November 12, 2002 at 11:10 PM EST - Updated June 18 at 11:14 AM
By RUSTY MILLER, AP Sports Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Should Ohio State end up holding aloft the national championship trophy on Jan. 3, the biggest reason may be a prayer of a pass that won the Purdue game.
"There was a little angel in the sky, I guess," offensive tackle Shane Olivea said.
On fourth and 1 at the Purdue 37, Ohio State chose not to run between the tackles to get the first down as the clock showed 1:42 left. Instead, the Buckeyes called "king-right-64-wide-shallow-swat."
The Boilermakers, leading 6-3, sent a full blitz at quarterback Craig Krenzel. He stepped up in the pocket and an instant before being hit from both sides he hurled a long pass to the goal line where Michael Jenkins had a step on Purdue's Antwaun Rogers.
As the pass hung in the air, so did the Buckeyes' unbeaten season.
"I held my breath," Olivea said.
Freshman tailback Maurice Clarett, watching from the sidelines because of a shoulder injury, was afraid of the ball falling incomplete.
"I saw him throw it up and then I saw Mike Jenkins," Clarett said. "I was like, 'Please, let it be thrown far enough to get to the receiver.'
"When he caught it, man, everybody went crazy."
Jenkins' dramatic touchdown catch gave No. 2 Ohio State a 10-6 victory, preserving an 11-0 record and moving the Buckeyes to No. 1 in the BCS rankings.
It wasn't until much later that the importance of the catch hit Jenkins.
"It was a remarkable play," he said. "It didn't really sink in until I was back home in Columbus -- that it was fourth down and the season was on the line."
Jenkins always seems to be around such plays for the Buckeyes.
In a close call at Cincinnati, which the Buckeyes eventually won 23-19, it was Jenkins who made a big catch and run to resuscitate a fourth-quarter drive that resulted in the winning touchdown.
In a 19-14 win at Wisconsin, the 6-foot-5, 200-pound junior made several big catches to keep the Badgers at bay. Against Minnesota, the biggest play was a simple pass over the middle that Jenkins turned into a game-breaking 49-yard gain that gave the Buckeyes the lead for good in a 34-3 win.
"He's just the one who keeps getting open," is how Krenzel explains Jenkins' ability to always be in the middle of a game's turning point.
Jenkins can't explain it. He doesn't try. The Tampa, Fla., native will never be mistaken for Keyshawn Johnson or Terrell Owens when it comes to promoting his own exploits.
After the score, while the sideline erupted and his teammates jumped around in jubilation, Jenkins flipped the ball to an official and headed back toward the bench.
"It's not part of my personality," he said softly. "I've been more of a quiet, laid-back type of guy. Just get things done and lead by example. Just go out there and get the job done, and celebrate at the end of the game."
Heading into Saturday's game at Illinois, Jenkins leads the Buckeyes with 47 receptions for 833 yards and five touchdowns.
Coach Jim Tressel says that if Jenkins were playing in a program predicated on the pass rather than the run, he might double those numbers.
"He's one of those guys you don't even know he's there because he's working. You love those kind of guys," Tressel said. "Some guys are talented and you know they're there because they wear you out -- they want you to know that they're there.
"You can count on him. He's the kind of guy that he's going to be there for you."
Unlike some prima donnas at his position, Jenkins isn't afraid to block or to play special teams. He even blocked a punt at Purdue.
Only once has he ever opened up and exulted after a touchdown. Back in high school he scored a touchdown, then ran to midfield. He was hit with a penalty for excessive celebration. Embarrassed, he never considered doing it again.
"That's just been my mentality," he said. "Growing up I was real shy, didn't say much at all. It's just the way I am."
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)