SI Vault
Douglas S. Looney
November 26, 1979
A blocked punt earned Ohio State a win over Michigan, and its first trip to Pasadena in four years
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 26, 1979

Buckeye Block Party

A blocked punt earned Ohio State a win over Michigan, and its first trip to Pasadena in four years

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3

But such talent couldn't be hidden. When former Ohio State Coach Woody Hayes visited, Schlichter was concerned that he wouldn't get a chance to pass in Woody's run-dominated offense. Said Hayes, "In time, we will vary our offense." That was hardly an all-out commitment to a passing game, but it was good enough for Schlichter.

When Schlichter arrived at Columbus last year, happy times did not immediately ensue. Although it was kept hidden from the public, there was a revolt of sorts by black players in preseason practice when Schlichter was installed as starting quarterback ahead of the black incumbent. Rod Gerald, who was shifted to split end. Complicating all this was that Hayes' concept of a passing offense too often consisted of sending out one receiver, which can make a quarterback's life trying. The Buckeyes struggled to a 7-4-1 record. Schlichter threw a depressing 21 interceptions, and Hayes got fired for taking out his frustrations on a Clemson linebacker in a 17-15 Gator Bowl loss.

Earle Bruce, the former Iowa State coach, took over at Columbus to thunderous skepticism. "Let's face it," says Linebacker Jim Laughlin, "everybody had their doubts about Coach Bruce."

No more. Schlichter has erupted into stardom—his father says. "Arthur isn't fooling when he says he likes pressure situations"—and Bruce has been one step short of miraculous. Injuries have beset the team, but Bruce has proved to be a magician at disguising the consequent weak points. Both of his starting flankers have missed games because of injuries; the tailback was lost for the season; others dropped out and no-names took over. Bruce even switched Paul Campbell, his fullback and the Bucks' leading ground-gainer, to tight end for the UCLA game. Malcontents of last year, notably Middle Guard Tim Sawicki, have come on like gangbusters.

Bruce has managed the delicate feat of tiptoeing around Hayes. Make no mistake. Woody still holds office in Columbus: as Acting God. He is widely defended, deferred to and feared. Before the Michigan game, Bruce asked him to speak to the team; Woody did. But Bruce made it clear from the start that he is his own man, a different man. Bruce confers freely with the press, and so do his staff and players. They've become absolute chatterboxes. No longer do headsets fly on the sidelines. No longer does emotion overrule strategy. The yard markers are safe from abuse. Times, they have a-changed. "If we had been told to go out last year and win one for Woody," says one player, "we would have lost 60-0."

The fact that things are different—that there is an unmistakable new spirit at Ohio State—explains why the Buckeyes arrived in Ann Arbor undefeated and left in the same condition. It was not, however, easy.

For openers, Schembechler had given his Wolverines a new look, too. He started a freshman quarterback. Rich Hewlett, whose total game experience until Saturday had been mopping up to the tune of four rushes and two incomplete passes against Wisconsin. "Our offense had been tailing off," said Schembechler, "and I wanted to try to do something about it." Too, Schembechler had had uneven luck alternating B. J. Dickey, who can run the option well but passes poorly, and John Wangler, who throws ropes, but to whom running the option is one of life's mysteries. Four weeks ago, Dickey was" hurt and he has been out of action since. Wangler alone was no ball of fire: thus the nod to Hewlett.

After a Schlichter pass was intercepted with 6:57 to play in the first quarter (it was only his fifth interception all year), Hewlett drove Michigan from the Ohio State 31 to a third and one on the Buckeyes' two. But an option keeper by Hewlett got nowhere, and on fourth and one, the usually conservative Schembechler disdained the gimme field goal and ordered up another option. Again the Buckeyes held.

Just three plays later, operating out of his own end zone, Schlichter had to use all his wit and guile to elude being tackled for a safety. Scrambling adroitly, he spotted Calvin Murray for a 25-yard completion. Thus were two big opportunities blown by Michigan.

The fun part of the Buckeyes' day started with 11:30 to go in the second quarter. Michigan went into punt formation at fourth and seven on its own 36. Bryan Virgil faked the kick and threw what was recorded as a pass, but which looked more like a hot-dog wrapper caught in the breeze as the ball fluttered harmlessly to the artificial turf. Such daring was un-Bo-like but, as it turned out, Michigan was not fatally hurt just then. The Wolverine defense denied Ohio State a first down, and Vlade Janakievski's 46-yard field-goal attempt was wide to the right.

Continue Story
1 2 3