[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.]
November 9, 2002 | It may very well be the most beloved play in Ohio State Football history. Coined by the great Brent Musburger when Craig Krenzel found Michael Jenkins deep down the sideline against Purdue on fourth-and-2 late, “Holy Buckeye” is one of those moments in history where everybody remembers where they were when it happened. Who knows, maybe you were even one of the 250,000 Buckeye fans who claim to have been sitting in the 65,000-seat Ross-Ade Stadium when it happened. The eventual 10-6 win for Ohio State moved them to 11-0 on the season. This story comes from John Porentas following the game and includes Krenzel saying “Thank God” Ben Hartsock wasn’t open on the underneath route. One could call Holy Buckeye a microcosm of the entire 2002 season for Ohio State, but there was nothing “micro” about this play. (By the way, if you’d like to check out The-Ozone’s photo gallery from the game, you can do so here.) Feel free to share your own memories of Holy Buckeye in the comments below. — TG
“Our guys kept hanging in there and slugging away. We always talk about the fact that if you keep banging, eventually something good is going to happen.”—Ohio State Head Football Coach Jim Tressel.
An undefeated season, a run at the Big Ten championship, and a possible run at a national championship hung in the balance. After just over 58 minutes of football dominated by both the Ohio State and Purdue defenses, the Ohio State offense was down to one play to save it all. Then, as Tressel promised, something good happened for the Buckeyes.
Purdue led 6-3, thanks to two Berin Laceic field goals, one from 21 yards in first quarter and another of 32 yards in the fourth. Between those kicks, the Purdue offense could not threaten an OSU defense that once again had an outstanding day, running its string of quarters without surrendering a touchdown to 11 dating back to the first quarter of the Penn State game.
The Buckeye offense had been even less successful against a relentless Purdue defense. Only a 22-yard field goal by Mike Nugent as time expired in the first half prevented OSU from registering a goose egg on the scoreboard.
With just 3:10 left in the game the Buckeye offense was given a last chance when the defense presented them the football on their own 46-yard line. It was do or die time for the Buckeyes. They came within one play of die, but in the end, it turned out to be all do as Tressel had said it could be if they would keep banging away.
On fourth and two from their own 37-yard line the Buckeyes were one play from being out of the ranks of the undefeated and a game back of Iowa in the Big Ten race. OSU junior quarterback Craig Krenzel and junior wide receiver Michael Jenkins would not allow it.
With it all on the line, the OSU offensive line gave Krenzel enough protection to step up in the pocket and find a streaking Michael Jenkins with a step on Purdue defender Antuan Rogers on the post pattern. Krenzel lofted a tight spiral into the teeth of a gusty 20-mph wind. The ball hit Jenkins in the hands as he crossed the goal line. Jenkins cradled it for the score, the 10-6 win, the preservation of an undefeated season, and the inside track to a Big Ten title.
Tressel described the play.
“It was a route that had all the components we needed. It had a quick throw first, it had some dump offs that could have got us a first, and it had the big play potential if they happen to sit down our routes,” said Tressel.
“There was part of the route that would have got us the two yards for the first down, but they happened to be manned up on him and closed that off. When people are manned on you you like to throw over top. Craig did a great job of sitting in the pocket and he did what is really crucial, he stepped up and slid forward. It gave Mike Jenkins a little bit of time to get some extra separation,” said Tressel.
Krenzel filled in the details.
“We had Ben running underneath on that little route that I couldn’t hit him on today to save my life,” said Krenzel. “Thank God he wasn’t open,” Krenzel said drawing a laugh.
“My read was if Ben was open I was going to deliver him the ball for the first down. They did a good job of walling off Ben over the middle. Chris Gamble was on a a dig, a 15 yard dig route from the right, and Mike Jenkins had the post. On the snap, the guy pressed Mike and Mike ended up going outside the corner instead of running the post over the middle and I just adjusted to it and put the ball a little more outside,” Krenzel said.
