But Krenzel served notice he has no plans to relinquish the starting job any time soon as he led the sixth-ranked Buckeyes to a 33-23 win over No. 14 Michigan State before 105,194 Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
"I think you could tell our kids played extremely hard and played against a very good football team in Michigan State," said OSU coach Jim Tressel. "They were extremely well prepared and they put a lot of pressure on you offensively, defensively and with special teams. Our kids really came to play and fought hard. It was good to see improvement as the game went on, which is key."
Some may have felt Krenzel was the third best passer in the stadium Saturday behind MSU's prolific Jeff Smoker and McMullen. But he completed 12 of 23 passes for 213 yards and three touchdowns against one interception as the Buckeyes (9-1, 5-1) moved a step closer to clinching an outright Big Ten title and at least the Rose Bowl.
"This time of year in the Big Ten, wins are tough to come by," Krenzel said. "I'm just happy we walked away from this game with a win against a great team. We've got two more great teams coming up starting with the Boilermakers coming to our house next week."
Of course, the road gets no easier as OSU will host No. 16 Purdue in next Saturday's home finale before visiting No. 8 Michigan Nov. 22. Purdue (8-2, 5-1) defeated Iowa 27-14 Saturday to stay in a three-way tie for the Big Ten lead, while UM (8-2, 5-1) was idle this week.
OSU tailback Lydell Ross had his third straight 100-yard game with 125 yards on 24 carries.
"I've just got to keep it going," said Ross, who shrugged off nagging injuries early in the game to help OSU put MSU away in the second half.
Tight end Ben Hartsock had three catches for 54 yards and a touchdown. Santonio Holmes had two catches for 51 yards and a touchdown, while Michael Jenkins had two grabs for 50 yards. Ryan Hamby also had two catches for 31 yards and a score.
Smoker was 35 of 55 passing for 351 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Agim Shabaj had nine catches for 78 yards and a touchdown. Smoker completed passes to 11 different receivers and even caught a 19-yard throwback himself. DeAndra Cobb returned a kickoff 93 yards for a score for the Spartans (7-3, 4-2), who were outgained unofficially 395-378 in total offense. MSU netted just 5 yards on 17 rushing attempts against the nation's top-ranked run defense.
"We knew coming out early on they would complete some balls and have some success until we adjusted to exactly what they were doing," said linebacker A.J. Hawk, whose seven tackles were second to Robert Reynolds' 10. "But Smoker is pretty good."
The teams traded punts to open the game. OSU's possession was marked by Chris Gamble's straight drop of what would have been his first career touchdown pass on what looked like a good deep throw by Krenzel.
MSU took over after a punt on its own 5 and embarked on a seven-play, 95-yard scoring march to open the scoring. The Spartans got a break on third-and-5 from their own 25 when Smoker threw for Cobb. The pass went incomplete, but OSU's Gamble was flagged for interference.
Two plays later, Smoker found a soft spot in the OSU zone down the right sideline and hit Ziehl Kavanaght for a 47-yard gain. Two plays later, he dialed up a wide open Shabaj on a skinny post for the 22-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 6:21 left in the first quarter.
OSU countered with a 10-play, 53-yard scoring drive. The big play was Krenzel's perfect 29-yard spiral to Hamby, who made a nifty over-the-shoulder grab down to the MSU 25. But in the next three downs, Krenzel threw two incompletions and was sacked. Mike Nugent's 44-yard field goal cut the MSU lead to 7-3 with 2:20 left in the first quarter.
The Spartans were then in danger of extending their lead as high as 14-3 as Smoker drove them 62 yards to a second-and-9 at the OSU 18. But on that play, he was pressured by defensive tackle Tim Anderson. Smoker tried to get the ball to Jason Randall in the left flat, but he never saw safety Tyler Everett who caught the ball at the OSU 8 and rolled down the sideline 66 yards before MSU's Matt Trannon saved the touchdown by knocking him out of bounds at the MSU 28 with 13:37 left in the first half.
"Tyler got that pick and that was a huge momentum swing for us," Hawk said. "Any time you have a big turnover like that, it really helps."
OSU needed five plays to convert the turnover -- as well as a handy MSU personal foul. An MSU defensive lineman was flagged for slugging OSU guard Adrien Clarke after Krenzel was stopped for no gain on third-and-9 at the 27. OSU was given new life at the MSU 11. But after a sack, the Buckeyes were facing third-and-16 at the MSU 17. Krenzel stepped up under pressure to buy time and eventually found Ben Hartsock on a crossing pattern for the 17-yard touchdown and a 10-7 OSU lead with 10:53 left in the first half.
