It was a day for big decisions last week in the Middle West. At Columbus, Ohio State, still unbeaten in the Big Ten, was facing Iowa, which only the week before had lost a heart-breaker in the mud to Purdue. At Minneapolis, unbeaten Michigan State and Minnesota, loser only to Missouri, faced off. When the scores were in (Ohio State 29, Iowa 13; Minnesota 13, Michigan State 0), two big decisions had been made: 1) Ohio State and Minnesota are so strong that by the end of the season one or the other will be the Big Ten champion and may even rate as the nation's No. 1 team; and 2) Bob Ferguson, the awesomely powerful Ohio State back, probably is the best college fullback to come along since Jimmy Brown, now of the Cleveland Browns, was at Syracuse.
Bob Ferguson is a 6-foot 227-pounder who pounds over opposing players on a pair of stumpy legs that are about the same circumference as the average man's waist. He is so extraordinarily durable that he seems—and probably is—capable of making the same crunching line plunge time after time all afternoon every Saturday throughout the fall. For the past two and a half seasons, with lines massed against his fearsome rushes, he has lost ground only four times, once as a sophomore, once again as a junior and, perhaps worn down a bit, twice in his last two games, for a yard loss against Wisconsin and a half-yard against Iowa.
Generally Ferguson storms into the enemy backfield with four or five linemen hanging on him and picks up three or four yards. But several times a game he brushes aside would-be tacklers and breaks into the open, where he runs like a quick, shifty, locomotive-size halfback. Saturday against Iowa he carried the ball 27 times, gained 144 yards, almost all of them when his team needed them the most, and went 14 yards for a touchdown. No one who has ever had to get in the way of Bob Ferguson on a breakaway run has ever again doubted his bruising prowess.
Before Saturday, however, many had doubted Ohio State's strength, even with Ferguson. If the Buckeyes were to be tested, it was thought, the University of Iowa, with its backfields of fast running backs and a traditionally strong line, was the team to do it. A crowd of 83,795, the largest ever gathered at the OSU stadium, bundled down snugly and, despite gray skies overhead, awaited with rosy anticipation what most of them were convinced would be the game of the year.
November 13, 1961
What they saw may very well have come close to that in significance, though not in drama; they saw an awesome demonstration of Ohio State's power and depth. Coach Woody Hayes's beautifully coached platoons, three deep at every position, stopped almost everything the Hawkeyes could offer, wore them down with their sharp, hard but invariably clean tackles (Hayes teams never pile on) and then walked over them, as Hayes called frantically to his ample bench: "Who hasn't gotten in? Get in there." Hayes supplied something new (a "gimmick" he called it, but all it really was was passing) that had the Columbus regulars talking in tones of wonderment. Before the game, however, direct-thinking Hayes said, "We like to have that ball carrier pointed toward the goalposts." And, ultimately, it was not Hayes's gimmick but straightforward football that proved too much for Iowa. Indeed, the strategy for the game was as obvious in advance as the bright-scarlet jerseys worn by OSU.
"The ball game will be decided on the ability of Iowa to move the ball," said Forest Evashevski, the Iowa athletic director, last Friday. Evvy was a man who should know. He had spent the nine previous years giving Iowa a bigger reputation for football than for tall corn. With only a muddy upset loss to Purdue to mar its record, this year's team was rated along with some of the best of Evvy's day.
After visiting Iowa received the kickoff, the game proceeded for the first 11 minutes and 53 seconds pretty much as expected. The fast Iowa backs had trouble moving the ball against the quick, alert Ohio State defensive line, but whenever a first down was needed, Matt Szykowny threw a pass to Cloyd Webb, a 6-foot 3-inch sophomore discus thrower who plays a very spectacular right end for Iowa in the fall months. Iowa ran 24 plays and gained a total of 133 yards. Ohio State did not once get possession of the ball, but thanks to a single unforeseeable break the 11 minutes and 53 seconds ended with OSU leading 6-0. On a reverse to the left side off the new double-wing formation that Coach Jerry Burns had added to Iowa's traditional wing-T offense especially for this game, Halfback Sammie Harris was tackled hard just as he received the ball. It popped into the arms of startled Ohio End Tom Perdue, who paused only momentarily to assure himself that he wasn't dreaming and then dashed for the goal, some 55 yards away. There was never an Iowa player within 10 yards of him as he loped along, incredulous over his good fortune.
