Sept 14, 2002
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Maurice Clarett had a simple assessment of his latest accomplishments.
"I was always told, `Big players make big plays in big games,"' the freshman said with a grin after rushing for 230 yards and two touchdowns in No. 6 Ohio State's 25-7 victory over No. 10 Washington State on Saturday.
Clarett was shackled by the Cougars' defense in the first half - 36 yards on 11 carries - but he ran 44 yards on his first carry of the third quarter and never let up. He sprinted outside and ran past potential tacklers, lowered his shoulder and bulled them over, and muscled for extra yards with several Washington State players holding onto him.
After Ohio State's defense stopped Gesser and the Cougars (2-1) near midfield on their first possession of the third quarter, Clarett took over with the Buckeyes pinned at their own 9.
On first down, he burst off left tackle and then cut outside for 44 yards until he was run down from behind.
"He bounced it outside and then just took off," said Ohio State running backs coach Tim Spencer, himself a former star tailback for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said the run lit a fuse under the team.
"You could see it in our guys' eyes," Tressel said. "All of a sudden, that gave you that rush or that raise you need to do even bigger and better things."
Quarterback Craig Krenzel kept the drive going with a 6-yard pickup on third-and-4 to the Cougars' 29. Clarett then skirted right and collided with defensive backs Erik Coleman and Jason David. They both collapsed, and Clarett - last year's USA Today national offensive player of the year - rumbled for 20 yards to the 3.
He powered in off right tackle on the next play and scored to put the Buckeyes ahead to stay at 13-7.
Later, Clarett had another 44-yard run to help Ohio State play keep-away in the final minutes.
Near the end, the massive crowd chanted Clarett's name. That's "cluh-RETT," and Washington State will be glad not to hear it on the public-address system again this year.
Clarett, who ran for 175 yards and three TDs in Ohio State's opener, flirted with the school's freshman rushing record held by Griffin, the only two-time Heisman winner. In the second game of the 1972 season, Griffin ran for 239 yards against North Carolina. Clarett needed just 10 yards on his final two carries to break the mark, but he was stopped for no gain.
Washington State coach Mike Price, already annoyed by a couple of questionable interference calls, said, "I guess he needs more practice, because they left him in until the very end."
Clarett's total was the sixth-most rushing yards in Ohio State history.
"He's an outstanding back," Price said. "He broke tackles, he was physical. I've got to tell you - he carried that team today."
Clarett now has 471 yards through three games and is more than halfway to Robert Smith's Ohio State freshman record of 819 yards, set in 1990.
"I don't seek any individual attention," Clarett said when asked if he ever considered his own Heisman chances.
He said playing for one of the nation's top teams this fall isn't a whole lot different from what he went through last year on his high school team in Warren, Ohio.
"It's the same thing," he said. "You work hard every day and you get the same results."
Gesser, touted as a Heisman Trophy contender, looked the part in the first half. He finished 25-of-44 passing for 247 yards but was intercepted twice in the second half, once near midfield by linebacker Matt Wilhelm and deep in Ohio State territory by freshman defensive back Tyler Everett.
"I didn't hit my hot reads," Gesser said. "I'll take the full blame for not putting points on the board. We have to score to help our defense, and we didn't do that today."
Mike Nugent converted his third field goal from outside 40 yards - after making just 1 of 3 from that distance a year ago - to push the lead to 16-7. He has made eight field goals in a row, a vast improvement over 2001, when he started 6-for-13.
The Ohio State defense also turned around its performance in the second half. The Buckeyes limited Washington State to 91 yards on 28 plays in the half after the Cougars picked up 189 yards on 39 plays in the opening two quarters. Washington State had minus-17 yards rushing in the second half on eight attempts.
"The way Clarett was running and the way our line was blocking gave us a sigh of relief," said Buckeye linebacker Cie Grant.
By RUSTY MILLER
AP Sports Writer