Skip to main content
Original Issue


Ohio State's football teams should come with a warning attached:
HEART. They have run this tease before, plowing through
September and October and dangling a Big Ten title, a Rose Bowl
bid and a national championship in front of their fans, only to
snatch the possibilities away in some November failure. The 1993
season began with eight consecutive wins and ended with a
come-from-behind tie at Wisconsin and a 28-0 loss at Michigan
among their final three regular-season games. Last year was
worse: Eleven and 0, one win away from its first Rose Bowl berth
since 1984 (and with that, the chance to play for a piece of No.
1), Ohio State stumbled at Michigan 31-23.

Now the Buckeyes do their autumn dance again, courting
greatness. Last Saturday afternoon in Columbus they didn't just
deal Penn State a 38-7 defeat, coach Joe Paterno's worst loss in
12 years, they scoffed at the Nittany Lions, who came into the
game 5-0 and ranked No. 4 in the nation. "Dominated them, I'd
say," was how Buckeyes junior offensive tackle Orlando Pace put
it. The rout came a week after Ohio State's 29-16 victory at
Notre Dame. In that two-game span the 4-0, No. 2-ranked Buckeyes
have laid out a fearsome arsenal: speed and strength, offense
and defense, the full load. They invite awe, yet also
skepticism. The drumbeats of doubt are never distant, always

More than an hour after Saturday's game, Ohio State junior
All-America cornerback Shawn Springs stood in the southeast
corner of Ohio Stadium, waiting for his roommate, senior
quarterback Stanley Jackson, to finish a radio interview on a
cellular phone. "If I was watching this game on TV today," said
Springs, the 21-year-old son of former Ohio State and Dallas
Cowboys running back Ron Springs, "I would have to think, man,
that Ohio State has got some team." Springs was prompted by a
questioner: "Is that all you would think, Shawn, if you didn't
play for the Buckeyes, if you were completely neutral?"

Springs turned loose a glowing smile. "No," he answered. "I
would also say, 'They'll probably mess up somewhere and lose to
Michigan or somebody before the year is over.'" The smile turned
into a laugh, and when the laugh ran out of gas, Springs looked
at his feet and shook his head repeatedly, resigned to his
team's reputation. It is a long time until November is finished,
and only then will these Buckeyes have earned full approval.

Coach John Cooper sits at the center of this vortex of
disbelief. He has a 69-28-4 record in his nine years at Ohio
State, yet he has left Buckeyes fans feeling dissatisfied;
expectations are hard to meet in places like Columbus and Ann
Arbor and Tuscaloosa, where legends once walked. It is of no
help that Woody Hayes never went 1-6-1 against Michigan, as
Cooper has done. "We won 11 straight last year; how many people
do that?" asks Cooper, who since coming to Ohio State has put
together a 3-1 record against Paterno and a 2-0 mark against Lou
Holtz. With one great recruiting class after another--"We keep
bringing in better players every year," says senior linebacker
Greg Bellisari--Cooper has elevated the Buckeyes into the ranks
of the country's best programs. In the week before last
Saturday's game, Paterno stopped in midsentence while analyzing
his own team and turned instead to Cooper's: "We might be pretty
good," Paterno said, "but Ohio State is very good, as good as
any team we've [ever] played in the Big Ten."

After his team trounced the Nittany Lions, Cooper ran from the
floor of the stadium, serenaded by a long, sustained "Coooooop
..." from the Ohio State student section. He later stood outside
his dressing room, sipping from a can of soda, measuring the
recent past against the present. "You better be able to
persevere in this business," he said. "Last week was my 100th
game as Ohio State coach, which is about 90 more than some
people thought I'd last."

Cooper has often referred to last year's collapse as a rare
opportunity irretrievably lost. Now his team is earning a second
chance, in circumstances eerily similar to those of '95.
Michigan lost on Saturday to Northwestern, as the Wolverines did
a year ago. The defending Big Ten champion Wildcats and the
Buckeyes are atop the conference, as they were for all of last
season. Ohio State does not play Northwestern, as was the case
last year. Should the two teams tie for the Big Ten title, the
conference will award the Rose Bowl bid to the team with the
best overall record. That will be Ohio State if the Buckeyes
remain unbeaten. "We were so close to something special last
year," Cooper said. "We're trying to get back, trying to get
that opportunity again."

There is a subtle difference. Last year's Buckeyes were one of
the most sublimely talented offensive teams of the last two
decades. Tailback Eddie George won the Heisman Trophy and
wideout Terry Glenn the Biletnikoff Award, and both players were
taken in the first round of last April's NFL draft. Tight end
Rickey Dudley was also taken in the first round and quarterback
Bobby Hoying in the third. "We surprised ourselves every week
with the things that happened," says Bellisari. But the defense
was passive and flawed, and its imperfections were laid open
when Michigan's Tim Biakabutuka rushed for 313 yards against it,
a performance that vaulted him into the top half of the first
round of the NFL draft. "Timmy should send a check to the Ohio
State defense for that game," said Springs on Saturday.

Ten of the Buckeyes' defensive starters are back, but this fall
they have been placed in the hands of a new coordinator, 19-year
Ohio State assistant Fred Pagac, who had been in charge of the
team's linebackers. They have been given a more aggressive
defensive system and have been joined by 6'4", 250-pound
true-freshman middle linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer of nearby
Westerville, Ohio. Katzenmoyer is the best of the Buckeyes' many
potent recruits, a ready-made college athlete delivered to
Columbus, no seasoning required. He had nine tackles on Saturday
as the Buckeyes held Penn State to 211 total yards and sophomore
tailback Curtis Enis to 34 yards on 11 carries. "You knew
wherever he went, he would play without any problem," says
Paterno, who also pursued Katzenmoyer. "He's no surprise at all."

The addition of Katzenmoyer allowed Pagac to shift Bellisari to
his more natural outside linebacker spot. Ohio State blitzes
often and relies on Springs and Ty Howard to play man-to-man on
the corners, which they do superbly.

The Ohio State offense, more anonymous than a year ago (its best
known player is Pace, a lineman, no less), seared the Nittany
Lions for 565 yards and showed breathtaking balance; Jackson and
Joe Germaine threw for two touchdowns each, and tailback Pepe
Pearson ran for 141 yards. After Germaine threw a 34-yard
touchdown pass to Dimitrious Stanley (five receptions, 105
yards, two touchdowns) with 6:26 left in the first half, the
Buckeyes led 24-0. At that point Springs looked at the
scoreboard and then at sophomore cornerback Antoine Winfield.
"Twenty-four to nothing? Over Penn State?" he asked, doubting
his eyes. "Are we that good?"

Too soon to tell. Way too soon.

JOHN F. GRIESHOP The Buckeye defense ganged up on Enis, holding him to 34 yards on 11 carries. [Ohio State University players tackling Curtis Enis]