Taking a look back at a game Ohio State played on this date:
Ohio State 23, Illinois 16, OT
Setup: If history is to be believed, the 2019 season may not end well for Ohio State. Many a season has unfolded like this one — with the Buckeyes resembling an M1 Abrams and opponents flinging water balloons — only to see the floor fall away (Michigan 1995 and ’96, Michigan State 1998, 2013, et al.). More often, OSU title seasons are marked by near-falls from the highest wires and nary a net below. The magical 1968 season had many of those trappings, but no Ohio State team survived the Week 4 in Cincinnati; not long after, an injury to star freshman tailback Maurice Clarett slowed the Buckeyes’ offense to a crawl, and most every week became a slog. OSU trailed in the second half in five of their final six regular-season games, the most spectacular near-splat being a 10-6 win at Purdue on Nov. 9 on Craig Krenzel’s fourth-down, Holy Buckeye pass to Michael Jenkins. The following week, the Buckeyes traveled to Illinois hoping for an easy-peasy breather of a game against a middling Big Ten opponent. They should have known better; these 2002 cats were intent on burning through all nine lives.
Stars: With Clarett banged up and again unavailable, Maurice Hall (69 yards) and Lydell Ross (51) combined for 120 yards, and Hall had the go-ahead 8-yard touchdown run in overtime, the first OT game in OSU program history. Jenkins added six receptions for 147 yards and a TD, and Mike Nugent kicked three field goals — but missed two other attempts. Illinois receiver Walter Young had 10 catches for 144 yards and a score.
Turning point: After the Illini tied the score at 16 on John Gockman’s 48-yard field goal on the final play of regulation, Ohio State scored first in overtime, aided by Krenzel’s 14-yard scramble on third down. Illinois took over, picked up one first down and had two catches in the end zone ruled incomplete. On fourth down from the 9-yard line, Jon Beutjer’s pass for Aaron Moorehead was batted down at the line by OSU tackle Tim Anderson. Another escape.
Impact: Oh, the Luckeyes were just getting started. The following week at home against Michigan proved a high-water mark for tension, OSU pulling out a 14-9 win with Clarett playing a major role and Hall again scoring the winning touchdown. That completed a 13-0 regular season and assured Ohio State a spot in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 3 against top-ranked Miami. That one — double the OTs, double the madness — cemented the 2002 team as among the most beloved in program history.
Quotable: “We just stick together. We’re a team out there. We never give in, (never) point the finger at anybody. We just keep playing and fighting, and we find a way to win at the end.” — Jenkins, revealing the Buckeyes’ formula
Ray Stein / firstname.lastname@example.org