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SO IT’S TWO IN A ROW FOR BO

Michigan blunted every Buckeye drive with a big play to beat Ohio State and earn another trip to the Rose Bowl

By JOHN UNDERWOOD

Well, why wouldn’t poor old Woody Hayes feel like hitting somebody? There he was:

  1. In a foreign country (Michigan) whose very name fills him with such loathing that he can’t say it – the best he can do is, "That place up north" – and where he is said to have risked long hikes on the Interstate by driving with his gas gauge on "Empty" because he wouldn’t spend his money there.
  2. In a city (Ann Arbor) where they sell rolls of toilet paper with his image on every sheet, and where a fan isn’t dressed for the big game unless he’s wearing a SCREW WOODY button, or one with sentiments to that effect.
  3. On a campus (Michigan’s) where Professor Leland Quackenbush’s engineering class invented an egg-throwing machine so that students could liven up the day before the game by seeing (for $1 a pop) who could pelt a life-size effigy of Woody from farthest away.
  4. And in a stadium (Michigan’s) where they get his goat so regularly and got it so royally a few years back that he tore up a yard-line marker.

There, last Saturday, was poor old Woody again, in front of the largest regular-season crowd in the history of college football, 106,024, with one of his finest teams up to its neck in the last, tense, nervous moments of another tense, nervous Ohio State-Michigan game. With, as usual, everything at stake: the chance to win the Big Ten championship outright and go to the Rose Bowl, meanwhile enhancing Ohio State’s national ranking and net worth. And what happened? Woody experienced one of the truly frustrating days of his long coaching career.

His Buckeyes gained 352 yards to Michigan’s 196. They made 23 first downs to Michigan’s 10. They marched up and down the field, for nothing. Or close to nothing. In a statistical nutshell: 19 times the Buckeyes snapped the ball inside the Michigan 20. For all that they got two Vlade Janakievski field goals. Michigan, which had marched up and down a lot less, had gotten a lot more: 14 points. Never, said Hayes, had one of his teams played so well for so little.

This is not to say that Woody did not bring some of it on himself. Late in the 1968 title game with Michigan, which Ohio State won 50-14, he ordered a two-point conversion attempt. "Fifty points," said Woody, "is not always enough." A couple of years ago when he led the Buckeyes onto the field at Michigan Stadium, they ripped through an M Club banner proclaiming GO BLUE. They tried to do it again Saturday, with a number of elbows being exchanged between M clubbers (Michigan athletes) and Buckeye players. Woody himself was involved in an exchange. Nevertheless, he was in fine spirits before the game and even led Ohio State fans in a cheer, bouncing around and waving his arms.

After that, however, Hayes didn’t cheer much. Mostly, he fumed and periodically cried out in pain as the frustration built. Then one last terrible blow struck poor Woody. With a first down on the Wolverine eight-yard line, and less than five minutes to play, his breathtakingly elusive quarterback, Rod Gerald, began an option play, sticking the ball in the belly of his fullback, then withdrawing it and rolling to his right. Ever so abruptly, Gerald slipped. As he fell, he was collared by Wolverine Linebacker John Anderson. Gerald attempted an off-balance pitch to trailing Halfback Ron Springs. The pitch went badly awry, and Springs, trying to go to it, also slipped. Derek Howard fell on the ball for Michigan at the 20, and when the nap had settled so had Ohio State’s fate.

Without a yard marker to beat up, Woody slammed down the headset he uses to communicate with his coaches in the press box. He did this with his left hand. He then went into a series of facial contortions which, in any other context, might be interpreted as the result of stomach distress. Then he turned and spied the threatening figure of 52-year-old, 158-pound ABC-TV cameraman Mike Freedman. Freedman was taking Woody’s picture, as he had been all afternoon. Because he knew Woody’s sideline reputation, Freedman was using a long lens so he "wouldn’t have to get too close." But his job, he said, was "to take faces, not the back of heads," and that was what he was doing.

When Woody bore down on Freedman, who was focusing his mini-cam with both hands, he could only get his elbow in the way of Woody’s fist. The blow, slightly resembling a Kid Gavilan bolo punch, was delivered by Woody with his right hand. This shows that when it comes to exercises in childishness, Woody is ambidextrous.

Despite the fact that he learned at Woody’s knee, Bo Schembechler doesn’t throttle what they both call "the media people," as in, "I don’t have anything against the media people, I just don’t want my daughter going to school with ‘em." Bo is wont to just ignore them, considering them, as he does before every Ohio State game, a "negative influence." Actually, Schembechler would as soon ignore almost everybody at this crucial time. He says he doesn’t even get a kick out of the thundering on-campus Michigan pep rally anymore because "the media people make too much of it." Yet he goes, and annually he guarantees a win over the Buckeyes. "The students like that," he says, pleased to indulge them.

Partly because of their similar outlooks, and partly because they don’t let anybody talk to their players the week of the game, Michigan-Ohio State has become almost exclusively a Bo-and-Woody show, one in which pupil Bo is now tied with mentor Woody at four victories apiece, plus a tie. As near mirror images – they have the same coaching philosophies and neither likes to be interviewed by media people – their teams play the same brand of ball and their confrontations usually follow a somewhat staid pattern.

Not this time.

