Quarterback takes the rap for Buckeyes' stumbling offense

Updated: October 23, 2003, 8:15 PM ET

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Craig Krenzel quarterbacked Ohio State to its first national championship in 34 years last season. He's 2-0 against rival Michigan and 19-2 as a starter.

Now some question if he's still the man for the job.

A slow start, an injury, a month layoff and a couple mediocre games and all of a sudden the Buckeyes' golden boy with the high grade-point average is being assailed.

"That doesn't bother me at all. I've seen it happen before, not just here," the senior said. "You know that coming in. You know that's how people are."

Some say Krenzel has lost his nerve because of a porous line. Others say the only reason the Buckeyes finished No. 1 last year is because Maurice Clarett drew all the attention from opposing defense, clearing the way for Krenzel's solid if unspectacular leadership.

A year ago, Krenzel completed 59.4 percent of his passes. This year, it's 54.2 percent. In 2002 he threw 12 touchdowns with seven interceptions; this year he has five of each.

Ohio State is 6-1 and ranked No. 8, despite having every starter except Clarett back from last year's offensive team.

Krenzel heads an offense that has been lethargic and out of synch. With Clarett wiped out by an NCAA suspension, Krenzel appears to be the Buckeyes' lone offensive weapon. Defensive linemen tee off on him, linebackers shadow him, cornerbacks read every blink of his eyes.

With the running backs almost totally ineffective, Krenzel has been the Buckeyes' leading rusher in two of his last three games.

Krenzel, an honors student in molecular genetics, recognizes what he's facing.

"The quarterback's the guy who, last year everything went well and we went 14-0 and everyone said, 'Oh, great, great!" he said this week after a practice for Saturday's game at Indiana. "This year, the offense isn't doing so well, we drop a game and still didn't perform well last week. The first guy who's going to be blamed is the quarterback. That's just the way it goes. It comes along with the position."

Coach Jim Tressel hasn't wavered in his support for Krenzel, even when Krenzel was just 5-of-20 passing for 76 yards in a narrow win over San Diego State. He stood by his quarterback when he had a horrible game against North Carolina State before turning things around in three overtimes to claim a 44-38 victory.

Krenzel injured his elbow on his throwing arm in that game and sat out the next month. Since returning, he has completed 25 of 48 passes in two games as the offense has floundered, ranking 114th out of 117 in Division I-A.

"Sometimes when you're struggling and when you get frustrated and so forth, you can press a little bit," Tressel said of Krenzel.

His teammates seem surprised that Krenzel continues to stumble. Yet they jump to his defense.

"Nobody's looking over their shoulder wishing there was somebody else throwing the ball to them," tight end Ben Hartsock said. "He knows what he's doing and he tries to put us in the best situations and everybody on the team has confidence in him."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index