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 Minnesota. That game was played exactly 10 years ago today on Nov. 2, 2002.
OSU's Mike Doss on the prowl
Early on, the 2002 Ohio State-Minnesota game had an eerie feeling, much like the 2000 Ohio State-Minnesota game.
In 2000, Minnesota wide receiver Jermaine Mays blocked an early OSU punt and coach Glen Mason's Gophers never trailed as they handed his alma mater its first loss that season with a 29-17 decision.
Fast forward to Nov. 2, where Mays again blocked a first-quarter punt and the upset-minded Gophers seemed to have all the early momentum against the unbeaten Buckeyes. But this is not 2000 anymore as this year's edition of the OSU defense stopped the Gophers cold and the sixth-ranked Buckeyes rolled to a 34-3 win over No. 23 Minnesota before 104,897 at Ohio Stadium.
Minnesota came into the game averaging 441.4 yards total offense, including a Big Ten-best 271.0 yards on the ground.
But those numbers took a big hit as the OSU defense limited Minnesota to 112 yards total offense and just seven first downs. The Gophers netted just 7 yards on 23 second-half plays.
"They were tough," Mays had to admit afterwards when speaking of the Buckeyes. "They were on point on every aspect of defense. Every play we tried to run, they had one or two guys there. They were ready for everything we tried to throw at them."
OSU coach Jim Tressel, who watched his team hold Penn State to just 179 yards in a 13-7 win a week earlier, was again beaming over his defense.
"I thought our kids played hard," Tressel said. "Obviously, our defense dominated the game when they only have 112 yards and just 7 in the second half. I thought they were put in some adverse situations, but they answered the bell every time. They just kept coming after them."
OSU (10-0, 5-0) stayed on pace with Iowa (9-1, 6-0) in the Big Ten race, although it was not pretty for much of the first half. The Buckeyes led 10-3 at halftime before picking up 221 of their 322 yards in the second half.
The Buckeyes played without freshman 1,000-yard rusher Maurice Clarett, held out while nursing a stinger suffered last week against Penn State.
Lydell Ross started in place of Clarett and ended up with 89 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.
"I felt good on the field," Ross said. "Our line opened up some holes all day. I think I could have made some better decisions if I had been more patient."
Maurice Hall spelled Ross as the game wore on and ended up with a career-high 93 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.
"I thought our linemen played great," Hall said. "They opened up some great holes. We just tried to get through there and do the best we could."
Quarterback Craig Krenzel endured five sacks, but still completed 9 of 15 passes for 128 yards. His 49-yard strike to Michael Jenkins set up OSU's first touchdown, while he later hit Chris Vance -- who was grieving the shooting death of his brother -- for a 30-yard touchdown.
"We gave up two big pass plays," Mason said. "They caught us in a man defense and we gave them a little bit too much time to throw the ball. Other than that, I thought those young kids on our defense performed pretty well, especially when you take into account the inability of our offense to generate any type of attack."
The offenses and special teams for both squads struggled through the first half. The teams combined for 206 yards total offense in the first half, including just 101 by Ohio State. Plus, each team had a punt blocked.
But a bad punt snap by the Gophers (7-2, 3-2) early in the third quarter helped open the floodgates.
"We had a couple miscues in the kicking game that were costly," Mason said.
Minnesota tailback Terry Jackson was the Big Ten's leading rusher at 128.8 yards per game coming in. He had 50 yards in the first half against OSU, then lost 1 yard in the second half to finish with 49 yards on 16 attempts.
OSU also kept rangy quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq in check. He was 10 of 20 passing for 59 yards with a long pass of 11 yards. Plus, OSU sacked him four times.
"We came out and had some bad plays," Abdul-Khaliq said. "(Ohio State) took advantage of them and went up. They just kept the momentum flowing their way and it carried with them the whole game."
Mason added, "We obviously lost the game. You look at that score and I think it was a bit misleading. I thought that was a case of two pretty good defensive teams out there playing tonight.
"But Ohio State is a pretty good football team. That's why they're ranked where they are and why they're undefeated."
OSU had the ball to open the game, but netted just 2 yards in three plays before attempting a punt. But Minnesota's Mays came through an opening up the middle and blocked Andy Groom's punt out of bounds at the OSU 27 with 12:47 left in the first quarter.
Two rushes by Jackson netted 10 yards before Abdul-Khaliq attempted a run. He was shoved out of bounds by OSU's Matt Wilhelm, who was flagged for a late hit. That gave the Gophers a first down at the 8. But after Abdul-Khaliq's third-down pass to tight end Ben Utecht was overthrown in the end zone, UM settled for Dan Nystrom's 24-yard field goal and a 3-0 with 10:05 left in the first quarter.
