With 18 starters back, the Buckeyes were loaded to take a run at repeating, but the task was weighed down by daily inquisitions. "Unless you lock yourself in a room and never come out, you cannot avoid hearing about all the controversies," Ohio State senior offensive tackle Shane Olivea said in the week leading up to the Washington game.
Throughout training camp in August, the Buckeyes found their focus in the form of speeches given by the seniors to their teammates at the close of each day. Ever in control, Tressel helped the players shape their thoughts, but the sentiments were from the heart. Two themes emerged: the legacy of the class and the significance of repeating as national champions. That feat hasn't been achieved since Nebraska won titles in 1994 and '95, and before that not since Alabama in '78 and '79. "It's never been done at Ohio State, and that's what matters," said Olivea. "That's the legacy our senior class wants. The guys who left last year won the first national title since '68. We want to be the first to repeat."
The Buckeyes beat the Huskies with familiar tools: punishing defense and sound offense. Five starters were gone from the national championship D, but on Saturday night Washington's star quarterback, Cody Pickett, needed 49 attempts to throw for 255 yards and was sacked three times. The Huskies netted only seven yards on the ground, which suggests that Ohio State's defense was amply prepared for Washington tailback Rich Alexis after seeing Clarett wearing a white-and-purple number 24 scout team jersey during the week. "He was giving us a pretty good look," joked Buckeyes wideout- cornerback Chris Gamble. "I don't think we'll see anybody better."
There's no doubt, however, that Ohio State's ground game is far less explosive with juniors Maurice Hall and Lydell Ross than with Clarett. On Saturday night Hall, the starter, rushed for a steady 58 yards on 15 carries. Ross picked up 43 yards on 12 attempts and ran right through a solid hit by Huskies safety Jimmy Newell to score the Buckeyes' final touchdown. "Last year I would try to make that guy miss instead of running through him," said Ross, who put on 16 pounds in the off-season. (He's 210 to Newell's 190.) On the sideline Clarett stood on a bench and laughed. "He was happy for Lydell and Maurice," says Gamble. "He wanted to see them do well."
As in the Fiesta Bowl, Ohio State's most effective runner was Craig Krenzel. The 6'4", 225-pound quarterback rushed for two touchdowns and threw for 203 yards, with his customary no interceptions. Krenzel had expressed hope that the Huskies would move their safeties up close to stifle Tressel's beloved run game, leaving more opportunities to throw. "That's what I'm expecting every week," Krenzel said. He got it and was allowed to throw 27 times (he completed 15), more than in all but one game in 2002. His second touchdown run, an 11-yard scramble with 11 seconds left in the first half, gave the Buckeyes a 21-0 lead and effectively finished Washington.
Minutes after that score the Ohio Stadium turf was quilted with not one but four marching bands, two made up of Ohio State alumni and two from a halving of the current band. In unison they marched to the traditional Le Regiment and formed four script OHIOs on the lush grass. At precisely 9:51 p.m., four sousaphone players simultaneously dotted four Ps and produced a shivering roar from the crowd. It sounded just a little bit like a sigh of relief.