Thursday, October 16, 2003

Ohio State's Gamble loses glitz


Flanker/cornerback finds big plays scarce

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COLUMBUS - A highlight video of Ohio State's 2002 championship season includes a fantasy sequence with Chris Gamble, depicting him doing everything on game days from wearing the Brutus Buckeye costume to sweeping up the stadium afterward.

Gamble starred as a cornerback, receiver and kick returner last season and was named All-America and co-MVP of his team.

That's what has made his virtual disappearance this season so puzzling.

Having not played offense since a cameo in the season opener and lacking a single big play overall, Gamble ceased his Where's Waldo act just long enough Saturday to make two costly errors in the loss to Wisconsin.

Now OSU's erstwhile Heisman candidate has given critics cause to ask, "What's wrong?"

"He is not having a horrible year like everyone is saying," OSU safety Will Allen said. ". . . All of us, we've messed up at one point in time. But he's a competitor. He's going to bounce back."

Gamble, a junior, muffed a punt in the third quarter that led to a field goal by Wisconsin. Then he was beaten for the go-ahead score, a 79-yard touchdown catch by Lee Evans, with 5:20 left in the game.

Gamble covered Evans, the Big Ten leader in receiving yardage, for 55 plays without allowing him a catch. But the 56th play stood out.

"A lot of people . . . think he had a bad game," fellow cornerback Dustin Fox said. "(But) we graded the film out and Chris did his job every play.

"When you play cornerback, it's a tough position. People only remember the bad plays sometimes."

Gamble hasn't yet had an interception, after leading the team last year with four despite being a second-string defender until the ninth game. He has 19 tackles this season, tied for ninth-most on the team, and leads the team with five passes broken up.

OSU ranks last in the Big Ten in punt returns with a 4.5-yard average; Gamble has 20 of those 26 returns, averaging 4.6 yards. He averaged 8.4 per return last season.

"(Opponents) are not going after him," OSU play-by-play man Paul Keels said.

Gamble hasn't been available for the team's weekly interview sessions because of a class conflict and didn't address the media after Saturday's game. But in the preseason, he boldly declared that he wanted to play every offensive and defensive snap of the season.

"I want to do anything or everything to help the team win," he said.

Gamble caught 31 passes for 499 yards last season, but in the offseason, coaches shifted his focus to defense.

Gamble had a 15-yard carry on a reverse against Washington but hasn't played offense since. Coach Jim Tressel cited a sore back that has bothered Gamble and a desire to not overextend him during the warmer months.

"There will be a day where he is involved in the offense a little bit," Tressel said.

As for opponents being hesitant to test him, that's not unprecedented for an OSU cornerback. Shawn Springs was the Big Ten defensive player of the year in 1996 and Antoine Wingfield won the Jim Thorpe Award in 1998 as the nation's outstanding defensive back, and neither intercepted a pass those years.

"People are staying away from him," Fox said. "I think he's having a great year."

E-mail nschmidt@enquirer.com




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