OSU did not pick up a first down until its third possession, when Ross ripped off a 22-yard run. But two plays later, he fumbled the ball away when he failed to secure it on a handoff.
Later in the half, Groom had a 58-yard punt that rolled dead at the UM 1. But it was negated by an illegal formation penalty.
OSU finally got it in gear late in the half, mounting a four-play, 70-yard scoring march. Ross got it started with runs of 14 and 2 runs. Krenzel then dropped and hit Jenkins on a crossing route. The receiver reversed field and rolled all the way down to the UM 5-yard line before Gophers cornerback Ukee Dozier pulled him down after a 47-yard gain.
"We had Chris Gamble underneath and Mike was running a 15-yard dig," Krenzel said. "The linebackers jumped Gamble. I just had to hang in there and wait for Mike to get open coming across the middle."
Ross capped the drive on first down, bursting up the middle for the 5-yard touchdown and a 7-3 lead with 5:59 left in the first half.
"That was a big play," Ross said. "We just wanted to finally get some points on the board, period. I just had to be patient on that play and wait for the cutback to develop."
The OSU defense then forced its third straight three-and-out. But on the punt, OSU overloaded the right side of the line and Donnie Nickey came unblocked and easily smothered Preston Gruening's punt and recovered it at the Minnesota 14.
"I was untouched," said Nickey, who was credited with his second block of the season. "I could have ran past him. I could have tackled the guy I got in there so quick."
The Buckeyes lost 6 yards on the ensuing series as Krenzel was sacked and his pass to tight end Ben Hartsock lost 4 yards. But Nugent came on and hit a 37-yard field goal to push the lead to 10-3 with 3:31 left in the half.
Minnesota crossed midfield in the final minute of the half, but a pass interference penalty by UM's Antoine Burns pushed the Gophers out of scoring range.
Another Gophers special teams miscue helped the Buckeyes increase their lead early in the second half. Gruening had to go down to one knee to field a wide long snap from Peter Prudden. He was ruled down at the UM 9-yard line.
"When I stumbled on the punt attempt, I was just trying to prevent the ball from getting behind me," Gruening said. "I kind of jumped at it and dropped a knee on accident."
Ross was stopped for no gain on first down. But on the next effort he went right before cutting back and taking UM's Justin Isom with him to the goal line for the 9-yard touchdown and a 17-3 lead with 12:35 left in the third quarter.
"All of their 'backers overpursued," Ross said. "I saw that when I got the ball. I knew the cutback there was going to be six points."
A 10-play, 31-yard scoring march netted another Nugent field goal, this time a 33-yarder, to put the Buckeyes up 20-3 with 5:25 left in the third.
The Buckeyes upped their lead to 27-3 after a five-play, 53-yard scoring push. Hall keyed it by ripping off a 19-yard run. That set up Krenzel's 30-yard post pass to Vance for the touchdown with 1:15 left in the third quarter.
"Their safeties were in the box," Krenzel said. "We ran a token play-action fake and I saw the safeties come up. I think the DB thought Chris was going to run a go, but he broke it off into a post and there was no middle field safety there. I just had to put it out there for him to go and get it."
OSU capped the scoring with a nine-play, 77-yard possession midway through the fourth quarter. Hall opened it with runs of 15 and 18 yards before Krenzel found backup flanker Bam Childress for a 17-yard gain. Finally, Hall roared over left guard for the 4-yard touchdown, putting the Buckeyes up 34-3 with 6:29 left.
"I had 4 yards I had to get and when I saw (the end zone), my eyes got real big," said Hall, who notched his second career rushing touchdown. "I was just trying to get in there. I did the best I could."
* The Buckeyes improved to 37-7 all-time against Minnesota, including 19-3 in Columbus.
Mason fell to 1-5 against OSU in his six seasons as the Minnesota coach.
* The Buckeyes have now outscored their opponents 110-14 in the third quarter this year.
* For the second straight week, Chris Gamble started at flanker and at cornerback for OSU. He caught three passes for 15 yards on offense and was second on the team in tackles with six on defense. He also deflected a pass and returned four punts and two kickoffs.
* OSU improved to 10-0 for the seventh time in school history and first time since 1996.
* Nugent's two field goals give him an OSU single-season record of 20, breaking the mark of 19 set by Dan Stultz set in 2000.
He has now made an OSU record 21 in a row, including one from last year.
Next Up: The Buckeyes visited Purdue on Nov. 9, 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.