Maurice Clarett Says Defense, a “Fearless Spirit” and Craig Krenzel Made the 2002 Buckeyes National Champions

By Chase Brown on July 10, 2024 at 7:00 am
Maurice Clarett

With a 14-0 record and a win over Miami (FL) in the BCS National Championship Game, the 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes became champions of college football.

But how did that championship come about? One of the team's stars, running back Maurice Clarett, shared his thoughts in an appearance on head coach Jim Tressel's podcast, "It's All About the Team," this week.

“I think a large part was an experienced defense," Clarett told Tressel. "They played a more significant role – like, on offense, you get glorious moments. You’re a freshman. You’re a running back. You’re in the Big Ten. You’re at Ohio State. You have success. That’s going to make news. But for me, what comforted me was that we had a solid (defense). You don’t feel the pressure to go out there and score five, six, seven touchdowns. You know that. I think (the defense) was more of the spirit. Very mature, very physical. An anchor of some sort.”

Moreover, the team benefited from a "fearless spirit," which Clarett labeled as himself.

"You need a firecracker," he said. "You need some fearless spirit or someone who feels like they have something to prove. I don't think you can do anything great if you don't have something to prove. That's gonna (expletive) somebody off who's complacent."

Clarett – who carried the ball 222 times for 1,237 yards and scored 18 total touchdowns as a freshman for Ohio State – also mentioned Craig Krenzel as someone who was instrumental to the team's success in 2002. Although Krenzel's impact wasn't often seen in the box score, Clarett said the quarterback's leadership inspired the Buckeyes to be the best version of themselves.

"Craig doesn't get a bunch of praise because he didn't throw for a million touchdowns and a million yards," Clarett said. "But a moment that always sums up who I think Craig is now came when we were at Wisconsin. At the end of the third quarter, they do 'Jump Around' and play the music. We were driving toward the end zone, and it was that same series where Mike (Jenkins) caught that ball across the field. It was third and long.

"Prior to that play, I was paying attention to everything. But as experience goes on, you're locked into the moment. You can handle everything that's going on. Craig was laughing, and I was like, 'Man, this dude is laughing in the midst of this.' But him being cool and calm in that moment calmed me down. This stuff doesn't show up in the stat sheet, nor does somebody say this is what allows you to win a championship. But him being in that moment cool, calm and collected gave me a confidence like, 'OK. we're gonna be alright.'

"He made me feel like, 'OK, you can handle this.' That's, like, leadership, team and that's who we were. That plays a role in how I looked at him toward the national championship game when his number was called upon."

In Ohio State's win over Miami, Clarett carried the ball 23 times for 47 yards and two touchdowns, including the Buckeyes' game-winning score in double overtime. He also made a crucial defensive play in the game, stealing the ball from Hurricane safety Sean Taylor, who was returning an interception from the end zone. Krenzel ended the contest 7-of-21 passing for 122 yards and two picks while also rushing for 81 yards and two touchdowns on 19 attempts.

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