The-Ozone Rewind: Chris Gamble’s Defensive Debut, Sept. 2002

Ohio State Buckeyes

[Editor’s Note: From now until Big Ten Media Days, we’ll be reaching into The-Ozone’s 23 years worth of archives and each day we will be posting a story from yesteryear. Big moments, small moments, big games, bigger games, and the random recruiting updates about guys you haven’t thought about in a decade or two.]

This story comes from John Porentas following Ohio State’s come-from-behind 23-19 win at Cincinnati in 2002. This was the first of the Buckeyes’ seven wins by one score that season, and it had fans freaking out. It was also the debut of wide receiver Chris Gamble at cornerback — and what a debut it was. Mark Dantonio was the defensive coordinator at the time and explains why Gamble was anything but a gamble for the Buckeye defense. — TG

It’s almost difficult to tell who won.

A quick glance at the-Ozone Fan Forum tells the story. There are a good number of people who are less than happy today, even though the Buckeyes came away with the win on Saturday. Don’t count Jim Tressel in that number.

Tressel put it this way.

“I think any hard-fought victory is a good one, where you have to give great effort against a good opponent. You’ve been under the gun; you’ve handled the adversity. I think that’s always good for you. I’d really rather learn lessons that way rather than those good hard-fought losses,” he Tressel more than just a little tongue in cheek.

Now nearly 24 hours since the Buckeyes held on for a 23-19 win over Cincinnati the emotions have cooled some. With the distance of a bit of time, Tressel’s point makes a lot more sense. Maybe the Buckeyes didn’t play as well as they would have liked, but they won, and maybe they learned something. Tressel said he learned something. He learned that on Saturday, he was not very happy with his team.

“You want to feel like you got better each game. It doesn’t have that feel right now. There were some areas where we did not get better. We feel good about the effort, the way the kids stuck together, about the win against a good team in a tough environment, but don’t know how great we feel about not progressing like we’d like to in game four,” said Tressel.

“I’m pleased that we’re 4-0, but I also know that we’ve got a lot of work to do in a lot of areas,” he said.

Like some fans, Tressel was less than thrilled with the Buckeyes on Saturday, but not disappointed. As much as he would have liked his team to have played better, he understood that his team had passed the only bottom line test that matters. It won. It did what it had to do at crunch time to win, and that pleased Tressel

“We knew what we had to do. We had to keep them from scoring a touchdown. I’m sure there was discussion about what they’ve shown and what they might do. Our guys knew very well that the challenge was to keep them out of the end zone,” said Tressel.

Eerie Replay

The Buckeyes did just that on a defensive series that must have seemed like a not-so-instant replay for OSU defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio. Dantonio’s OSU defense withstood two incompletions in one corner of the endzone and one in the other corner before coming up with an interception to salt away the win. Dantonio coached another defense that made a stand that was uncannily similar some time ago. At that time, however, he was the defensive coordinator of the Michigan State Spartans and the passing offense he stopped featured some guys named Germaine, Boston and Miller. Oh, and yes, the Buckeyes were involved in that game, too.

Unexpected Help

Dantonio’s defense came up with the big stand at the end of the Cincinnati game with the help of OSU wide receiver Chris Gamble who was inserted to the OSU lineup as a defender. It was the first time Gamble appeared in an OSU game on defense and he acquitted himself very well, coming up with a drive stopping interception on one series and operating as a field side cover corner on Cincinnati’s last desperate possession.

“We have our receivers do a little covering in our one on one drills. We felt since last spring that one of the best covers guys to the field is Chris Gamble, but obviously we didn’t have time to teach him all the formations, the checks, and so forth,” said Jim Tressel.

“We decided a week or so ago that if we could put him in a situation where he could at least the first game simply play man, then the second game we’d have to mix it up because everyone would know he just played man, but for game one give him an opportunity. People like to throw the fade and he’s a guy that can break on the ball and he came up with a huge play,” Tressel said.

For his part, Dantonio positively gushed over Gamble as a defender.

“We had gone into the game saying that if we got into the red zone we were going to put him in. We just felt like Richard (McNutt) has been banged up and with E. J. being a freshman that we wanted to do that. Chris demonstrated as far back as the bowl game last year that he can play. He can play any position out there. He’s electrifying, a tremendous player,” Dantonio said.

Gamble’s opportunity on defense is a result of a chronic injury situation for the Richard McNutt who starts at the position.

“Richard probably isn’t at 100% health-wise. We knew all along that he probably never will be,” said Tressel.

“We have to really study how we’re going to use the reps he is capable of doing. It’s just a health situation with his ankle that’s real. When he’s fresh he’s fine. When it gets to a certain fatigue point then he can’t do what he needs to do. That’s why E. J. Underwood stepping in and played well and a lot, and why Chris Gamble got a little time out there at the field corner, to give Richard a little help,” Tressel said.

The Field

Prior to the game it was reported that the field at Paul Brown stadium would leave something to be desired as far as providing solid footing for the players. It didn’t take the Buckeye offense long to find out that the reports were true. Their first play from scrimmage went as an incomplete pass when intended receiver Ben Hartsock simply fell down trying to make a cut. The ball hit Hartsock as he tried to get up but went as an incompletion.

“It was like running in pig slop,” said Hartsock. “It was absolutely slimy out there. I went out before hand for warmups and down toward the endzone things were a lot more sure. It was a little drier down there, but right there in the middle of the field at the 50-yard line at the center of the field, for the rest of the game I had to slow down my cuts and play a little more flat footed. I think that happened to a lot of guys. They were slipping and sliding all over the place,” said Hartsock.