Iowa, of course, received the next kickoff, and once again started down the field. This time the Hawkeyes reached the Ohio State eight-yard line before the drive died with an incomplete pass into the end zone.
Way out with a look-in
Early in the second period Ohio State intercepted one of Szykowny's short look-in passes and returned the ball to the Iowa 30. The homecoming crowd was then treated to a few minutes of the kind of football that has become the trademark of Coach Hayes—and to the gimmick, too.
In four successive carries Ferguson moved the ball 16 yards by just thumping into the center of the Iowa line. With the ball on the Iowa 18, Quarterback Joe Sparma called the kind of play that makes Woody Hayes's huge frame shudder—a pass. Sparma threw to Charlie Bryant, a big end, who caught the ball on the six-yard line, did a little jig along the sidelines to keep from going out of bounds and leaped joyfully into the end zone for Ohio State's second touchdown. State missed the conversion for the second time, but it didn't matter. Ohio State took its 12-0 lead into the dressing room at half time and never after that looked in danger of losing.
It was a weary Iowa team that showed up for the second-half kickoff, and Hayes later explained why. "We're a well-conditioned team," he said, "and Iowa had to expend its offensive force there in the first quarter. Their offensive team had to play most of the first quarter, and they used up a lot of their strength on those two big drives." Hayes was too tactful in the warmth of victory to add that Iowa did not have adequate substitutes to cope with Ohio State's alternating offensive and defensive units.
Nonetheless, Iowa did manage to push across a touchdown midway through the third quarter after a 73-yard march, closing the gap to 12-7. Long runs by Harris and Bill Perkins, Iowa's two best ball carriers of the day, made it possible, but the man who kept the tired team on the move was Quarterback Szykowny.
Although only a junior, Szykowny is already the first three-letter man at Iowa in 11 years. Last year he sparked the basketball team after it had lost four of its best players to scholarship troubles, and he was the leading hitter on the baseball team, with a .368 average. "He looks like Groucho Marx out there," Evashevski says, "but he's the kind of athlete who wins. If you need a last-minute basket, he shoots it, or he pokes a hit through the infield to score the winning run." On Saturday he sneaked the ball across for that first Iowa touchdown when it looked as if State's line might hold right at the goal line.
A few minutes later Ohio State put the game beyond reach with another pass from Sparma to Bryant. This time Bryant ran half the length of the field with the exhausted Iowa players falling off him like raindrops when they tried to make their tackles. At that moment everyone understood that the outcome, for all purposes, had been determined.
There was a good deal of Rose Bowl talk around the Ohio State campus on Saturday night, for the news was quickly abroad that Michigan State had been upset by Minnesota. But the air was full of ifs. Would, for instance, the Big Five host colleges of the West Coast issue an invitation to an undefeated Ohio State, which had been one of the four Big Ten colleges to vote against renewing the Western Conference contract with the Rose Bowl?
At the moment the Rose Bowl is in a thorny tangle. Its contract with the Big Ten having expired, it can invite any team it wishes to represent the East. Yet, it would like to renew the Big Ten agreement now that the conference has shown its willingness to do so by a 6 to 4 vote, so it would probably be disposed to invite the Big Ten champion if that were feasible.
Both Minnesota and Ohio State could now finish their Big Ten schedules undefeated, in which case Minnesota, which plays one more conference game than the Buckeyes, would be 7-0 against 6-0 for Ohio State. However, Minnesota played in the last Rose Bowl game, and the policy has always been against inviting the same team twice in a row.
On the other hand, the Faculty Council at Ohio State opposes Bowl games, and would have to be won over if Ohio State were to play in Pasadena. No one seems ready to guess whether public pressure might force such a change in faculty opinion. And there is always the question of whether the Big Five would extend an invitation without positive assurance that it would not be rejected. As long as this poised and powerful team of Woody Hayes's keeps winning, the Rose Bowl dilemma will be a favorite conversation piece in Columbus.