Two sky-high teams, bitter rivals with malice aforethought and coaches as taught as twin violin strings, teams renown for their willingness to deliver massive blows in the name of hard-nose football, they played an entire game without drawing a major penalty. Each was assessed one inconsequential five-yarder.

The higher-ranked team (Ohio State) lost. So did the bigger, stronger, healthier team (same guys).

The team with a lot of depressing medical charts and missing starters (Michigan) somehow held together.

The team with the smaller defenders (Michigan) that could not afford to let the other practice ball control – it was Bo’s biggest fear – not only let the other team control the ball, but did so and still held it to six points, on field goals.

The quarterback who was supposed to be the superior passer (Michigan’s Rick Leach) didn’t pass so hot but ran for the decisive touchdown; the running quarterback (Gerald), who was sure to throw flutterballs, completed more passes than James Bond. Leach came into the game averaging almost 14 passes a game, threw nine and connected on only three. Gerald, averaging eight a game, threw 16 and completed 13 – every one a spiral.

And here’s the real teaser. Traditionally, these are teams of swarming, suffocating defense – defenses that surround ballcarriers, having been taught that tackling is a team calisthenic. But this time, whenever Ohio State’s squadron of fast backs seemed on the verge of crashing through, or out, one superb individual effort by one superb player or another saved the Wolverines.

Example 1) Trailing 14-3 early in the third quarter, Ohio State whisks 74 yards in eight plays to a first down on the Michigan 11. But then Gerald is slammed for a two-yard loss by Tackle Curtis Greer. Jeff Logan, on an option-pitch right, is cut down by Halfback Mike Jolly slicing through. Minus one. Gerald is chased from the pocket by Linebacker Jerry Meter and is caught by the heels by lunging Linebacker Ron Simpkins. Minus 13. In three plays Ohio State’s 332-yard-a-game running attack, the best in the country, has marched 16 yards to the rear. Only a field goal saves Ohio State from a total burnout.

Example 2) Moments later, after a fumble recovery, the Buckeyes have a third and one on the Michigan 22. Woody serves up his beloved "Robust"—a full-house backfield and two tight ends, not to mention mountainous tackles who not only block everybody one-on-one but are so big they screen the play. But Simpkins reads on the pulling Ohio State left guard, leaps through the gap to meet Fullback Paul Campbell and drops him for a two-yard loss. This time the shocked Buckeyes don’t even get the field goal.

Schembechler had said on Friday he thought it would be disastrous if his defense had to stay on the field "too long." How long is too long? "Ten plays will be too long. That’s the key." So much for Bo’s clairvoyance. Ohio State had the ball 14 plays on its first drive, the next time 12, then in the second half once for 11 plays and another time for 10 plays. With Simpkins in on 20 tackles (15 unassisted), the defense never quit smoking – "the most tenacious bunch I’ve seen in 25 years," Bo said. Mostly the tenacity was visited on Gerald, who, shot with cortisone to relieve an aching tendon in his left leg, made so many Wolverines look so very bad in the first half it seemed nothing could stop him short of Congressional intervention.

But gradually Michigan picked up the tempo. And the more the Wolverines stunted and blitzed, the more they seemed to guess correctly. "And the closer we got to their goal," said an admiring Gerald, "the more intense they got." His big runs ultimately were neutralized by 46 yards in losses.

The Michigan offense, however, was slower getting out of bed. The Wolverines ran five plays in the first quarter for a net of six yards. But after so miserable a start Leach began making broader use of men in motion, forcing Ohio State off balance with commitments in the secondary it did not necessarily want to make. Down 3-0, the Wolverines got possession after an exchange of punts late in the second quarter and from the Ohio State 46 started their first scoring drive. In six rushes they were at the 30, then Leach lofted a floater of a third-down pass to Tailback Roosevelt Smith, who ran to the eight. Three plays later Smith slipped in behind Right Guard Gerry Szara for the touchdown.

On the first Ohio State play of the second half Middle Guard Steve Graves jarred the ball loose from Springs and Simpkins recovered it at the Buckeye 20. Leach sent Wide Receiver Rick White in motion to the right, faked inside and optioned left, cutting in behind a hesitating Buckeye linebacker wary for the pitch, and zipped 11 yards to the nine. Two runs by Russell Davis netted seven more yards. Then Leach took the snap at the two, faked inside to the fullback, spun around Tight End Mark Schmerge’s block and raced to the goal. Linebacker Tom Cousineau brought him down before the goal line, but Leach, with arms outstretched, managed to get the ball across for the score.

So now Bo – and all those wonderfully tenacious guys who indemnified Schembechler’s promise that he’d beat Woody – gets to go to the Rose Bowl for the second time in a row, the first time Michigan has done so.

Woody, meanwhile, meets Bear Bryant and second-ranked Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, curmudgeon-to-curmudgeon. After the loss, Hayes sat feeling blue and sorry for himself in the Buckeye locker room and said he really didn’t give a damn about any bowl and wouldn’t care to go to one, "though I might get over it." He got over it. After all, Bryant is the only coach living who has more victories than Hayes and might be the only one who is better known.

Even with all the interesting things Hayes does to get attention, he might not be as roundly, uh, regarded in Michigan as he has tried to be. A Battle Creek newspaper took a street poll before the game, trying to find out if people really did hate Woody. Twelve of the 18 sampled did not know who he was. One thought he was running for mayor. Nobody said he hated Woody.

Now if you were poor old Woody, wouldn’t that make you mad?