It was supposed to be a meaningful football game, a tester for mighty Ohio State, which has escaped the plague of upsets and near-misses that have marked the season so far. Wisconsin had beaten Nebraska, Wisconsin had crushed Missouri, and now Wisconsin was in Columbus, ready to deal with the top-ranked Buckeyes. An Ohio Stadium record crowd of 87,717 was there, and what they saw was almost frightening.
Ohio State scored eight of the first nine times it had the ball, stopped on the fifth try not by Wisconsin but by the end of the first half. Tailback Archie Griffin gained more than 100 yards for the 16th consecutive game and the defense intercepted five passes. The score was 52-7, and the Buckeyes looked perfectly capable of marching down to Cincinnati the next day and taking on the Bengals. Rate it even.
"They were awesome," said Wisconsin Coach John Jardine. "They're a great football team, there's no other way to say it. Since I've been here this is the best football team we've ever met." And so forth.
Awesome is certainly one word for the Buckeyes. Also brutal, relentless and deep. In fact, Ohio State seems to be as deep as most conferences. There is a grove of buckeye trees near the stadium, each with a plaque honoring one of the school's All-Americas. At the end of this season they may have to plant more trees. Sophomore Safety Bruce Ruhl intercepted passes against Wisconsin, but he was in there only because the regular starter broke an arm two games before. Champ Henson led the nation in scoring two years ago but now has to split fullback duties with a 237-pound tank of a sophomore, Pete Johnson. Center Steve Myers, whose long blond hair and mustache make him look like a Viking invader, broke a bone in his right hand, was moved to guard against Southern Methodist and was named Ohio State's best lineman that week. Quarterback Cornelius Greene, Most Valuable Player in the Rose Bowl victory last January, runs better than most team's scatbacks, and he even passes occasionally.
And then there is Archie. It is common to hear running backs give credit to their offensive lines. At Ohio State the blockers say things like, "With a back like Griffin, you don't need too many blocks. He makes you look good."
Griffin, surprisingly, has benefited not only from the coaching of Woody Hayes but from that of USC's John McKay. Hayes used to line up his tailback five or 5½ yards behind the line until he noticed that McKay was having good luck lining up people like Mike Garrett and O. J. Simpson seven yards back. Hayes figured that it was beneficial to let his tailback have those extra steps and seconds to find daylight.
Every Heisman Trophy candidate needs a propaganda buildup, and Griffin, a junior, gets his share. But he deserves the attention. He made a 75-yard touchdown run on a sore leg against Washington State, he already has run for more yards than any other Buckeye in history, and he was leading the nation in rushing going into the Wisconsin game. And he is tough. An ex-high school wrestler, he is adept at breaking tackles. In the third quarter of the Wisconsin game he threw a good block that helped Henson thrust two yards into the end zone almost untouched.
"Archie Griffin is the best running back I've ever seen," said Jardine before the game. "He's strong, durable, runs tough and has good speed. Cornelius Greene has the quickness very few quarterbacks have. He loves to run with the ball, which makes him extremely dangerous. Let's face it—this team is strong everywhere."
Jardine also was not downgrading his own side. "We've played four good teams and beaten three of them, and we plan to go to Ohio State to win," he said. "Believe me, we are for real."
The Badgers looked unreal at the beginning. Ohio State kicked off, Wisconsin started a drive at its own 20 and before the game was two minutes old it was leading 7-0. Quarterback Gregg Bohlig, who had completed all eight of his passes against Missouri, hit Flanker Ron Pollard for a 38-yard touchdown. Didn't Wisconsin know who it was playing?
Just who it was quickly became obvious. Ohio State came right back with a 43-yard field goal by its first-ever soccer-style kicker, Tom Klaban. Then the Buckeyes forced a punt, marched 59 yards in six plays to go ahead 10-7 and proceeded to march or dash to touchdowns on every possession thereafter, except for that bothersome halftime interruption, until Griffin's kid brother Ray fumbled with eight seconds left in the game. Wisconsin's Bohlig, harried by a strong rush, was intercepted four times. The team that had run up 59 points on Missouri managed a mere seven against Ohio State.
Greene passed for one touchdown to Brian Baschnagel and ran for two more, gaining 227 yards overall, compared to Griffin's 132. Baschnagel also scored two touchdowns, with Griffin, Henson and sub Quarterback Steve Morrison getting the others.
At his postgame press conference Hayes wore his oozing-with-good-fellowship personality, the one he must use when he is out in Dayton or Canton or Massillon telling mothers that their sturdy sons belong in Columbus. He was the professorial rather than the hysterical, tear-up-the-linesmarkers Woody, and he had kind things to say about almost everybody and everything.
The game was "as good a game as we've played in a long time," he said softly and proudly, almost glowing. His defensive team was "superb." Wisconsin, despite the 45-point margin, was "a hell of a good football team." Greene "is the fastest quarterback we've had, even a little faster than Rex Kern." Kern led Ohio State to its last national championship in 1968. It was all so charming and convivial until he suddenly remembered he was supposed to be a curmudgeon, and interjected:
"You must remember that I'm a mean old coach. Don't call me good ol' Woody yet."
Someone asked about the heart attack he suffered last June 6. "I'm not as tired this year as I was last," he said. "I knew that damn thing was coming, but there wasn't a thing I could do about it. I had work to do. This season I've been going 14 or 15 hours a day. I'm all right. That's the least of my worries.
"I just want to keep winning. I just love to win. I just love to win."
Chances are good ol' Woody will indeed keep winning, at least until Nov. 23, the day Ohio State plays another team that keeps on winning, archrival Michigan, quite possibly the second-best team in the country. What a day that promises to be.