RECORD RUN AND BRIGHT KIDS WRECK ILLINOIS
Never," said Kenneth L. (Tug) Wilson, Commissioner of the Big Ten, "have I seen so many outstanding sophomores Glinka and Raimey of Michigan. Joe Williams and Sammie Harris of Iowa. Ron Miller of Wisconsin. Yakubowski of Purdue. Ulmer and Kline of Ohio State. And those linemen—Behrman and Bobbitt of Michigan State."
Never, Wilson might have added, had he seen such a comeback for the Western Conference. Supposedly the sick men of football, the Big Ten teams in the early season bashed out-of-conference opponents with the happy abandon of big leaguers playing against Class-D farm teams. Last week the Midwesterners devoted most of their energies to belaboring each other. It is still too early in the season to say which of them is the strongest. It may be Iowa, which intercepted a hobbled ball and went on to smash Michigan State 27-15. It may be Minnesota, which was slowed down by a revived Northwestern before it won 7-0; or it may be Wisconsin, which rode neatly on the right-hand tosses of Miller and beat Purdue 24-13. But the chances are it will be Ohio State, which last week made 34-7 Peoria hash of Illinois, previously ranked fourth among the teams in the country.
The word was out before the homecoming game at Champaign-Urbana in the flatlands of eastern Illinois that this was to be an Illinois year, even though it was Coach Pete Elliott's first. By the game's end, most of the 71,119 people in the homecoming crowd were willing to heed the uncharacteristic, preseason optimism of Ohio State Coach Woody Hayes. Curiously, this was not a typical Hayes team The defensive line averaged a fairly flimsy 205 pounds. A few years ago It would have had to weigh 20 pounds more per man to raise even a grunt from hard-to-impress Hayes.
But this is not a typical year in the Big Ten, either. Conference coaches had moaned for months that stricter academic controls on players and the adopted aid plan (under which a boy's parents are expected to pay as much of his way through school as they can afford) had kept good players out of their league. "Missouri and Kansas," said one coach, "have benefited more by the aid plan than any other schools in the country."
The aid plan also demanded higher academic standards on the part of entering athletes, and the boys who survived are today leading their teams. According to Bill Reed, Wilson's chief aide, "More than three-fourths of the Big Ten students receiving grant-in-aid support last year ranked in the upper quarter of their high school classes." These boys came to school at a time when college football was becoming more complex than ever. This year they are also playing under the relaxed substitution rule which in effect permits the platooning of teams. Smaller, perhaps less sturdy than their huge brothers of former years, they are faster physically and mentally and they can be withdrawn for a brief rest when their willing but weak flesh flags in the hard going.
This is not to say that Hayes's style of play has changed radically. It has not. Hayes expects to be as successful this year as he was when he won the Big Ten title two times in a row and went to the Rose Bowl twice using a quarterback-fullback pattern of play. The ball is carried either around the outside of the line by the quarterback on an option play or through the line by the fullback. In Ohio State's lopsided victories over Southern Methodist and Southern California, Quarterback Tom Matte and Fullback Bob Ferguson carried the ball on 80% of the 115 running plays.
It was clear from the beginning of the Illinois game that Ohio State intended to stick to its basic formula. The Buckeyes controlled the ball throughout most of the first quarter, running with it 19 times and passing once. On nine plays, Ferguson carried for a total of 56 yards. Matte carried on the option three times for 21 yards. When the gun sounded to change sides, Ohio State had the ball on the Illinois two-yard line and scored on the first play of the second quarter.
By then there was no doubt in anyone's mind that Ohio State was the dominant team and would remain so barring serious misfortune to Matte or Ferguson. Ferguson, particularly, was a most awesome sight. He is 6 feet tall, but he looks much shorter, and his stumpy legs give him the appearance of having been chiseled by a pre-Columbian sculptor. He weighs about 220 pounds, and several times tacklers bounced off him as if they had run into a vertical trampoline.
Against Illinois, the team lined up in a balanced line with a wingback on one side or the other and occasionally a double wing. If Matte didn't hand the ball to Ferguson for a plunge, he faked it to him, started to the outside, feinted a pitchout to a halfback and cut inside or outside his end.
The slow progress involved in this kind of football consumes a lot of time. Ohio State was ahead by only 13-0 at half time. But at the start of the third quarter Bill Wentz provided the game with its brightest moment. He took the Illinois kickoff behind his own goal line and ran down the sidelines 103 yards for a touchdown to put the game out of reach of any Illinois surprises.
There may be a lesson in Ohio State's victory. Hayes is an organizer, and in this year of the liberal substitution rule it is the organizers who are going to win. Hayes has divided his team into three units, one defensive, two offensive. His passion for detail is such that when players are not in the game they must sit in particular spots on the bench so there will be no confusion in the coaches' minds where to find a player at a given instant. Hayes sends in each offensive play with a tackle or expendable halfback, taking the last possible advantage of the wild card rule.
"It's the smallest defensive team I ever had," he says, "and maybe the smallest in the Big Ten. I couldn't get away with playing them if I weren't able to platoon them, because the bigger teams would wear them down. But they're quick, which is what you need." They are good, too, and that helps.