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OHIO STATE: ALONE AT THE TOP
Dan Jenkins
November 24, 1969
There may be some frivolous claims for Texas or Penn State, but anyone who saw the Buckeyes dismember Mike Phipps and Purdue last week knows that if you're looking for No. 1, Columbus is it
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November 24, 1969

Ohio State: Alone At The Top

There may be some frivolous claims for Texas or Penn State, but anyone who saw the Buckeyes dismember Mike Phipps and Purdue last week knows that if you're looking for No. 1, Columbus is it

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"Sometimes the plays from the bench ruin our momentum," Kern explained later. "We had 'em on the ropes and I wanted to get it in there."

Nor was the defense bothered by the cold, the 23 degrees and the 20-mile winds that forced Woody Hayes, who always wears shirtsleeves, to put on a jacket. The defense not only had the killing presence of Tatum—another of those boisterous juniors, roaming the secondary to make Purdue's receivers believe they were hearing the Chinese army marching down the Olentangy River Road—but it also had a lot of special tricks Lou McCullough had worked up for stopping Mike Phipps. It had floating zones, concealed man-for-mans and surprise blitzes, a variety of defensive innovations with such marvelous names as "Eddie Go" and "Cindy Crash." With it all, the Ohio defenders practically gave a daylong demonstration of how to set the passing game back to 1912.

Five interceptions it got. Three fumbles it got. A punt return for a touchdown it got. And a miserly 29 yards rushing it allowed poor old Purdue, which tried to use exactly what Ohio State figured it would try to use. "They'll send five men out," McCullough had said. "They'll try to catch us in double cover on the outs and hit us in the seams, and pretty much at 20 and 30 yards, but we'll be there. I might guess wrong with him a few times but maybe our kids can pick it up."

Much of the game nowadays is played upstairs in isolated booths. Up there a coach calls a play to the bench where another coach signals to the quarterback who takes it to the line and then uses it or an audible. Meanwhile, another coach calls a defense to the bench, which is signaled to the field, whereupon a defender uses it or changes it at the last second by hollering out such things as "Stay, stay," or "Go, go."

At Ohio State the defense is entirely in the mind and yelling of McCullough, a little Southerner who has been with Woody since 1963. Hayes almost never sees the defense, and there is this joke that he hardly knows the players' names. The last time he even spoke to Jack Tatum, the story goes, is when he was a freshman who one day returned a punt zigzag about 60 yards for a touchdown against the varsity, and Woody, on the verge of ripping up his cap or biting his wrist, or whatever he has been known to do out of the intensity that consumes him, went up to Tatum and said, "Son, at Ohio State we run straight for the goal line."

Well, it really might not matter whether Woody's offense or McCullough's defense is the more spectacular. They combine to make up one of the most imposing teams of any season, one that carries a 22-game winning streak into Michigan this week, one that has piled up 371 points in eight Saturdays and, just as important as anything, one that will lose only seven players out of the top 22 for 1970. Kern and Tatum and a lot of other fierce individuals will be back, which suggests that the only thing the Buckeyes have to fear in the immediate future is their preseason scrimmages.

This is such a good team, in fact, that one must pause for a moment and think about what it all means. First, there is this business of winning a second straight national title, which will come, either unanimously or in shares thereof, with a victory over Michigan. If it is pretty much unanimous, then that will not have been done since Bud Wilkinson's Sooners of 1955-56, the Tommy McDonald- Jerry Tubbs crowd.

Next, with so many Kerns and Tatums returning next season, one has to assume that the prospects are certainly bright for three in a row, which hasn't been accomplished since the Glenn Davis-Doc Blanchard forces at Army in the 1940s. Bright isn't a bad word for it. The Buckeyes open with such dandies in 1970 as Texas A & M and Duke and then they go into the sadly weakened Big Ten for the same staggering lineup of foes, except that improving Michigan and troublesome Minnesota must come to Columbus.

Woody felt, incidentally, that the Minnesota game (a paltry 34-7 victory) was this year's team letdown, but he likes to blame it on a Friday night movie. "The kids went to see that Easy Rider," he said, "and they were so depressed by it they didn't play well."

This becomes more amusing when one scans the Buckeye squad and notices all the deep sideburns, mustaches and shaggy hair, which Woody permits as a bit of an irony to his nature. Hayes may be an enthusiastic hawk, one who is returning to Vietnam this Christmas (for the fifth year in a row), but he is a realist who knows ballplayers have to stay happy. Happiness is winning with sideburns today. He has also avoided any problems with his black athletes, primarily by using them even when he shouldn't. Example: he started John Brockington at fullback once this year ahead of Jim Otis, his leading scorer and ground-gainer. Brockington was delighted and Otis was so annoyed he started running tougher than ever. Wily old Woody.

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