The play was perfectly executed. It was also a great call from an OSU offensive coaching staff that had been extremely conservative for an entire game, but when the chips were down, went for broke and took the Boilermakers by surprise. Purdue was loaded up to stop the run and vulnerable to the pass, and the Buckeyes were able to take advantage with the biggest play of a season already full of big plays.
“It’s fourth and one and I think maybe they thought we were going to run the ball and try go get the first down and keep it moving,” said Krenzel.
“They went man to man on us with cover zero, they had nobody deep. They had no deep safety. I think they brought a blitz off the edge and our running backs did a great job picking it up. Mike ran a great route. When I looked up and saw he had a step on his man I just delivered the ball,” Krenzel said.
“Against a team like Ohio State that rushes the ball the way it runs it, if you don’t load up to run on fourth and two you’d have to be a fool,” said Purdue Head Coach Joe Tiller.
“We didn’t have a choice. We ran a run blitz. Anytime you run that kind of a blitz your corners are on an island. They know that. I thought it was a great throw into the wind and a great catch by the guy. Championship teams make those plays,” said Tiller.
“It was strategically a very good call. A lot of people wouldn’t make that call,” Tiller added.
Everyone will remember the remarkable play that scored the winning touchdown. Just as memorable is the remarkable performance turned in for four quarters by a Buckeye defense that has been nothing short of amazing.
“Our defense just plays like crazy,” said Tressel.
“Purdue came out with a good plan, mixed up things with their groupings and threw the ball out and completed it. They were very efficient throwing the ball and came up with some big plays. Our defense wouldn’t panic and just kept banging. That’s just the way our kids play,” he said.
The OSU defensive effort was typified by a second-half red-zone stand that defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio called the most crucial series in the game for his unit.
With the game still tied 3-3 in the fourth quarter Purdue quarterback Brandon Kirsch found a wide open Ray Williams romping through the Buckeye secondary. Kirsch hit Williams in stride. The resulting 58-yard gain moved the ball from the Purdue 20 to the OSU 22. The Boilers pounded the ball down to the Ohio State 11-yard line with a first down. On third and three from the OSU four Kirsch was was sacked for a six-yard loss to force the Boilers to settle for the field goal attempt.
“I’d say that’s the (defensive) play of the game,” said Dantonio.
“Getting that sack and not letting them get in, just hanging in there and stopping them in the redzone again. We called a blitz and I think the guy who initiated the play was Rob Reynolds. Unbelievable,” said a grinning Dantonio.
By denying Purdue the touchdown the Buckeyes kept intact their streak of 11 quarters without surrendering a TD.
“When you get in the red zone you’ve got to make them kick field goals,” said Donnie Nickey.
“You make them kick field goals, you’re going to win the game nine times out of ten. We pride ourselves on that, our red zone play. We’ve improved that from last year. That was a huge thing coming into this year that we needed to improve on,” Nickey said.
Purdue’s final possession of the game resulted in one last great play by the Buckeye defense. With less than a minute to play Purdue QB Kyle Orton tried to go deep, but OSU’s Chris Gamble came up with the interception to seal the win.
“He tossed it up there and I kind of lost the ball,” said Donnie Nickey was also deep on the play.
“I was close to the man so I was going to try and break it up. I saw Gamble come out of nowhere and kind of save the day,” Nickey said.
“I just saw the quarterback rolling and looking for a receiver,” said Gamble.
“I saw the receiver so I just waited for the quarterback to put it in the air and I just went after it like I was the receiver.”
With the win the Buckeyes are now 11-0 with two Big Ten games remaining to play. Previously undefeated Oklahoma was upset by Texas A&M leaving just OSU and Miami as unbeatens in Division I football. OSU will likely be no worse than number two in both polls as well as the BCS rankings next week. With the loss, Purdue falls to 4-6 overall and 2-4 in the Big Ten.