Tomorrow night on ESPN Saturday Night Football on ABC, my Ohio State Buckeyes take on the Michigan State Spartans with the Big Ten East Division title on the line. Quite possibly, the Big Ten title and the national championship for both schools could be on the line tomorrow night. Such a huge road game this deep into the season…one that could change the fortunes of the season and the program. It reminds me of a moment in 2002 that changed the fortunes of the entire program and actually pushed it into its current state of dominance. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: Holy Buckeye.
How I first came across this moment? It was back on November 9, 2002. I had taken that particular Saturday off from Domino’s Pizza and I kicked back to watch the #3 Ohio State Buckeyes take on the Purdue Boilermakers in West Lafayette. Having dismantled Minnesota the week before, we rolled into Ross-Ade Stadium with a 10-0 record, including a perfect 5-0 mark in Big Ten play. Though Purdue was having a horrible season, it was still a big game for us as we had ascended to #2 in the Bowl Championship Series polls behind Miami. Joe Tiller’s Boilermakers came to play that day. They kept the Ohio State offense in check most of the day with only a Mike Nugent field goal to end the 2nd quarter all the Buckeyes had to show until deep in the 4th quarter. It certainly didn’t help that our star tailback, Maurice Clarett, got knocked out of the game in the 3rd quarter. Late in the 4th quarter, Ohio State was facing a 3rd & 14 from midfield with about 2 ½ minutes to play in a game they were trailing 6-3. Craig Krenzel hit Ben Hartsock, the dependable redshirt junior tight end for a 13-yard gain to the Purdue 37 to set up a 4th & 1. Instead of bringing on Mike Nugent—our sophomore kicker who go on to consensus 1st Team All-American honors that season—to kick a game-tying 54-yard field goal and play for overtime, Jim Tressel elected to go for the 4th down play. The ABC commentators, Brent Musberger and Gary Danielson, both figured that Krenzel would go for a quarterback bootleg like the 15-yard run he made to set up the eventual winning touchdown at Wisconsin just 3 weeks earlier. Instead of a quarterback keeper or running Lydel Ross behind our massive offensive line, Krenzel gambled big and threw it deep to Michael Jenkins who beat the cornerback for a touchdown that provided the winning margin as the Buckeyes survived and moved on to 11-0. Brent Musberger’s famous call chronicled the whole scenario.
What it meant to me then? In the immediate moment, that play sent me into a frenzy. I leaped off my father’s couch. My then-girlfriend thought I was bananas with my emotions at the time. Our undefeated season was preserved. After Oklahoma’s loss that weekend, the Buckeyes were #2 in all major polls behind Miami, who we would go on to beat for the national championship at the 2003 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
What it means to me now? Holy Buckeye was a defining moment in life for me. Already having an acceptance letter from The Ohio State University in hand with the eventual acceptance letter from The University of Oregon on the way, I made the decision to go to Ohio State…mostly based off my emotional tie to the football team and the library. When people ask me about my favorite Ohio State football moment, I point to that one. When I’m around fellow Buckeye fans, I always ask “what were you doing when Krenzel hit Jenkins in West Lafayette”.