left.
OSU got the ball back at the PSU 42 after a 16-yard punt return by Gamble with 8 seconds left. But Krenzel's Hail Mary pass for Vance was intercepted by Bryan Scott to end the half.
Penn State had the ball to open the second half. But Mills, facing third-and-12 at the PSU 18, floated an ill-advised pass for Tony Johnson. Gamble swooped over and intercepted it at the PSU 40. He moved down the sideline, cut back to the middle, then went outside to complete the 40-yard interception return for a touchdown that put OSU up 10-7 with 13:07 left in the third quarter.
"The interception for the touchdown was a terrible pass," Mills said. "I was just trying to make a play there."
The Buckeyes then extended their lead with a 14-play, 72-yard drive that melted 8:21 off the clock. Krenzel hit Jenkins for gains of 14 and 9 on this possession, which was aided by a personal foul on PSU's John Bronson for removing his helmet. But the drive stalled after Ross was knocked for a 2-yard loss on third-and-2 at the PSU 18.
Nugent's 37-yard field goal -- which glanced through off the right upright -- extended the lead to 13-7 with 1:05 left in the third quarter.
The Buckeyes dodged a bullet midway through the fourth quarter when Krenzel's pass for Jenkins was read perfectly and intercepted by PSU's Mayer. He lateraled the ball to teammate Rich Gardner, who was finally tackled at midfield with 8:28 left.
PSU picked up one first down on an option run by Larry Johnson. But a pair of Mills incompletions ended the threat. PSU's punt was downed at the OSU 5 with 6:59 left.
The Buckeyes never got another first down, but they didn't need to with Groom on their side.
He uncorked a 59-yard punt out of his own end zone with 4:51 left, then pinned PSU back with a 55-yard punt with 3:02 left.
"We weren't moving the ball that well late in the game," Groom said. "We knew we had to punt it away and hold them if we wanted to win the game."
The Lions' last gasp ended as OSU's Kenny Peterson sacked Mills for a 10-yard loss and he threw incompletions on third and fourth down, the last one fittingly broken up by Gamble.
OSU regained possession with 2:13 left and, with PSU out of timeouts, ran three Krenzel running plays to kill the clock.
* OSU chipped away at Penn State's all-time lead in the series, which now stands at 10-8.
The Buckeyes are a perfect 5-0 in Big Ten home games against Penn State, which entered the conference in 1993. This was the closest of those five match-ups, although PSU has still never reached double digits in scoring in a Big Ten game at Ohio Stadium.
OSU edged ahead 6-5 in the all-time series in Columbus.
* OSU trailed at halftime for the fourth time this year. The Buckeyes previously rallied in the second half for wins against Washington State and at Cincinnati and at Wisconsin.
* For the second straight game, OSU held its opponent scoreless in the second half. OSU is holding opponents to 4.2 points in the second half. The Buckeyes have outscored their opponents 93-14 in the third quarter this year.
* The last time OSU held a Big Ten opponent to seven or fewer points was a 23-7 win at Wisconsin in 2000. The last time OSU scored 13 or fewer points and still won a Big Ten game was a 13-6 win at Minnesota in 1988.
Next Up: The Buckeyes hosted Minnesota on Nov. 2, 2002.
Also check out: This look at the Ohio State-Penn State rivalry.
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.