Two Outta Three Weren't Bad For Krenzel

After growing up behind enemy lines, Craig Krenzel went on to play crucial roles for Ohio State in three editions of The Game. A shocking upset, a surprising option and a crushing defeat were among discussion points when he recently he took some time to relive his experiences with BuckeyeSports.com.

As unique perspectives for the rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan go, Craig Krenzel's is hard to beat.

The Sterling Heights, Mich., native grew up within an hour of the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor and made a few trips there to take in the rivalry as a fan in the stands.

During those early trips, he was there mostly as a fan of college football rather than the Buckeyes or the Wolverines, but his allegiances were clear when he returned in 2001.

Newly appointed the starting quarterback for Jim Tressel's first edition of Buckeyes, Krenzel's first college start came against Michigan in 2001.

Ohio State limped into that game a heavy underdog, unranked at 6-4 and one week removed from being knocked out of a muddled the Big Ten title chase by Illinois.

Meanwhile, the Wolverines were 8-2, ranked 11th and gunning to forge a tie for the championship with the Fighting Illini and earn a BCS bowl bid.

They ended up with neither, however, as the Buckeyes scored the first 23 points of the game then held on for a 26-20 victory.

The heroes of the game were OSU tailback Jonathan Wells, who ran for 129 yards and three touchdowns, and the OSU defense, which caused five turnovers and a safety.

Meanwhile, Krenzel completed 11 of 18 passes for 118 yards and an interception. Those are not eye-popping numbers, but looking back Krenzel had no regrets or apologies for the outcome.

"Obviously from an offensive standpoint, as I look back now I wish we would have capitalized on (the turnovers) a little bit more," Krenzel told BuckeyeSports.com. "At the time, I was just trying to do whatever I could to help the team win."

He admitted the game turned out to be the epitome of what came to be known as Tresselball.

"Play great defense. Run the football well. Take care of the ball. Have good special teams and make the plays when you need to," Krenzel said. "When Coach Tressel gets into those situations with the defense playing as well as they were that day, especially with a guy making his first start at quarterback, as I look back that might be exactly the way he drew it up."

One year later, Krenzel found himself in an entirely different situation. While the Buckeyes never trailed in the 2001 game, they received the ball at their own 43-yard line with 8:30 left on the clock and a 9-7 Wolverine advantage on the scoreboard.

Krenzel said needing points was just business as usual, though.

"You don't sit on the bench and think, ‘We really need a touchdown here'," Krenzel said. "Our mindset offensively was, believe it or not, we wanted to score every time we touched the ball.

"Maybe the system wasn't set up for that. Obviously we didn't come anywhere near doing that, but it was our mindset."

The approach paid off that time, as the Buckeyes marched to the eventual winning touchdown with the help of two plays rarely – if ever – seen from the Buckeyes that season.

First, there was a 26-yard pass from Krenzel to tailback Maurice Clarett, who had sneaked out of the backfield for his 12th and final reception of the season.

That play, which nearly brought the Ohio Stadium house down, gave the Buckeyes a first-and-goal at the Michigan 6. After Clarett gained three yards over right end, the Buckeyes used some trickery to gain the final three yards separating them from pay dirt.

Krenzel pitched to Maurice Hall, the only option play Ohio State ran on the season, and Hall scampered in for a touchdown.

Of the pass to Clarett, Krenzel said, "I wouldn't say it was a new play put in for that week but it was something we really hadn't run (in a game) all season."

The same was not true of what produced Hall's run, however.

"The touchdown was a new play that was put in for that week," Krenzel said. "It involved kind of a dummy audible. Knowing how well Michigan knew us, we knew that if we got up there and made some changes they would think they knew what we were doing and then we did something the complete opposite."

As it turned out, the Wolverines were so bamboozled that they could not stop the play even thought it was not quite blocked correctly.

"Something happened with the snap count and our right guard didn't get off the ball quite in time," Krenzel said. "I ended up actually pitching off of the (defensive tackle) as opposed to the defensive end, but we just had them outmanned and Shane Olivea did a great job and I believe Ryan Hamby was the tight end to that side and did a great job blocking a couple of people which allowed Mo Hall to just kind of dance in there untouched."

And Ohio Stadium burst into jubilation.

The home fans celebrated again the next year, but this time it was much to Krenzel's chagrin.

Troy Smith is the only quarterback in the past six decades to lead Ohio State to three victories over Michigan, but he would have just been the second one in a row if not for Michigan's 35-21 victory in the 100th edition of The Game.

That contest in Michigan Stadium had everything riding on it, especially for the Buckeyes, who were not only playing for the outright Big Ten title but also quite possibly a return to the national championship game.

Although the offense had some relatively uncommon success, the usually stout defense allowed 21 points out of the chute and the fourth-ranked Buckeyes never recovered.

The fifth-ranked Wolverines were Big Ten champs and earned a berth in the Rose Bowl.

For Krenzel, memories of that game are doubly negative. Not only did his team lose, he also missed part of the action with a shoulder injury.

After leading two touchdown drives earlier in the game, Krenzel was forced out of the contest in the third quarter. Backup Scott McMullen came in and engineered a TD drive of his own to cut the OSU deficit to seven early in the fourth quarter, but Krenzel had every intention of going back to the game after a brief trip to the locker room.

"That was my guess," he said. "I was having a pretty good game before the injury. My guys up front were doing a great job protecting and we were throwing the ball down field a little bit."

He thought he saw his opportunity to tie the game after a Chris Gamble interception at the Ohio State 37-yard line, but Tressel opted to stay with McMullen, at least in part because he was not aware that his starter had received a clean bill of health.

"After the injury, I came back on the field and threw a couple balls and I was trying to get back in the series that Scottie went back in and we went three-and-out," Krenzel said. "I went up to Coach Tress and said, ‘Hey, the docs say I'm good to go.' But he hadn't had a chance to talk to any of the docs so he didn't know if I was just saying that. We went three and out and he had a chance to talk with the docs and they said I was fine and after that I went back in."

By then, though, it was too late. Michigan took the punt that followed the aforementioned three-and-out and breezed 88 yards in eight plays for the clinching touchdown, a 15-yard run by Chris Perry.

Perry and senior quarterback Jon Navarre, who was victimized for crucial turnovers in both the 2001 and '02 losses to the Buckeyes, were the men of the match. Perry ran for 154 yards and two touchdowns while Navarre was 21 for 32 passing for 278 yards with two touchdowns.

"He was their catalyst," Krenzel said of Perry. "He was the one that when he was running really put the pressure on our guys. When he was running the ball that well and they were two-dimensional it made it very difficult for our defense."

Yearly subscribers to BuckeyeSports.com already know more stories like this one recounting the memories of former Buckeyes from several decades can be found in Buckeye Sports Bulletin's annual Michigan preview issue, available now as a back issue if you missed it. To purchase a copy of this week's issue or to try BSB for free for four issues, send an email to subscriptions@buckeyesports.com.


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