Huskies, Buckeyes eager to end summer of turmoil
Posted: Friday August 29, 2003 5:16PM; Updated: Friday August 29, 2003 6:32PM
SI.com's B.J. Schecter breaks down the weekend's big game.
After a summer filled with turmoil at both schools, Ohio State and Washington are eager to take the field. Neither fired Huskies coach Rick Neuheisel nor Buckeyes star running back Maurice Clarett, who has reportedly been suspended for six games, will play a role in the game, but there will be plenty of stars on both sides. The defending national champion Buckeyes are still riding high from a 14-0 season and return 17 starters, including 10 on offense. A raucous crowd at the Horseshoe will try and make it a long night for Washington, which was 7-6 in 2002, but don't expect a blowout. The Huskies are deep and talented, and Cody Pickett and Reggie Williams may be the best quarterback-receiver tandem in the nation. Ohio State will counter with quarterback Craig Krenzel and wideouts Michael Jenkins and Chris Gamble, who also doubles as a lockdown cornerback.
A Big Ten assistant sizes up Ohio State:
"This team won't miss a beat without Clarett. Their offense is not all that complicated. You know what they're going to do and they're going to do it well. They'll run the typical Ohio State stuff: a lot of power with some counter plays. They're a ball control offense and use a multitude of different formations to run the same plays. Even without Clarett they have guys who can run the ball and they'll continue to try to grind it out.
"Krenzel is the key. He's not going to go out and win the Heisman, but he's a winner. He makes good decisions and he doesn't make a lot of mistakes. He's an extremely accurate passer and when he runs he knows exactly where the sticks are. Look at how many times he had a third-and-five last year and he goes out and gets six. He's just smart and knows the game.
"They get the best athletes in the Big Ten and even though they lost [middle linebacker] Matt Wilhelm and [safeties] Mike Doss and Donnie Nickey they have guys that can make plays. Their defensive front is outstanding and they'll run a lot of inside zone blitzes and they have a three-man rush package that's very effective.
"Their kicking game is a weapon. Your don't have to rely on your defense as much when you can pin teams down in a field position game. [Placekicker Mike] Nugent can win games for them."
A Pac-10 assistant sizes up Washington:
"It's going to be a classic clash of playing styles. A tough Big Ten team like Ohio State is going to run at you over and over, and they'll try to wear you down physically and mentally. A good Pac-10 team is going to throw it around and try and take advantage of all the good athletes. Ohio State has some very good athletes, but I don't think they're used to playing against as many good athletes as Washington has.
"This Washington offense is scary good. Pickett is not only an outstanding passer, he has all the intangibles and has a knack for making big plays. Reggie Williams is the cream of the crop and a sure first-round NFL draft pick. He's big, fast and physical and can beat you in so many ways. Ohio State has got to say, 'Someone else other than Williams has to beat us.' In big games like this the dark horse is always the difference. The prime time players on both sides even each other out and someone else has to step up. That's why [wide receiver] Charles Frederick is so important.
"To beat Ohio State you have to go heavy in the box. Washington has a new co-defensive coordinator [co-coordinator Phil Snow] and I think they'll go with a lot of eight-man fronts and will try and take away the run with pressure. You have to make this team try and beat you in the air. Washington's defense is very underrated and you better throw it quick because they're going to be right on Krenzel.
"Midwestern teams love to play ball-control and that puts an added emphasis on the kicking game. If you miss an extra point against Ohio State that changes the complexion of the game. Ohio State is very strong in the kicking game and Washington isn't sure who their kickers are going to be. The game could be won or lost here."
Washington WR Reggie Williams
Already the Huskies' all-time leading receiver, Williams is one of the best wideouts in the nation. Strong and quick, he can beat you on a curl or a deep post and his production is the key to Washington's offense. Shut him down and the Huskies are toast.
Ohio State CB/WR Chris Gamble
He plays offense and defense, returns kicks and punts. Is there anything that Gamble doesn't do? He'll need to have his "A" game against Williams, arguably the best receiver he has faced. There's no doubt that Williams will get his yards, but Gamble's charge is to prevent the big plays.
Ohio State loves playing the Pac-10 (48-23-10) and has won its last 24 openers. It's a tough situation for Washington first-year coach Keith Gilbertson to come into, but he's been a head coach before and has enough talent to pull off an upset. The Huskies should be able to move the ball through the air, but running back Rich Alexis will have a hard time gaining yards against the Buckeyes' solid defensive front. Ohio State will miss the big-play ability of Clarett, but Krenzel is 15-1 as a starter and is eager to prove that he's more than a caretaker. This one will go down to the wire and the temptation here is to pick an upset, but the Buckeyes have too much firepower and their depth will come through in the end and extend their nation's-best winning streak to 15 games.
The Pick: Ohio State 35, Washington 31