|Thursday, November 21
Updated: November 22, 12:48 PM ET
Krenzel's clutch play has OSU undefeated
By Ivan Maisel
The Ohio State offense may put more Buckeye students asleep than their econ professors, and quarterback Craig Krenzel may have the kind of star quality that screams Weather Channel. But there's a funny thing about the Buckeyes: they score more points than the other team. That's not merely because the Ohio State defense has allowed only four rushing touchdowns, fewest in the nation. The Buckeyes may rank only seventh in the Big Ten in total offense (381 yards per game) but in every clutch situation, Krenzel proves as dependable as a telemarketing call at dinner.
No one has to tell Michigan about Krenzel. If the redshirt junior hadn't completed a pass this season, he would be remembered fondly by the scarlet and gray for his performance last November at Michigan Stadium. In his first collegiate start, against the archrival, 11th-ranked Wolverines, Krenzel led the Buckeyes to a 23-0 halftime lead and a 26-20 victory.
Pressure is nothing more to Krenzel than the name of an old Billy Joel tune. When you have prepared for courses to major in molecular genetics, as Krenzel has, how tough can the Wolverines be? Krenzel played as if he had seen Michigan his whole life, which, in a sense, he had. He grew up in Utica, less than an hour from Ann Arbor, and attended Henry Ford II High. You can't get anymore Michigan than that.
Krenzel decided to sign with Ohio State instead of Michigan because he wanted to go away to school. He quickly understood that a Michigan native playing for Ohio State is considered an alien in some Buckeye provinces. "I think people in Ohio might view it (the rivalry) a little bigger than the people in Michigan do," Krenzel said.
Krenzel's numbers against the Wolverines a year ago (11-18-1, 118 yards) may have been pedestrian, but somehow, Ohio State scored more points than Michigan, the team that ran the previous coach, John Cooper, right out of Columbus. Cooper, as every Columbus first-grader knew, went 2-10-1 against Michigan. Krenzel is 1-0 against Michigan and 13-1 as a starter. Even that record has an asterisk. Krenzel took the first snap in the 31-28 loss to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, but threw only two passes before surrendering the job back to the previously suspended Steve Bellisari.
A year later, the Buckeyes belong to him. Questions remained about his effectiveness through spring practice, and again in August. However, from the moment that freshman tailback Maurice Clarett rushed for 175 yards in the Buckeyes' 45-21 season-opening victory over Texas Tech, the spotlight trained on him. Krenzel quietly went about the job of quarterbacking, and as Clarett dealt with injuries to his knee and his shoulder that kept him out of nearly four games, Krenzel continued to lead. Though he ranks 73rd in the nation in total offense (177.6 yards per game), one spot behind a guy who isn't even starting anymore (Chris Rix of Florida State), Krenzel is seventh in the nation in passing efficiency.
"He puts the ball in an area where me or nobody is going to get it," wide receiver Michael Jenkins said.
Senior linebacker Matt Wilhelm used the traits "confidence and maturity" to describe Krenzel's ability to succeed from the moment he stepped onto the field. "Coming out and getting a big win for us (against Michigan) was huge. He's comfortable as a starter. He's got total confidence in his offensive line. He's got total confidence in his receivers to make a big catch. He makes big plays when a big play needs to be made." Last Saturday, the big play he made was a 14-yard scramble on a third-and-10 late in the game.
When Clarett announced early this week his intention to play Saturday, a buzz of excitement coursed through the Buckeye Nation. Anyone who considers Clarett the offensive savior of the second-ranked Buckeyes hasn't been paying attention. If Ohio State beats Michigan and earns an invitation to play for all the Tostitos on Jan. 3, it will be because Krenzel takes them there.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.