BYE-BYE, No. 1

Ohio State was the best in the nation, Ohio State was possible Super Bowl material—but Michigan crushed the Buckeyes 24-12 and proved that even Rex Kern is human
December 01, 1969

Even in the dying seconds the idea persisted throughout Michigan's cavernous old stadium that Ohio State, the awesome Buckeyes, would pull it out. After all, weren't they No. 1 in the nation, winner of 22 straight games and (people were beginning to joke) a worthy opponent for the Los Angeles Rams? Surely the real Rex Kern would expose that hapless impostor wearing No. 10 and wriggle through the whole Michigan defense for a couple of life-giving touchdowns. Or, failing that, surely the real Jack Tatum would rise up from wherever he had spent most of the afternoon and knock loose a couple of fumbles. Or, finally, surely some magic play, or piece of wisdom, would spring from a cranny in old Woody Hayes' fertile mind, where it had been stored away for just this kind of emergency. So everyone waited, and waited, and then suddenly delirious Michigan fans were rolling on the new Tartan Turf rug and tearing the north goalpost right out of its concrete base.

The numbers on the scoreboard were MICHIGAN 24, OHIO STATE 12, but the big winner in sunny Ann Arbor was the Rose Bowl. Now, instead of having the second or even third best team from the Big Ten, the Rose Bowl will get a Michigan team that not only is the league co-champion but earned its way in style, whipping the Buckeyes head to head. As Michigan's bright young coach, Bo Schembechler, told the press after the game, "Nobody here wanted to go as the No. 2 team. That would have been tough. It was an emotional thing for us. Now we're going as co-champions of the Big Ten—and don't forget that."

As for Ohio State, the Buckeyes will sit at home New Year's Day, as they would have been forced to anyway, but now they will not even have the consolation of being No. 1. Who knows what went wrong—why they had looked so flat all afternoon, even when leading. Perhaps it was a letdown after getting so high for Purdue the week before. Perhaps it was overconfidence or that lack of a Rose Bowl incentive. But a lot of it was Michigan.

The door to Ohio State's locker room remained shut long after the game, except for the 18 seconds it took Hayes to conduct what had to pass for a press conference. Opening the door a crack and thrusting out his gray, jowly head, Woody said: "All good things must come to an end and that's what happened today. We just got outplayed, outpunched and outcoached. Our offense in the second half was miserable and we made every mistake you could possibly make." With that, Woody shut the door again, and for the time being that was as close as the waiting world would come to finding out how Ohio State felt.

There were 103,588 witnesses to the upset, the largest crowd ever to see a college game, and what they saw was Michigan playing Ohio State's game better than Ohio State, a turn of events that was by no means accidental. Schembechler, 39, was Ohio State's line coach under Hayes for five years. Even as a young man learning at the master's knee, he displayed such a passion for Hayes' tactics, both psychological and physical, that his peers dubbed him "Little Woody," a nickname that has stuck even though Schembechler himself is not particularly fond of it.

The Schembechler game plan had gone into effect a week earlier, right after Michigan had drubbed Iowa 51-6, its seventh win in nine starts. "We knew right then that we were going to beat Ohio State," he said later. Schembechler personally kept the fires burning, even to the point of making the players on his "scout" team wear a tiny No. 50 on their practice jerseys, a gentle reminder of Ohio State's 50-14 rout of the Wolverines last year.

Around his home Schembechler, like Hayes before big games, was a monster. He not only ignored his wife Millie, but he made her sleep in the baby's room so that neither woman nor child would disturb his concentration. Even on Thursday night, when Millie fixed his favorite dish, Southern-style chicken and dumplings, Bo showed only a glimmer of appreciation. "He was completely preoccupied," Millie said, laughing as wives do on these occasions. "He couldn't remember what he had told me from one day to the next."

The way to beat Ohio State, Schembechler had decided, was to concede Fullback Jim Otis his yardage and concentrate on stopping Kern, the Buckeyes' superb quarterback. "We didn't want Kern running the football," Schembechler said, "so we set our defenses for him. We felt that our secondary could stop his passing, and we felt that we could score against their defense by running at 'em, which is something nobody had done." Sound familiar? You can look it up in the Woody Hayes textbook on winning: always attack an opponent at his strongest point.

As Schembechler was quick to point out, too, Michigan had a few Jack Tatums and Rex Kerns of its own. There was the pass defense, built around Tom Curtis and Barry Pierson, and there was the passing attack, with Quarterback Don Moorehead and Tight End Jim Mandich. But the surprise find of the season was Tailback Billy Taylor, a boy from Schembechler's home town of Barberton, Ohio, who in Michigan's first five games had played only enough to work up a good sweat. But after fumbling on his first two plays against Minnesota, Taylor gained 151 yards in little more than a half and the Wolverines had themselves a runner.