"That was a big play," Krenzel said. "They came out with a nickel look, three down linemen and they brought sort of a blitz. The line did a good job of picking it up. I think I almost ran into Adrien, though. Ben did a good job of coming across and I think they lost him when I was stepping up. I just tried to get him the ball. That was a big play to get the momentum on our side."
Ohio State added to the lead on its next possession, moving 60 yards in a quick three plays. Krenzel began the march with a 21-yard pass to Michael Jenkins. Branden Joe then picked up 2 yards before Krenzel hooked up with Holmes to get the rest. Holmes caught the pass between two defenders, then sidestepped one of them to complete the 37-yard touchdown and give OSU a 17-7 lead with 6:28 left in the first half.
"Santonio made a great play on that," Krenzel said. "We were running a skinny post. The free safety was favoring Mike's side a little bit. I tried to put the ball where only Santonio could get it. He dealt with pass interference, made a great catch and did a great job to get the ball into the end zone."
MSU kicker Dave Rayner booted a 48-yard field goal to cut the OSU advantage to 17-10 with 3:13 left in the half.
Ohio State got the ball to open the second half and moved 80 yards in an efficient eight plays to extend its lead. Krenzel opened it with passes of 29 yards to Jenkins and 18 yards to Roy Hall. Then, Ross, after netting just 11 yards on six carries in the first half, came alive on this drive. He netted 31 yards on five straight running attempts. Finally, on second-and-goal from the MSU 2, Krenzel faked a give and threw a 2-yard TD pass to a wide open Hamby to push the lead to 24-10 with 11:42 left in the third quarter.
"That was a little corner route," said Hamby, who broke from a "bunch" formation at the right hashmark to an open area in the back right corner of the end zone. "We made a shift from the power formation and Craig found me."
But Michigan State answered immediately as Cobb returned the ensuing kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown to trim the gap to 24-17 with 11:30 left in the third.
Nugent came on and hit a 23-yard field goal with 6:14 left in the third and a 42-yarder with 13:01 left in the fourth to make it 30-17. Meanwhile, the OSU defense was holding Smoker and the Spartans at bay. Freshman nickel back Donte Whitner, playing center field, picked off a Smoker overthrow with 12:00 left in the game.
Nugent added an 18-yard field goal to make it 33-17 with 5:18 left.
But Smoker drove the Spartans down and hit Aaron Alexander with a 19-yard TD pass with 3:21 left. But his two-point pass went off Randall's hands, keeping OSU ahead 33-23. Then, OSU's Jenkins recovered the ensuing onside kick.
Smoker was later sacked by Darrion Scott on fourth down at the MSU 5 with 1:05 left. OSU fell on the ball to end the game.
* OSU improved its lead in the all-time series with MSU to 22-12, including 12-7 in Columbus.
* Ohio State won its 15th straight home game, dating to a 2001 loss to Illinois. Under third-year coach Jim Tressel, OSU is now 19-2 at home.
* Tressel became the fastest OSU coach to reach 30 wins, doing so in his first 36 games. He bests the mark of 30-7 Earle Bruce had to open his OSU career in 1979-82.
OSU is also 18-4 in Big Ten games under Tressel. The Buckeyes are also 12-3 against ranked teams under Tressel.
* OSU has now won 23 of its last 24 games. The Buckeyes have also won 14 of their last 15 in Big Ten play.
* Cobb's kick return for a score was a school-record third this year for him and also the first kick return for a score against OSU since Michigan State's Larry Jackson returned one 93 yards in 1984.
* There was a 10-minute delay with 5:00 left in the third quarter as MSU lineman Stefon Wheeler suffered an injury. He was secured on a stretcher and led off the field to an ambulance. He waved to the crowd as he was being wheeled out in a sign he was OK.
MSU team physician Dr. Randy Pearson issued the following comment on Wheeler's condition: "Stefon had a CT scan and it was negative. He has no broken bones in his neck and the sensation has returned to his arms. He is in stable condition and he will remain at OSU (Medical Center) overnight for precautionary reasons. Stefon had tingling in his toes when he left the field. By the time he got to the hospital, he had tingling in his arms and feet."
* The crowd figure is the second largest in OSU history behind the record of 105,539 for last year's Michigan game.
* Next week's OSU game with Purdue will be at 3:30 p.m. and will be televised regionally by ABC.