It was a day for big decisions last week in the Middle West. At Columbus, Ohio State, still unbeaten in the Big Ten, was facing Iowa, which only the week before had lost a heart-breaker in the mud to Purdue. At Minneapolis, unbeaten Michigan State and Minnesota, loser only to Missouri, faced off. When the scores were in ( Ohio State 29, Iowa 13; Minnesota 13, Michigan State 0), two big decisions had been made: 1) Ohio State and Minnesota are so strong that by the end of the season one or the other will be the Big Ten champion and may even rate as the nation's No. 1 team; and 2) Bob Ferguson, the awesomely powerful Ohio State back, probably is the best college fullback to come along since Jimmy Brown, now of the Cleveland Browns, was at Syracuse.
Bob Ferguson is a 6-foot 227-pounder who pounds over opposing players on a pair of stumpy legs that are about the same circumference as the average man's waist. He is so extraordinarily durable that he seems—and probably is—capable of making the same crunching line plunge time after time all afternoon every Saturday throughout the fall. For the past two and a half seasons, with lines massed against his fearsome rushes, he has lost ground only four times, once as a sophomore, once again as a junior and, perhaps worn down a bit, twice in his last two games, for a yard loss against Wisconsin and a half-yard against Iowa.
Generally Ferguson storms into the enemy backfield with four or five linemen hanging on him and picks up three or four yards. But several times a game he brushes aside would-be tacklers and breaks into the open, where he runs like a quick, shifty, locomotive-size halfback. Saturday against Iowa he carried the ball 27 times, gained 144 yards, almost all of them when his team needed them the most, and went 14 yards for a touchdown. No one who has ever had to get in the way of Bob Ferguson on a breakaway run has ever again doubted his bruising prowess.
Before Saturday, however, many had doubted Ohio State's strength, even with Ferguson. If the Buckeyes were to be tested, it was thought, the University of Iowa, with its backfields of fast running backs and a traditionally strong line, was the team to do it. A crowd of 83,795, the largest ever gathered at the OSU stadium, bundled down snugly and, despite gray skies overhead, awaited with rosy anticipation what most of them were convinced would be the game of the year.
What they saw may very well have come close to that in significance, though not in drama; they saw an awesome demonstration of Ohio State's power and depth. Coach Woody Hayes's beautifully coached platoons, three deep at every position, stopped almost everything the Hawkeyes could offer, wore them down with their sharp, hard but invariably clean tackles ( Hayes teams never pile on) and then walked over them, as Hayes called frantically to his ample bench: "Who hasn't gotten in? Get in there." Hayes supplied something new (a "gimmick" he called it, but all it really was was passing) that had the Columbus regulars talking in tones of wonderment. Before the game, however, direct-thinking Hayes said, "We like to have that ball carrier pointed toward the goalposts." And, ultimately, it was not Hayes's gimmick but straightforward football that proved too much for Iowa. Indeed, the strategy for the game was as obvious in advance as the bright-scarlet jerseys worn by OSU.
"The ball game will be decided on the ability of Iowa to move the ball," said Forest Evashevski, the Iowa athletic director, last Friday. Evvy was a man who should know. He had spent the nine previous years giving Iowa a bigger reputation for football than for tall corn. With only a muddy upset loss to Purdue to mar its record, this year's team was rated along with some of the best of Evvy's day.
After visiting Iowa received the kickoff, the game proceeded for the first 11 minutes and 53 seconds pretty much as expected. The fast Iowa backs had trouble moving the ball against the quick, alert Ohio State defensive line, but whenever a first down was needed, Matt Szykowny threw a pass to Cloyd Webb, a 6-foot 3-inch sophomore discus thrower who plays a very spectacular right end for Iowa in the fall months. Iowa ran 24 plays and gained a total of 133 yards. Ohio State did not once get possession of the ball, but thanks to a single unforeseeable break the 11 minutes and 53 seconds ended with OSU leading 6-0. On a reverse to the left side off the new double-wing formation that Coach Jerry Burns had added to Iowa's traditional wing-T offense especially for this game, Halfback Sammie Harris was tackled hard just as he received the ball. It popped into the arms of startled Ohio End Tom Perdue, who paused only momentarily to assure himself that he wasn't dreaming and then dashed for the goal, some 55 yards away. There was never an Iowa player within 10 yards of him as he loped along, incredulous over his good fortune.
Iowa, of course, received the next kickoff, and once again started down the field. This time the Hawkeyes reached the Ohio State eight-yard line before the drive died with an incomplete pass into the end zone.
Way out with a look-in
Early in the second period Ohio State intercepted one of Szykowny's short look-in passes and returned the ball to the Iowa 30. The homecoming crowd was then treated to a few minutes of the kind of football that has become the trademark of Coach Hayes—and to the gimmick, too.