Tucker: "They're running it inside too much."
At USC the coaches were engulfed before the game in hundreds of pages of computer printouts that detailed everything the Buckeyes had done in nine 1979 games. The computer knew that Ohio State's favorite play was 28 Pitch—the same play, called just plain 20, on which USC feels it has the copyright, its having been the Trojans' mainstay since long before O.J. began running for daylight in airport terminals. The Buckeyes had run it 29 times. More revealing, the computer discovered, on 13 occasions it was called with four yards or more to go, and that on those occasions it made a first down 44.8% of the time.
OSU Guard and Center Coach Glen Mason (shouting): "Why don't they stay on the phones when we're talking to 'em?"
Inside Linebacker Coach John Marshall of USC had pondered these facts: on third-down-and-three plays, Ohio State made a first down 55% of the time; on third-and-four, 38%. But on third-and-five, the Buckeyes succeeded 88% of the time. Said Marshall, "So I ask myself, 'What does it mean?' "
Good question, coach. What does it mean?
"I don't know."
Yet the sheets were loaded with hints and clues. "Great teams tend to have great tendencies," says Marshall, "which is why they tend to be successful." Example: on second-and-seven-to-nine situations, Ohio State had passed 20 times, but only once to the split end. Consequently, in practice USC didn't double-cover the split end. Example: the Buckeyes ran only two reverses in the nine games, one for five yards, one for two. Ergo, USC didn't waste time on defensing the reverse, although Marshall admitted, "They may snooker us good." They didn't. Example: when the ball was on the left hashmark, the Bucks ran to the short side of the field 69 times, to the wide field 66. They passed to the near sideline 11 times and went to the far part of the field 16 times. "That means," says Marshall, "that they have power and are not afraid to go to the short side and stick it down your throat."
What haunted the USC coaches was trying to figure what Ohio State would do different. USC's pages of data told the Buckeye story up to the final chapter. The fear was that the authors might spring a surprise ending. Still, as one Trojan coach said, "If they do just what they have been, we'll win."
What happened was that Ohio State generally did what it had been doing, just a lot better. The Buckeyes' intensity was startling. Good thing, too, because USC probably was superior at 20 of the 22 starting positions, with only Guard Ken Fritz and Outside Linebacker Jimmy Laughlin having a clear edge over their Trojan counterparts. Ohio State had spent the season proving itself. USC, on the other hand, was a team of veteran stars, including an offensive line (Guards Roy Foster and Brad Budde, Tackle Keith Van Home, Center Chris Foote and—back from a knee injury that had kept him out of all but one game this season—6'7", 280-pound Tackle Anthony Munoz) of such splendid caliber that its equal will not soon be assembled anywhere. And, as their coach, Hudson Houck, said, "Our temperament is a little nastier than most."
The game was further hyped by the imponderables. Was Heisman winner White really sick with the flu? (Yes, very, which, of course, makes his 247 yards on 39 carries, both Rose Bowl records, all the more impressive.) Would Robinson leave the Trojans for a pro coaching job? (No, he signed a five-year contract the day before the game and said he was glad for the steady work.) Did the Buckeyes have the moral fiber to withstand the distractions of Tinseltown? (Yes, for sure.)