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‘What If’ Maurice Clarett had played for Ohio State in 2003 & 2004?

Maurice Clarett’s play in 2002 feft Ohio State fans wanting more.

Ohio State QB Maurice Clarett, 2003 Fiesta Bowl SetNumber: X67450

From now until preseason camp starts in August, Land-Grant Holy Land will be writing articles around a different theme every week. This week is all about asking “What If?”. You can catch up on all of the Theme Week content here and all of our ”What If?” articles here.

I believe that most of us have heard the quote, “A picture is worth a thousand words...” It is with that quote in mind that I ask you to look back at the picture of Maurice Clarett for this article, as it shows Clarett in action in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, versus the Miami Hurricanes, for the national championship.

For those of you who did not have the privilege of seeing Maurice Clarett play for Ohio State in 2002, do yourselves a favor, and watch the video clip I have included below. Trust me when I write that the video will not do Maurice Clarett justice, as he was dominant from his very first game against Texas Tech in 2002. Battling injuries throughout the season, Clarett was the focal point of the Ohio State offense in 2002.

It is not a still photo, but perhaps a better image of Clarett is the video demonstrates how dominant Clarett was in 2002, how everything fell apart for him, and how he is living a fulfilling and positive lifestyle today. I would like to publicly state that I have had an opportunity to hear Clarett speak about his previous troubles, how he has turned his life around, and I am so happy that he is inspiring others. He truly seemed to be at peace when I had the opportunity to meet him and briefly speak with him.

The 2003 Ohio State team (11-2, finished 4th in the final AP Poll) and 2004 Ohio State team (8-4, finished 20th in the final AP Poll) were good teams, but as it was stated in the video “There’s no 2002 Ohio State national champion without Maurice Clarett...” Clarett’s absence from the 2003 and 2004 Ohio State teams was evident and impactful. Ohio State won the Fiesta Bowl versus Kansas State after the 2003 season, and won the Alamo Bowl versus Oklahoma State after the 2004 season, but the running game was just not the same without Maurice Clarett in the backfield.

For example, the leading rushers for Ohio State in 2003 and 2004 were Lydell Ross and Maurice Hall. Ross ran for 1,301 yards over those two seasons (826 yards, 10 touchdowns in 2003; 475 yards and 4 touchdowns in 2004), while Hall ran for 532 yards (316 yards, 1 touchdown in 2003; 216 yards and 1 touchdown in 2004). Antonio Pittman was a true freshman in 2004, and contributed with 381 yards rushing and 1 touchdown. By comparison, Clarett had rushed for 1,237 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2002 as a true freshman.

Without Maurice Clarett in the backfield, Ohio State used the running back by committee approach as best they could in those two seasons. Think about some of the games that Maurice Clarett could have positively impacted if he had been playing for Ohio State...

09/13/2003 - Ohio State 44, North Carolina State 38: Mrs. Minnich and I were in the stands for this triple-overtime winner over the Wolfpack. Maurice Hall and Lydell Ross combined stats for this game - 17 carries for 3 yards, with 1 touchdown by Lydell Ross. Does anyone think Clarett may have been able to get more than three yards in this game?

10/11/2003 - Wisconsin 17, Ohio State 10: The first cut is the deepest, as this was Ohio State’s first loss since the 2002 Outback Bowl loss to South Carolina (31-28). Lydell Ross, Maurice Hall, and Brandon Schnittker combined for 15 carries for 50 yards, and no touchdowns. Does anyone think Clarett may have been able to help Ohio State run the ball better in that hostile, rainy environment of Camp Randall that night?

11/22/2003 - Michigan 35, Ohio State 21: Jim Tressel’s first loss to “That Team Up North”, as Ohio State is denied another opportunity to compete in The BCS Championship Game, and the Wolverines win The Big Ten and go to the Rose Bowl. Ohio State’s rushing stats in this game: Lydell Ross, Brandon Joe, and Maurice Hall combined for 14 carries for 31 yards, one touchdown.

The 2004 season was almost a mirror image of the challenges of the 2003 season, with the lowpoint being the 33-7 thrashing at Iowa on October 16th, 2004. Antonio Pittman carried the ball 7 times for 16 yards, while Lydell Ross carried 10 times for 0 yards. The only bright spot from that game was this was the emergence of quarterback Troy Smith into the Ohio State offense, for the remainder of the season.

Mrs. Minnich and I were at THE GAME on Nov. 20, 2004, and we thoroughly enjoyed the 37-21 victory. Branden Joe carried the ball 14 times for 52 yards; quarterback Troy Smith was electrifying as both a passer and runner for the Buckeyes in this game (completed 13 of 23 passes for 241 yards and 2 touchdowns, while adding 18 carries for 145 yards and 1 touchdown on the ground).

I recall being at my cousin John’s tailgate before the game, and as the name of Maurice Clarett came up, one of John’s friends made the statement, “Today should have been a celebration of Maurice Clarett. A thank you for his contributions...” As I reflect upon those 2003 and 2004 seasons, I cannot help but think of “What If” as it relates to Maurice Clarett.