25 Most Exciting: No. 23
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It has been far too long since we released player No. 24 on our list of the top 25 most exciting Buckeyes of the Jim Tressel era.
A trip to Chicago for Big Ten Media Days put a momentary freeze on the series as we spoke with Luke Fickell and the conference’s other head coaches about the upcoming season.
We return to our previously scheduled program today with player No. 23 on our list, and this one might come as a surprise.
No. 23: DB Will Allen
In 2003 Will Allen streaked 100 yards for a pick six to get OSU past San Diego State, 16-13.
Photo by Jim Davidson
If you only started following Ohio State football in the last 5-6 years, then the name Will Allen may not mean a whole lot. In the overall scheme of things, he was a one-year starter on the only Tressel team that lost to Michigan.
But Will Allen was so much more than that. Not only was he a first-team all-American and all-Big Ten performer for the Buckeyes in 2003, he was also one of Ohio State’s most exciting clutch players of the last decade.
Allen’s heroics began as a junior in 2002, when he helped Tressel and the Buckeyes win the school’s first national championship in more than 30 years. His lasting imprint on the ’02 title may be the gruesome hit that knocked Miami running back Willis McGahee out of the Fiesta Bowl, but his impact on the championship season was immeasurable.
Players like Craig Krenzel, Maurice Clarett, Michael Jenkins and Chris Gamble are generally remembered for their late-game heroics during Ohio State’s turbulent championship season. However, it was Allen who made two of the biggest season-saving plays that year.
His most memorable play has become a lasting image in the minds of Ohio State fans; so of course it came against Michigan. The Buckeyes were clinging to a 14-9 lead and an undefeated season After Clarett’s wheel route set up a touchdown run by Maurice Hall in 2002 game in Columbus.
The Wolverines had one last charge, but Allen picked off John Navarre just shy of the end zone with 0:00 on the clock to send the Buckeyes to the BCS National Championship game.
“When Will caught that ball it was all locked down,” safety Donnie Nickey said after the game.
“There are no words to describe this feeling right now.”
Allen’s biggest play of the year actually may have come 10 weeks earlier. The Buckeyes were playing in Cincinnati for the first time in 91 years, and the Bearcats had three chances to derail Ohio State’s perfect season all the way back in week four.
With Clarett sidelined by injury, Krenzel gave the Buckeyes a 23-19 lead with his late 6-yard touchdown scramble in the fourth quarter. Cincinnati quarterback Gino Guidugli responded by leading the Bearcats down the field. He had three shots at the end zone, but his receivers dropped two game-winning touchdown passes in the final moments.
Facing one final shot to upset the mighty Buckeyes, Guidugli threw the ball down the middle but it was tipped by linebacker Matt Wilhlem and intercepted by Allen with just 26 seconds on the clock.
His heroics would not end after his junior season. Allen moved into the starting lineup as a senior in 2003 and nearly helped the Buckeyes back to the national championship game by single-handedly pushing them through the non-conference schedule.
In week two, Allen returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown as the Buckeyes slipped past 32-point underdog San Diego State 16-13.
One week later, Allen made a game-saving goal line stop on N.C. State running back T.A. McLendon to preserve a 44-38 victory in triple overtime.
He followed that heroic stop with another game-saving interception in week four against Bowling Green. Allen’s pick of Josh Harris came on the final play of the game after the Falcons had scored 10 fourth-quarter points to cut Ohio State’s lead to 24-17.
Allen would go on to have an all-American season that year, and for that he comes in at No. 23 on our list of the most exciting Buckeyes of the last decade.
Share your favorite Will Allen moment below.
No. 24 Cam Heyward
No. 25 Brian Robiske
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