Freshman Maurice Clarett has been a stunning success for Ohio State
In an era of spread offenses, the once-glamorous tailback is seldom the heart of the attack. Leave it to Ohio State, the school that has produced five Heisman Trophy-winning running backs, to find a freshman to rush the sixth-ranked Buckeyes back to the future. Maurice Clarett not only carried 31 times for 230 yards and two touchdowns in his team's 25-7 defeat of No. 10 Washington State, but he also started talk of a national championship in Columbus for the first time in four years. "Biggest adjustment he had," quipped Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman, alluding to Clarett's seamless transition from high school, "was not carrying the ball every play."
Funny thing, because Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel pulled Clarett aside last Thursday and said, "You think you can carry it 40 times on Saturday?" Clarett told him yes, and he showed plenty of stamina against the Cougars. Though he left the game in the second half after his 27th carry, Clarett returned three plays later and went around right end for 44 yards.
Clarett, who is third in the nation in rushing (157.0 yards per game) behind Joshua Cribbs of Kent State and Southern Mississippi's Derrick Nix, doesn't carry the ball as if he's someone who has played just three college games. With a quick, toothy smile in interviews, he doesn't carry himself like a rookie, either. One reason Clarett feels at home at Ohio State is that he graduated early from Warren G. Harding High in Warren, Ohio; enrolled at Ohio State last January; and went through spring practice. Another reason is Tressel. Clarett began attending the coach's summer camps at Youngstown State in grade school. When Tressel left Youngstown State in January 2001 after 15 seasons to come to Columbus, Clarett, who that fall would be named the USA Today high school offensive player of the year, knew he was destined to become a Buckeye. Clarett feels comfortable enough with Tressel to joke around with him during games, and on Saturday he even left a bloodstain on Tressel's white shirt after parting him on the shoulder.
Tressel was as impressed as anyone by Clarett's performance. "Maurice broke tackles," he said. "There weren't a lot of blockers on some of those plays." Clarett was especially effective in the second half, when Ohio State, trailing 7-6, set out to pound the ball straight into the Washington State defense. When the Cougars began using five down linemen, the Buckeyes responded by going to their Jumbo formation, which includes six linemen and two tight ends stacked on the left side. The fullback lines up a step to the left of center, and occasionally right guard Bryce Bishop pulls to the left side. On Saturday those big bodies overpowered the right side of the Washington State defense, and Clarett reaped the benefits, gaining 194 second-half yards.
He ran as well against a Top 10 team as he had at Harding High. "Things happen a whole lot quicker in [college]," Clarett said, "but I've learned that if you work harder, you get the same results."
Turning Chances Into Points
No one thought that first-year California coach Jeff Tedford would have to counsel his team about overconfidence. But that's exactly what Tedford did after the Bears improved to 3-0 with a 46-22 thrashing of No. 15 Michigan State last Saturday. "Now that we have won a big game, we will make sure we remember how we've had this success," Tedford said on Sunday.
Cal has had success by playing efficiently—the team is plus-10 in turnover margin, a statistic that even Tedford calls "a little bit absurd." The Bears, who are second in the nation in scoring (50 points per game), have scored on all 16 trips inside their opponents' 20-yard line (12 touchdowns, four field goals). No one has been more productive than senior quarterback Kyle Boiler, who began this season with a 7-21 record as a starter and with a reputation as a poor decision maker. This season he has completed 61.5% of his passes (up from 49.1% last year) with seven touchdowns and one interception. Against the Spartans, Boiler threw for two touchdowns, ran for another and caught a fourth, a 14-yard pass from wideout LaShaun Ward on a play dubbed Rat Tail because of the shape of Boiler's route.
While Tedford, who was Oregon's offensive coordinator last year, cautions the Bears not to overreact to their success, he appreciates what it means to his team after their 1-10 finish last season. "You see a smile on their faces," Tedford says. "They deserve something good happening to them."