Everything is still all right in the Big Ten, friends, the heartland of the U.S., where fight songs are considered soul music. Purdue's Jack Mollenkopf has done it to Notre Dame for the third year in a row, Michigan is scoring more touchdowns than there are letters in Bo Schembechler's name and at Michigan State Duffy Daugherty keeps coming from behind to win. The conference has nine wins in two weeks, despite the extra weight of Wisconsin, Northwestern and Illinois, and it has scored 561 points in 19 games. And in that towering gray edifice known as Ohio Stadium, the Buckeyes of Woody Hayes again look like No. 1—and 2 and 3.
Woody would not agree, of course. There were just too many mistakes in that opening victory over TCU before the usual Columbus throng of 80 million. The Buckeyes blew a couple of extra points, for one thing, which knocked the score down from 64-0 to 62-0. It took them two whole plays instead of one to score their first touchdown. The offense only managed to score nine of the 18 times it had the ball, and we all know you can't stall yourself nine times and win Woody a fourth national championship, not when 62 points aren't safe anymore.
The opening-game jitters further affected the Bucks so that they gained only 565 yards in total offense, slowed down, no doubt, by the steady rain that fell throughout most of the game. Considering they ran off 101 plays—a school record—well, it just seemed like you ought to get more points and more yards for that. And then there was tins business of shuttling the responsibility around, an indication that no one is going to be able to break any records.
Quarterback Rex Kern got 78 yards on his slick keepers, which was tine, but he kept handing the ball to Jim Otis, letting the barrel-shaped runner get 121, and to John Brockington, letting him get 79, and to assorted other backs who shuttled back and forth from the sideline as part of Hayes' happiness program. "Morale may be a problem," Woody had said. "We have a lot of good boys, and we'll have to get them in the games."
October 5, 1969
And then there were all those errors the defense made. It only intercepted four passes and recovered two fumbles, but then TCU didn't have the ball all that often. Further, the defense actually let the Horned Frogs cross the 50-yard line two times, one of them on the last play of the game. And with all of this, Cornerback Jack Tatum, who might well be the best college player in the U.S., failed to kill a single runner or receiver although he caused a number of limp-offs.
Well, perhaps things will seem brighter to Woody after this week. There is an old saying that a team improves more between its first and second games than it does all season long, so after the slipshod Buckeyes beat Washington 124-0 out in Seattle, Hayes may think they're ready to take on the Big Ten challengers—Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota—the good teams that stand between Ohio State and another undefeated year and No. 1 trophy for Woody.
What made it all so hilarious by last Saturday night is that Ohio State was pretty worried about a lot of things. First of all, one always does worry before an opener, especially when playing a team that has already been under fire. TCU went to Columbus not as a South-west Conference power on the order of a Texas or an Arkansas but with a team that was admittedly better than any it had suited up in about three years. The Frogs, after all, had scared Purdue in a 42-35 game the previous week. They had a sophomore quarterback, Steve Judy, who had thrown four touchdown passes, and a streak of a flanker, Linzy Cole, who had caught two of them and returned a punt 70 yards. They had Big Boo, Norm Bulaich, a 216-pound 9.6 sprinter of a running back who for four years has been supposed to bring TCU back to glory but who seems forever to be hurt.
"Our defense is in for a real test," said Lou McCullough, Woody's defensive coach, who must have done quite a job of concealing his mirth.
Then, too, Ohio State thought it had these other problems. TCU had never been easy for Woody. Twice before the Frogs had brought seemingly lesser teams to Columbus and had somehow beaten and tied Buckeye elevens that went on to attain a No. 1 rating. Nor did Woody know how his team would begin a season aware that it can't return to the Rose Bowl because of a conference rule against champions going back to Pasadena, a rule that surely stands as the silliest in football.
"The lack of Rose Bowl incentive may show on us if we get behind," he said. "And it will be a problem if we lose a game somewhere."
The final concern Hayes had was getting all of his splendid players in the game. "We've got more good boys than we've ever had. I've said that before," he said. "They have to play or they might get unhappy."
Everybody should have such problems. They seemed to get solved so quickly last week with Ohio State scoring three times in the first quarter that Rex Kern casually began replacing divots in the turf when he wasn't outrunning, out-passing and outsmarting the Texans. The kind of day it would be was revealed the first time Ohio State got the ball. Kern brought his team out in an I formation with a slot right and an end split to the right. He drifted over to his right and passed 36 yards to the end, Bruce Jankowski. When the play was called back by a penalty Rex did something very different. He brought his team out in an I formation with a slot right and an end split to the right, and he passed 43 yards to Bruce Jankowski for a touchdown. It probably would have worked every time Kern called it but Rex wanted to work on the ground game, so he started keeping the ball and handing off to Otis and Brockington the rest of the day to see how far they could lug TCU's tacklers, which was normally five or six yards at a time.
The TCU offense, which had scored 35 points on Purdue, meanwhile was nowhere to be seen. Big Boo, of course, got hurt quickly—for the umpteenth time in five years. Linzy Cole hobbled off, too. And poor Steve Judy, who did reveal some promise, couldn't find any receivers except Buckeyes to hold onto his passes. The one time TCU got a runner through the Buckeye middle Jack Tatum hit him so hard the ball popped 10 feet in the air, Ohio State recovering the fumble.
TCU Coach Fred Taylor may have been near-the truth when he said, "They are the finest college team ever assembled." But then again, that's awfully lavish praise for a team making so many mistakes.