On Saturday, during the pregame warmups, a few of the Michigan fans pelted Ohio State players with snowballs and everyone was amused until the Buckeyes' first play from scrimmage, when Kern rolled out around left end for 25 yards to the Michigan 31. "We didn't want Kern running the football," said Schembechler later, "so what does he do on the first play? Break a pass pocket and run for 25 yards, that's all." Before Bo had time to seriously doubt his game plan, however, Michigan's defense rose up and stopped Ohio State at the 10, and that was the first inkling of what was to happen throughout the afternoon.

"We knew we had 'em right there, when we stopped their regular stuff," said Pierson, who was to play a big role later.

Even after Ohio State's second series of downs, when Otis plunged in from the one for a 6-0 Buckeye lead, the Wolverines remained confident. Working to the short side of the field, Quarterback Moorhead passed the Wolverines 55 yards in 10 plays to take a 7-6 lead, putting the Buckeyes behind for the first time this season. Twice Moorhead hit Mandich with key passes and once he found Wide Receiver Mike Oldham. An 11-yard reverse by Wingback John Gabler helped, and senior Fullback Garvie Craw got the final three yards on a dive. What was especially noteworthy was that Michigan had made no special effort to work away from Tatum, the Buckeyes' peripatetic cornerback. "Sure, we wanted to go into their short side, then hit Mandich when they single-covered," said Schembechler in his postmortem. "Tatum just happens to play the wide side but you can't really run away from him—he'll hunt you down."

The Buckeyes weren't dead yet. They came right back to take a 12-7 lead on the first play of the second quarter, Kern passing to Tight End Jan White. Ohio State's Stan White kicked the extra point, but Michigan was offside. Taking the penalty, the Bucks went for two points but Kern was smothered by Michigan's defensive end, Mike Keller, a sight that was to become routine before the end.

During the rest of the quarter Michigan pushed the Buckeyes around as no one has done all year. The Wolverines moved to the Ohio State 27, and Taylor, breaking three tackles, ran to the five, setting up Craw's scoring smash two plays later. That made it 14-12. When Ohio State could not move and had to punt, Pierson ran back up the middle to the Ohio State three in what was perhaps the single most important play of the game. Two plays later Moorhead went over, and now even Woody Hayes would have admitted that Ohio State was in deep trouble.

And the Wolverines pressed on. After scoring what was apparently another touchdown on Moorhead's three-yard pass to Mandich with 1:15 left in the half only to have it nullified on a holding penalty, junior Tim Killian kicked a 25-yard field goal, making it 24-12.

So that was it. The Ohio State defense braced in the last half, reducing Michigan's offense to four missed field goals by Killian. But Ohio State's offense, that once awesome machine, was moribund. The Wolverine ends, Keller and Cecil Pryor, kept Kern so well contained that he gained only 28 yards in 11 runs after his initial 25-yard gainer. And when the Bucks ditched the little passes to White—the first three had been successful—and began going for the long ones, the Wolverine defenders were there to intercept six times, three by Pierson. Only Otis was up to his usual form, gaining 144 yards in 28 carries, but then Schembechler had decided to leave him alone, hadn't he?

While Ohio State was behind Woody's closed door, trying to figure out what had gone wrong, the Michigan team was laughing it up, singing a lusty if somewhat off-key version of Hail to the Victors and waving a bunch of plastic red roses. There were so many reporters waiting to see Schembechler that when the coach finally showed up at the interview room he could squeeze in no farther than the doorway. His Michigan sweater and slacks were wringing wet from the traditional shower his players had given him, and his old football knee was aching because the players had dropped him off their shoulders during the postgame victory ride. But Little Woody didn't care. He was the only thing his players had dropped all day.

TWO PHOTOSFiring and falling back, Rex Kern was never far from an onrushing horde of Wolverines. PHOTOLed by Teammates Darden (35) and Healy (24), Barry Pierson returns an intercepted pass. THREE PHOTOS

THE CATCH THAT GAVE USC THE ROSES

The Trojans were trailing UCLA 12-7 with 1:32 to play (page 70) when Jimmy Jones hurled a pass toward Split End Sam Dickerson (18). Dickerson caught the ball barely inside the back corner of the end zone for a TD that meant victory and the Rose Bowl.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)