The defense, fourth overall and first against scoring last year, doesn't suffer from the reacquisition of Elia and the shifting of Arnie Jones, who also returns to linebacker after an outstanding year in the front four. "Playing fullback was kind of boring," says Elia. "On defense you never know where you'll be. I decided I liked defense better last year so I kept reminding the linebacker coach not to forget me."
Elia says the newest troika of linebackers will be "more physical than last year's. We make sure we hit somebody. Gradishar liked to finesse people. I like to smash them."
Defensive Tackle Cusick is no less aggressive. "There's nothing I enjoy more than hitting a halfback," he says with an odd sort of grin, "especially when he doesn't see me coming. It feels the best when he hits the ground and you have your helmet stuck in him." All-America End Van DeCree does not avoid contact either. The defense is not all blood and guts, however. Deep Back Neal Colzie scored four touchdowns last season and led the country's punt returners with 679 yards.
Striking power like that made Ohio State the No. I team for most of 1973 as it pulverized the opposition by more than five touchdowns a game before its celebrated 10-10 tie with Michigan. Given new life by a 6-4 vote of the conference athletic directors—a vote Hayes expected to go against him—the Buckeyes trounced the Trojans in Pasadena. "My greatest victory ever," Hayes said, but the damage had already been done. Just as in 1970 when a Rose Bowl loss to Stanford spoiled another certain national championship, Ohio State had let the big one get away.
"I'm getting too old to worry about those things," Hayes says unconvincingly. "They picked a team that hadn't lost, and we had a tie. But I'll say this"—and now his voice hardens—"there wasn't anybody better than us."
Hayes feels much the same about Griffin, "the best back we've ever had," he says, laying to rest any comparison you might want to make with Jim Otis or Hopalong Cassady. "Archiewas the best in the country last year and he'll be the best this year."
With his 4.5 speed, bullish upper torso and slithery moves. Griffin might well be. His career has been every bit as sensational as the 239 yards he gained in his freshman debut suggested it would be. But because Hayes' "button shoe" offense invariably lets the fullback carry inside an opponent's 10, Griffin has scored only 12 touchdowns in his career.
Archie is not one to complain, however. Nor did he object last May when a team "draft" put him behind the second offensive line and at the mercy of the first defensive front in the spring game. It was Hayes who expressed concern. "For some kids, that would be good." Woody said. "It would teach them a few things. But not Archie. He doesn't need it."
Griffin does seem to have proper hold on himself, perhaps the result of having three brothers who played college ball before he did. He speaks winningly of his linemen, his unrewarded substitute, Woody Roach, and especially his coach. Of the Buckeye offense he says, "If it's not gonna be me, it's gonna be Cornelius. And if it's not either of us, it's gonna be the fullback."
Whoever, or whatever, the result should be overpowering. Because they have finally added an 11th regular-season game, the Buckeyes could have their winningest season ever. If they do not, Woody is likely to land on somebody and get outrageous again.