Life in the Big Ten is pleasant enough for those who know their place, but should one of the serfs stage an upset, embark on a winning streak or begin sniffing roses, punishment is swift. That is what happened to Michigan State last Saturday in East Lansing. The Spartans were made an object lesson for others who would disobey one of life's prime warnings: do not feed the animals, do not pass Go, do not squeeze the Char-min and, for members of the Big Ten, do not rile Woody Hayes and his Ohio State Buckeyes.
The 21-0 score does not accurately measure the soundness of the beating Ohio State administered to the Spartans or the difference in the two performances. It was, however, a satisfactory rebuttal to those who felt that Hayes was too old, his team too young and his opponents too good. "The old man is pretty happy," Hayes crowed outside the dressing room after the game.
Ten months ago the old man was pretty disgusted. Following Michigan State's controversial 16-13 upset, Woody had said, "I can't tell you how bitter I am." The win was the Spartans' third in four years over Ohio State and part of a late-season five-game winning streak that propelled them into the national picture for the first time since 1966. Many people, including most of the record 80,383 who saw Saturday's game, believed the return match would launch the Spartans past the Buckeyes into Big Ten title contention. The old order was passing and a new order was coming on.
Instead, the crowd watched a very workmanlike, very thorough, very typical Ohio State victory, featuring a cast of newcomers familiar only in their execution. Middle Guard Aaron Brown and Tackle Eddie Beamon shut off Michigan State's running game, and on offense another sophomore, Tackle Chris Ward, scattered people across large sections of Michigan. Hayes even suited up nine freshmen, and four of them got in on the fun. Two other players, Split End Lenny Willis and Defensive Back Craig Cassady, might as well be considered new faces also because, though seniors, they were making their first starts. Willis caught two passes, including a slightly deflected 64-yarder for a third-quarter touchdown, and Cassady, son of Ohio State's immortal Hopalong, intercepted three passes. Hayes was so pleased with young Cassady that he gave him a game ball and told an interesting, but totally apocryphal, story about how the defensive back-field coach had predicted the three interceptions before the game.
September 21, 1975
This wealth of high-calibre reserves standing by to replace last year's seniors is hardly unusual at Ohio State. It seems surprising, then, that the Spartans would have presumed that the Buckeyes' well had run dry. They should have listened to one of their own defensive backs, Tom Hannon of Massillon, who said before the game, "Woody gets all the good players from Ohio every year. These new guys are probably as good as the others, they just had to wait their turns." And how had Hannon, an All-America high school runner himself, escaped Woody's clutches three years ago? "He told me I had a good chance of beating out Archie Griffin," he says. "Griffin was just a freshman then, but I knew how good he was and I knew Hayes was lying."
Griffin and the other veteran Buckeyes made their usual contributions. Archie got his 100 yards rushing—108 yards in 29 carries—for the 22nd consecutive regular-season game, and Fullback Pete Johnson scored two touchdowns on runs of six and nine yards in the second and fourth quarters. Quarterback Cornelius Greene gave every indication he would repeat as the league's total offense champion by running and passing for 133 yards. And Tom Skladany, who had the best punting average last year, averaged 44.5 yards on four kicks, three into a 20-mph wind in the first quarter.
"The most important thing in the game was not giving up a score when we had the wind against us," said Hayes. The rest of Woody's comments indicated the stability of the Buckeye regime. "This defense will be even better than last year's," he said, "and the offensive line is as good. This is another Ohio State team."
Unexpectedly, it was the more experienced Spartans who committed most of the sophomoric mistakes. Although their defense was adequate, the offense gained only 173 yards. On the four occasions Michigan State moved into Buckeye territory it quickly fell backward and apart, fumbling, stumbling and having a pass intercepted by the ubiquitous Cassady.
No Spartan suffered more than Quarterback Charlie Baggett, who, besides the interceptions, lost a fumble, fell down after receiving a snap, threw a pass after crossing the line of scrimmage and totaled but 58 yards. By Ohio State's reckoning, Baggett got no less than he deserved. For weeks leading up to the showdown he had flatly proclaimed that Michigan State would win and that he is the top quarterback in the nation and would play his best game ever. He reminded everyone of the Buckeyes' inexperience, the difficulties awaiting visiting players in East Lansing and the simple fact that "Ohio State doesn't have the players we do." Of course, Baggett's bold words found their way to the bulletin board in Ohio State's dressing room. "We'll let him do all the talking," said Hayes. "That's more than Archie has done in four years."
Woody and the players had considerably more to say after the game. Even the taciturn Griffin admitted that yes, Baggett's oratory had stoked everyone's competitive fires. Hayes, speaking lowly and slowly, had his own explanation: "Well, I'll tell you. When you get quality kids, you better not slur them with insults. Ninety-five percent of the people you can walk over with a bluff, but look out for the other five percent. We've got the five percent."
Actually, Baggett had not meant to be insulting. But for stating the situation as he saw it, he was subjected to a ferocious rush during the game and the derisive laughter of the Buckeyes after it. His coach, Denny Stolz, was quick to come to the quarterback's defense. "Charlie had an average day," Stolz said. "A quarterback can look like an idiot when things go to hell even when it isn't his fault. On one of those interceptions, the freshman receiver ran the wrong route. Later the same kid was called for clipping. It was his introduction to the Big Ten."
For all the problems Michigan State encountered, it was Hayes who did not want to take his team to East Lansing. He would have preferred to start the season in some fail-safe town like Iowa City or Evanston, where his opening game record of 20-3-1 was certain to improve. But because schedules had been recycled this year, he was back for the second season in a row, playing what he admitted would be the toughest opener of his career. Publicly, at least, that was about all he was saying. Privately he feared that the Spartan fans and players might want something more than victory, like a few scalps. Woody's study of history had taught him all about revolutions.
At last year's game people had merely hurled liquor bottles at him. This year he expected Molotov cocktails, which is why he had three uniformed policemen guarding his flanks. Compounding the antagonisms was a rumor that a current NCAA investigation of Michigan State had been instigated by Woody. Although NCAA Executive Director Walter Byers denied this, it weighed heavily on several Michigan State players. "Because of the investigation," said one, "this is an even bigger game than Michigan."
Indeed, the Ohio State game was to have been the start of a new era in East Lansing. If it meant revenge for the Buckeyes it was an emergence for Michigan State. Since 1968 Ohio State has won or shared six conference titles while the Spartans have had but two winning seasons. Michigan State has challenged Ohio State on the field, to be sure, but it has been Michigan which challenged the Buckeyes in the standings.
"The coaches in the league haven't liked the talk about the Big Two and the Little Eight," said Stolz before the game. "Unfortunately, it has been pretty factual. This season will go more to answering that question than any other. That's why this game is so important."
Michigan State's 21-0 loss gave Stolz an answer he certainly did not like. "I wish I didn't have to live for a week," he said when it was all over. "I wish I could just disappear."
Hayes could not have been more chipper. "What was it Wordsworth wrote?" he asked. " 'The old order changeth, yielding place to new.' Well, I'll tell you something. That damn new order hasn't come yet."
As a matter of fact, Woody, it was Tennyson, but you've made your point.