Tressel agreed that the field left something to be desired but didn’t use it as an alibi.

“It was the same for both teams. It wasn’t great. It’s nothing like Ohio Stadium. That’s not an inference that it had anything to do with us not playing as we would like,” Tressel said.

Some Positives…for the Other Guys

Jim Tressel is a guy whose glass is usually half full. He has a positive outlook and usually can find positives in situations that others find outright intolerable. The Buckeyes and Bearcats combined for lots of mistakes in their matchup, but Tressel found some positives not only for his Buckeyes, but in the play of Cincinnati as well.

“Their kids made catches that you make if you’re going to have a great game like they were planning on having. I thought their quarterback stood in there and threw some good balls. They did a lot of good things,” said Tressel.


Win or lose, there are critics, and quite often, critics take aim at the quarterback, in OSU’s case, Craig Krenzel. Krenzel’s numbers in the passing game on the day may not have been what everyone would like, including Krenzel. He completed just under half of his passes (14 of 29) and had two intercepted. What escapes some of those critics, however, is that the purpose of any offense it to produce points, and Krenzel had a direct hand in the production of 18 of OSU’s 23 points. He completed touchdown passes to Chris Vance and Ben Hartsock for two TDs and 12 of those points. Hartsock described his TD catch.

“That is the hardest catch of all the catches we had this year. That was the hardest one by far. That ball was in the air for probably 20 minutes,” laughed Hartsock.

Krenzel then scored the final OSU touchdown of the day on a play that left an impression on more than one football coach in the stadium on Saturday.

“He won the game with his legs,” said Cincinnati Head Coach Rick Minter.

Following the game, OSU offensive coordinator was still awed by the play.

“How in the world did he get that in. That’s what I said on the phones. I have no idea how he did it. It was a great play,” said Bollman.

Krenzel described the play.

“We were hoping they would cover Mike Jenkins man to man, and we were going to try and beat them on a little slant-angle route. The corner did a good job on coverage. When I started to roll out the safety came inside out to cover him up on the inside. At that point I just decided to break the pocket and try and make something happen,” said Krenzel.

Surviving the Last Possession

Krenzel’s touchdown put the Buckeyes ahead and set up the dramatic Cincinnati drive and OSU defensive stand to end the game. The drive produced some varying emotions while it was going on.

“I’ll be honest. I was praying, a lot of guys were praying,” said Hartsock who watched the drive from the sideline with the rest of the OSU offense. “You definitely have faith that your teammates can do it, but the way things went today you never know what to expect,” said Hartsock.

“It would be easy to get frustrated because it seems like Cincinnati was moving the ball. It seems like when things really get down to crunch time and things are really getting to be all or nothing, our defense has really been able to pull through. It was just another example of that on the last play,” Hartsock said.

The drive turned out the way the Buckeyes wanted, with a stop, but OSU offensive coordinator Jim Bollman would rather not see much more of those kinds of endings.

“We’ve had enough the last two weeks. I’m done with that,” quipped Bollman.

The same drive left the Bearcats shaking their heads.

“It sucks. It sucks bad. I’d rather get blown out than loose like this,” said Bearcat quarterback Gino Guidugli who’s passing nearly brought off the upset. Guidugli probably came closest on third down when he got the ball to the hands of receiver George Murray, but Murray was unable to hold on to the ball for the reception.

“When I dove the ball hit my hand, I knew I had it. When I hit the ground, I felt my body thinking I still had it. When I patted my chest, I felt that the ball wasn’t in there. That’s when my world started coming down. It was a perfect pass,” said Murray.

Finding a Silver Lining

The winners don’t usually have to look for a silver lining in a football game. Usually the scoreboard is all they need. For some reason, however, the Buckeyes seem to be required to do so after their win over an inspired Cincinnati team. Craig Krenzel gave it his best effort.

“We were down late in the game, we had to make some plays and we had guys step up and make some plays. I think that’s very important for us as a football team. At the same time we’re disappointed because we know we made too many mistakes today. Cincinnati capitalized on some of them. Had they capitalized on some of the other ones we might had been in trouble. We almost beat ourselves today. We know we have to play better,” said Krenzel.

“I think the trademark of any great college football team is there is always a game where maybe they’re heavily favored, and they just don’t come out and play well. Last year it happened to Miami when they played Boston College, they squeaked out one. I think it happens to every good football team. The trademark of a good football team is to try and find a way to win when the game is on the line and we did that,” Krenzel concluded.

3 Responses

  1. I was there with my two sons and my son in law. We were disappointed in the close win because we wanted to kill the Bearcats but Jim Tressel had a way of making a lot of games close. All those close wins made us a two touchdown underdog against media darling Miami and that national championship all the sweeter. And man both teams were loaded. Krenzel had very average skills but he was a superb leader and made plays in the clutch. And Clarett’s take away after that interception was just all instinct and guts.
    Thanks for the memories.

  2. This game was right after the big win against #10 Washington State that I attended. I remember screaming at my TV at home in *ichigan waiting for them to blow that game deep in our territory. Too many close games against Purdue (“Holy Buckeye”) and Illinois…must have aged me 10 years during that season. But it all turned out well in the end from what I recall 🙂

  3. I was at this game. As I recall, it was the last baseball game at Riverfront, and Oktoberfest was also going on. Quite a scene after the game. Lots of drunken Buckeye fans celebrating a little too much. Considering how that game played out, we should have been a lot more humble.

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