But quarterback Craig Krenzel certainly threw his helmet into the race with his play as second-ranked Ohio State opened defense of its national championship with a businesslike 28-9 season opening win over No. 17 Washington Saturday night at Ohio Stadium.
Krenzel ran for two breathtaking touchdowns and also threw for 203 yards in leading the Buckeyes to the win before a crowd of 105,078, the third largest crowd in Ohio Stadium history.
"It was a lot of fun," said Krenzel, who was 15 of 27 passing. "The best thing is we're just a bunch of kids out here playing a game. We had a lot of fun out here tonight. It was great to be back here in our house."
OSU outgained UW's powerful pass-heavy offense 345-262. The Huskies managed just 7 yards rushing on 24 attempts.
"Our kids played hard," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "They prepared hard all summer. They worked hard in the preseason. Tonight, they played fast and they played hard. Obviously, we've got to get better in some areas. But I am very proud of what we did tonight."
Tailback Maurice Hall, starting in place of the suspended Clarett, who was on the sideline providing moral support, added 58 yards on 15 carries with one touchdown. Lydell Ross spelled Hall and added 43 yards on 12 carries with a score.
Michael Jenkins led the Buckeyes with eight catches for 80 yards.
"That was a tough match-up for an opener," Tressel said.
Ohio State had the ball to open the game and OSU coach Jim Tressel, showing faith in Krenzel, opted to go deep on the first play of the game. The deep ball to Drew Carter fell incomplete, but the crowd got behind the Buckeyes from that play on.
OSU's first scoring drive of the season came on its second possession. The Buckeyes moved 72 yards in eight plays for their first touchdown. The key play was Krenzel's 37-yard pass to Carter on a post, moving the ball down to the UW 19. Gamble came in motion on the next play and took an immediate handoff, picking up 15 yards on the quasi-reverse. On first-and-goal at the 4, Krenzel rolled out and ended up diving for a 2-yard gain. Then, Hall powered behind right tackle for the 2-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 8:31 left in the first quarter.
"That was an off-tackle play and there was a guy in the hole," Hall said. "I just had to get it in there and that's what I did."
The lead moved to 14-0 on OSU's next possession, which lasted seven plays and 78 yards. Krenzel hit Jenkins for gains of 12 and 23 yards on this possession. Then, he tossed a screen to Ross for 12 yards down to the UW 24. After Ross picked up 1 yard on first down, Krenzel dropped to throw. The play appeared to be a flanker screen to Gamble, but that was covered. So Krenzel went up the middle, then cut outside and rolled down the left sideline before diving at the goal line for a 23-yard touchdown run. OSU led 14-0 with 2:51 left in the first quarter.
"That was actually a fake screen (to Gamble) and we were trying to hit (tight end) Ben Hartsock on the wheel route," Krenzel said. "The corner played it kind of soft and took the wheel away. There were no other outlets and I almost ran damned near the whole field."
Meanwhile, the OSU defense stopped the Huskies on three-and-outs on their first three possessions. The third one was capped by a huge sack by end Simon Fraser on Pickett.
OSU punter B.J. Sander pinned Washington back to its own 1-yard line late in the half. The OSU defense forced a punt, which Gamble was able to return 10 yards to the UW 25 with 2:07 left.
The Buckeyes tacked on a back breaking third touchdown just before the half, covering that 25 yards in six plays. Krenzel again captivated the crowd with his running ability. He dropped to throw on third-and-10 at the UW 11. But with his receivers covered, he broke loose and headed left. Again, he left his feet near the goal line and got the ball across the plane for the 11-yard touchdown and a 21-0 lead with 11 seconds left in the half.
"Our line did a good job of protection," Krenzel said. "I stepped up out of the pocket and started going horizontal. All of our guys were running crossing routes. The last thing I wanted to do was throw it in there and have it get intercepted. So I tucked it away and just tried to see what I could do."
Washington got the ball to open the second half and drove 47 yards in eight plays before settling for Evan Knudson's 46-yard field goal, trimming the lead to 21-3 with 13:22 left in the third.
OSU answered with a seven-play, 81-yard touchdown march. Krenzel and Jenkins hooked up for three catches worth 30 yards. Ross capped the drive with his impressive 15-yard touchdown run. He encountered UW safety Jimmy Newell at the 10 and powered through him to get to the end zone and give his team a 28-3 lead with 6:06 left in the third.
"That felt good," Ross said. "That showed that all the hard work I had done and the extra weight I had added was paying off."
OSU's Dustin Fox blocked a Knudson field goal attempt with 6:50 left.
Washington, aided by a pass interference penalty on E.J. Underwood near the goal line, notched its only touchdown with 3:27 left. Pickett kept the ball for the 2-yard TD run. But he was sacked by OSU's Mike D'Andrea on a two-point conversion attempt, leaving the Buckeyes ahead 28-9.
Redshirt freshman Justin Zwick saw his first action for OSU late in the game. But on his first play, walk-on Roshawn Parker fumbled the ball away. But the defense kept UW out of the end zone.
* OSU end Simon Fraser led OSU with seven tackles, including three for losses and a sack. Linebacker A.J. Hawk also had seven stops. Freshman David Patterson notched his first career sack late in the game.
* Ohio State now holds a 7-3 all-time edge in the series with Washington, including 4-1 in Ohio Stadium. The teams will meet again in 2007, when OSU will visit Seattle.
* This was the sixth night game ever in the 81-year history of Ohio Stadium. OSU is a perfect 6-0 in night games in the Horseshoe, defeating Pittsburgh in 1985, Washington in 1993, Wyoming in 1997, UCLA in 1999 and Northwestern in 2001.
* Ohio State has won 23 of its last 25 season openers, dating to a 1978 loss to Penn State at Ohio Stadium.
* Since Ohio Stadium opened in 1922, OSU is 74-6-2 in home openers.
* OSU is 5-2 all-time in the month of August, all since 1986.