Sept. 11, 2002
By JUSTIN EINHORN
AP MegaSports Writer
Two emerging tailbacks. Two efficient quarterbacks. Two top-10 teams.
It all helps make up possibly the week's most intriguing matchup as sixth-ranked Ohio State plays host to 10th-ranked Washington State on Saturday.
Despite playing inferior opponents in their first two games, the Buckeyes and Cougars appear to have potent, yet balanced offenses. Both squads are averaging at least 40 points and 440 yards per game.
"Clearly this is the best team we have played. I am very impressed by their team speed," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "They have a veteran team and Mike's (Price) system has been in place for years now. This should be a great college football game."
Buckeyes freshman Maurice Clarett and Washington State junior Jonathan Smith are tied for second in the nation with five touchdowns apiece and 30 points scored.
Both tailbacks have emerged from what were unsettled backfields heading into the season.
Three of Smith's touchdowns came in last week's 49-14 rout of Idaho as he rushed for 121 yards on just 12 carries. The junior transfer has outshined starter John Tippins, who has run 13 times for 106 yards through two games.
"If we practice like champions and play like champions, we get championship results," Smith said.
Clarett leads the Buckeyes with 241 rushing yards and 143.5 all-purpose yards per game.
He also was on the receiving end of the lone touchdown pass thrown this season by junior Craig Krenzel, who is fifth in the nation with a 186.3 quarterback rating. Krenzel has completed 23-of-28 passes for 308 yards and has yet to throw an interception.
Washington State's Jason Gesser, widely considered to be a top Heisman Trophy candidate, has thrown for 462 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. He's completed 64.4 percent of his passes.
His favorite target has been Florida State transfer Devard Darling, who has 11 catches for 117 yards with two scores.
The Gesser-Darling duo faces a tough challenge against a strong Ohio State secondary led by safety Michael Doss. The two-time All-American was named Big Ten co-defensive player of the week after returning an interception 45 yards for a touchdown in Saturday's 51-17 win over Kent State.
The Cougars defense, meanwhile, has some injury concerns. Will Derting, who had three interceptions in a season-opening win over Nevada, and fellow linebacker Don Jackson both suffered ankle injuries in last week's victory and their status for this contest is uncertain.
"That's not what we need," Price said. "We need those guys."
Ohio State has won all seven meetings with Washington State, though these teams have not met since 1991.