Krenzel Stares Down Naysayers, Helps OSU Win

Craig Krenzel may have been looking over his shoulder at Scott McMullen this week, but he certainly played looking straight ahead at the Michigan State defense. He tossed three touchdown passes -- and cemented himself as the quarterback -- in OSU's 33-23 win over Michigan State.

Craig Krenzel didn't have to hear the whispers: Those whispers were headlines in the local newspapers and sports slams on central Ohio's radio and TV stations.

The message was simple: The Gunslinger (aka Scott McMullen) was coming to take his job.

Krenzel heard the murmurs all week after McMullen replaced an injured Krenzel at halftime of OSU's win at Penn State. Krenzel had slogged through a rough first half, completing 5 of 12 passes for 36 yards with an interception before leaving the game with a mild concussion after a vicious hit by PSU linebacker Deryck Toles.

With OSU trailing 17-7 at the intermission, McMullen rode to the rescue by completing 12 of 17 passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns as OSU pulled out an all-too-narrow 21-20 win over the Nittany Lions. Just 20 minutes after the game, OSU head coach Jim Tressel was asked who would start today's game with Michigan State.

Now, mind you, McMullen gets the credit for leading OSU to the win. But that victory made Krenzel a sparking 21-2 in his career as a starting quarterback for the Buckeyes. The coach deflected the controversy until his luncheon on Tuesday, when he named Krenzel, a team co-captain, the starter but also noted that McMullen had earned a chance to play.

Tressel's message to Krenzel was simple: "Produce or I may have to put Scotty Mac in the game."

But it never came to that on Saturday as Krenzel enjoyed one of his best games in shepherding the OSU offense to a 33-23 win over MSU. The senior hit on 12 of 23 passes for 213 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. He also covered for ailing tailback Lydell Ross in the first half. He doubled as OSU's running game for a good portion of the first half, finishing with 33 yards on 14 tough carries. (He was sacked three times for 14 yards in losses.)

Oh, and for good measure, he had a sure 46-yard touchdown pass to Chris Gamble -- still looking for his first career scoring grab -- go by the boards when Gamble dropped the almost-perfect pass on OSU's first possession.

And, yes, McMullen did play. He entered the game with OSU firmly in control, up 30-17 with 9:52 left.

Put it all together and Krenzel proved again why you can never count him down or out.

"I think there is no question who our starting quarterback is," Tressel said. "I don't think Scott McMullen did anything such that you say, `Gosh, all of a sudden, I don't think he deserves opportunities.' So I'd say it's no different than a week ago. We're fortunate we have two veteran quarterbacks and I've said many times that November is a special time for seniors."

Krenzel responded to the vote of confidence.

"Thanks, Coach," he said, with a smile. "Obviously, I want to start and I want to play. That's just the type of person I am. I also want whatever's best for the team and I think Coach Tressel does a great job of deciding in any situation, no matter what we're talking about, what's best for the team. I'm just going to do whatever I can do all week long. On Saturday, when I get my opportunity to go out and play, I'll do the best I can."

In hindsight, Krenzel excelled playing his game. He kept MSU off-balance with his running and made just enough good-to-great throws to help the Buckeyes build a comfortable lead. His first touchdown pass to Ben Hartsock was desperately needed with OSU trailing 7-3 early. Another field goal on a trip to the red zone could have been devastating against a high-powered MSU offense.

Then, he found Santonio Holmes on a 37-yarder in traffic for his second TD toss. Finally, on the MSU 2, he executed a great fake to tailback Lydell Ross and found a wide open Ryan Hamby in the back of the end zone to complete his three-touchdown day.

"I wasn't motivated by being replaced," Krenzel argued. "I was motivated by offensively, we haven't done as well as we should have all year long. And we know coming down the stretch of the season that we're going to need to put some points on the board to help our defense out and our special teams out because we're playing some great football teams."

It was a far cry from a week earlier, when they took his helmet away and said he could not play after the Toles hit.

"I thought I was OK," he said. "I was answering their questions, I thought. They said I was dazed and not responding to some of their questions. That was their concern at the time."

Now, after a season of inconsistency, if Krenzel and the offense can just muster two more Grade A performances like this one -- albeit against two of the best defenses OSU will face this season -- the Buckeyes could be serious contenders for a repeat Big Ten championship, possibly a Rose Bowl bid or, the BCS computers willing, a return trip to the national championship game, staged this year at the Sugar Bowl.

"At the end of the day, as long as we add another number to the left-hand column -- especially at this time of year -- that's all that's important to us."

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