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Armed and reloaded

In Cooper's army, no one worries about reinforcements

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Posted: Tuesday August 17, 1999 04:19 PM

  John Cooper John Cooper: "We lost more key players than at any time since I've been at Ohio State." Jonathan Daniel/Allsport

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- During a respite from three-a-day practices, Ohio State coach John Cooper was asked how his receiving corps was playing.

He praised Ken-Yon Rambo and Reggie Germany and raved about their blistering speed. Then Cooper's brow furrowed and his mood darkened, just for an instant.

"Obviously I'm more concerned about the triggerman," he said. The triggerman is the quarterback, and the quarterback at Ohio State is a committee, Steve Bellisari and Austin Moherman.

This is no new discovery in Columbus. In the 1960s, there was Bill Long vs. Rex Kern, in the '70s it was Rod Gerald-Art Schlichter, and a three-way battle in the early 1980s was eventually won by Mike Tomczak. Joe Germaine and Stanley Jackson slugged it out for the starting job throughout the 1996 and 1997 campaigns.

Now Germaine is gone, taking the Big Ten MVP trophy with him, and the Buckeyes must again make a difficult decision. There aren't a whole lot of other decisions to be made, since the starters or capable reserves are back at almost every spot.

The offense will feature tailback Michael Wiley (1,235 yards), fullback Matt Keller, Germany and Rambo, along with three brutes on the line: tackle Tyson Walter, center Kurt Murphy and guard Ben Gilbert.

Cooper's Tenure
How Ohio State has fared during John Cooper's 11 seasons in Columbus:
Year Overall Big Ten Conference AP
1998
1997
1996
1995
1994
1993
1992
1991
1990
1989
1988
11-1
10-3
11-1
11-2
9-4
10-1-1
8-3-1
8-4
7-4-1
8-4
4-6-1
7-1
6-2
7-1
7-1
6-2
6-1-1
5-2-1
5-3
5-2-1
6-2
2-5-1
1st (tie)
2nd
1st (tie)
2nd
2nd
1st (tie)
2nd
3rd (tie)
5th
3rd (tie)
7th
2
12
2
6
14
11
18
--
--
24
--
 

On defense, Nai'l Diggs shocked most people by receiving first-team All-Big Ten attention from the conference coaches, who bumped the acclaimed Andy Katzenmoyer to the second squad. The front wall of Rodney Bailey, Ryan Pickett, Joe Brown and Brent Johnson is back and breathing fire, while Ahmed Plummer is a superlative corner and Gary Berry will run the defense from his safety spot.

The losses are great from a team that was ranked No. 1 until a stunning upset at home to Michigan State, then went on to finish No. 2 with an 11-1 record. Offensive lineman Rob Murphy flunked out, Katzenmoyer and wide-out David Boston passed up their final year to go pro, and mainstays Germaine, Damon Moore, Antoine Winfield and Brent Bartholomew all were drafted.

"We had a lot of graduation losses," Cooper said at the Big Ten preseason meetings. "We lost more key players than at any time since I've been at Ohio State."

But there's far from a dearth of talent.

"I've been here for going on five years now," Plummer said. "I've seen great players come in and go out of here. Each year players step up.

"As a player, you don't necessarily feel like, 'Oh, we don't have Andy Katzenmoyer!' Or 'Oh, we don't have Joe Germaine!' Now we have other players who are going to be the next superstars."

Still, Cooper realizes there will be a drop-off at quarterback.

"Joe was one of the most accurate passers in college football," the 12th-year Ohio State head coach said. "So it's not realistic to expect as much."

What Ohio State probably will favor is a low-risk, high-percentage offense that will get the ball to Wiley and Keller 30 or 35 times a game, mixed in with look-in and curl patterns to the speedy blazers out wide.

"Last year we had more of a quick-strike type of offense," Diggs said. "Now we're going to have drives, longer drives, and we're not going to score as fast as we did before."

There will be less of a change on the other side of the ball.

"Defense, it's the same thing every year," Diggs said.

In other words, while the quarterback -- or quarterbacks -- takes baby steps, Cooper will have to wring even better play from his defense and special teams.

The schedule-maker didn't make it any easier for this transitional period. The Buckeyes open against Miami in the Kickoff Classic on Aug. 29. A five-game homestand follows, including encounters with a faraway power (UCLA) and two in-state opponents (Ohio U. and Cincinnati) in the same season for the first time in 70 years. With the ongoing construction in and around Ohio Stadium, fans should allow about 36 hours to find a parking space.

Later come road tests at Sports Illustrated's preseason No. 1 Penn State, Minnesota and the double whammy of Michigan State and Michigan. So the quarterback's an unknown, they lost a handful of legendary players and the schedule is a bear. What else is new?

"I don't think the stakes are necessarily higher," Plummer said. "We always have high expectations, so for them to go higher it would be pretty high."


 
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