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Published: Friday, 11/7/2003

Tressel s hint of QB change may fire up offense

Here it is, two-thirds of the way through the 2003 college football season, and Ohio State coach Jim Tressel is playing quarterback mind-games.

Yes, Tressel made it clear that incumbent Craig Krenzel, who is 21-2 as a starter, is still the No. 1 quarterback in Columbus.

Tressel offers no hints that he is unhappy with Krenzel. But by announcing that backup Scott McMullen will also play tomorrow against Michigan State, Tressel appears to be wavering on who s the best QB for the job.

Based on McMullen s 12-of-17, 112-yard, two-touchdown performance, in which the Buckeyes rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit for a 21-20 victory at Penn State, Krenzel is no longer the runaway leader in the clubhouse.

It was an impressive performance for a quarterback who hasn t been impressive in a long time. McMullen looks qualified for front-line duty.

Ordinarily, Krenzel, a key figure in OSU s storybook national championship season, wouldn t have to prove himself in the twilight of his senior season.

But on a team searching for an offensive spark, McMullen offers hope and optimism for Tressel s Buckeyes.

Benching Krenzel - who was knocked out of the Penn State game with a mild concussion and has thrown only two touchdown passes in the last 31/2 games - probably isn t going to happen, but don t assume Tressel didn t give it some thought.

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Whatever happens with Krenzel as Tressel s starter on a short leash, McMullen is on deck.

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Tressel highlighted his weekly news conference by saying, “Plain and simple, Scott has earned the opportunity to play some.”

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Then he added, “We alternate at many, many positions. Obviously, it s more visible when you do it at quarterback.”

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I don t blame Tressel for shaking things up.

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In his three seasons at Ohio State, Tressel has been all about playing an efficient quarterback who doesn t make costly blunders, a ground game that can carry a large load and a stingy defense that knows how to protect a lead.

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The offense that enabled the Buckeyes to go 14-0 last year was bland yet effective, so I don t blame Tressel for sticking with a conservative game plan.

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With a national championship already in the books and an 8-1 record in 2003, Tressel has perception and track record on his side. There was no need for him to start a quarterback controversy.

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But give Tressel credit for refusing to stand pat.

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Ohio State doesn t feature the same clock-consuming ground game of a year ago. Former running back Maurice Clarett had an extra gear that Lydell Ross doesn t have.

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And with Krenzel being stymied by defenses no longer geared to stopping the run, Tressel is walking a tightrope trying to win games using only a fraction of the playbook.

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Everyone will second-guess Tressel if he is wrong.

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But think of the possibilities if he guesses right. It s a risk worth taking.



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