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Buckeyes focus on who is playing, not who isn#039;t

COLUMBUS (AP) -- Even with tailback Maurice Clarett watching from the sidelines, defending national champion Ohio State believes it has enough firepower to repeat.

After beating No. 17 Washington 28-9 on Saturday night, the Buckeyes tried not to talk about their suspended star. Quarterback Craig Krenzel didn't mention him by name when asked if the Buckeyes were trying to send a message to the rest of college football.

''More than anything, it was a message to ourselves,'' Krenzel said. ''We feel confident enough in the players we have and the coaches we have and the way we're going to prepare week in and week out that we can go out and beat anybody in the country.''

Clarett was just another of the more than 105,000 spectators at Ohio Stadium as the No. 2-ranked Buckeyes won their 15th consecutive game. It wasn't necessarily a perfect performance, but it was enough to easily overshadow the nation's No. 17 team.

Lacking some zip in their running attack, the Buckeyes relied on their stout defense and Krenzel's decision making to learn a lot about themselves.

''We were kind of anxious today to find out where we are,'' coach Jim Tressel said. ''Washington was a good team. We're going to play some teams that are better.''

Clarett is suspended from the team for misleading investigators looking into alleged off-the-field NCAA violations, Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger said before game. The suspension could last for quite a while -- Geiger has described the open-ended action as involving ''a healthy number of games.''

With Maurice Hall rushing for 58 yards on 15 carries and Lydell Ross adding 43 on 12, the Buckeyes totaled 142 yards on the ground. Clarett averaged 113 yards by himself last year despite battling injuries most of the season. And Ohio State picked up 191 yards rushing a game during last year's 14-0 run to the title.

''We've got to get a lot better at running the football than we did today,'' Tressel said.

Wearing a scarlet Ohio State warmup suit, Clarett watched much of the game while standing on the team bench, waving a white towel or prompting the crowd to cheer. He came on field during warmups wearing his No. 13 game jersey.

''Maurice was excited about Lydell and Mo Hall,'' Ohio State cornerback/wide receiver Chris Gamble said. ''He looked like he was having fun.''

Ross and Hall had less fun, it appeared. The running attack averaged just 3.3 yards per carry against a Washington team that had difficulty slowing down any runners a year ago.

On the other hand, Ohio State's defense was up to anything and everything that Washington's Heisman-hyped quarterback, Cody Pickett, threw at it.

Pickett completed 26 of 49 passes for 255 yards but spent most of the night running away from the Buckeyes' brawny, intimidating defensive line.

''There are a lot of things we could have done better,'' said Pickett. ''You name it, we could have done it better.''

Pickett wasn't helped by the fact that the Huskies couldn't advance the ball on the ground, managing just 7 net yards on 24 attempts. That stat was buttressed by three sacks for 34 yards in losses.

''The biggest thing was that we were flying around and making good open-field tackles,'' Buckeyes defensive lineman Tim Anderson said. ''I don't think we missed many tackles.''

Krenzel picked up right where he left off in last January's 31-24 double-overtime victory over Miami in the Fiesta Bowl. He had run for just one touchdown in his first 23 Ohio State games, but rushed for two against the Hurricanes and was selected as the game's top offensive player.

He rushed for two more touchdowns against Washington. He also completed 15-of-27 passes for 203 yards and seldom made a bad decision.

Krenzel discounted the loss of Clarett and said the Buckeyes still had plenty of firepower.

''I don't know that we ever relied on one person,'' Krenzel said. ''We have so many weapons offensively. We're only going to be as good as our ability to spread the ball around.''

Washington coach Keith Gilbertson could only shake his head at how his team was pushed around.

''They are as advertised. They are big and powerful and quick and they have lots of athletes. They have lots of athletes at corner, safety, wide receiver, linebacker and their quarterback does a lot of good things for them. Their defensive front is tremendous,'' he said. ''That is a very good football team. I have nothing but good things to say about Ohio State.''