November 6, 1998
COLUMBUS, Ohio –
All The Way To The Top
by Steve Greenberg and Larry Zelina
“Ohio State ’68: All the Way to the Top” will be released in mid-September. Reserve your copy now by calling 1-800-327-5557.
November 2, 1968
Ohio State 25, Michigan State 20
Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
It took defensive end Dave Whitfield’s second fumble recovery of the fourth quarter to ensure the Run for the Roses would not end face-first on a brick wall.
As Michigan State quarterback Bill Triplett was looking for a receiver, Whitfield’s running mate at defensive end, Mark Debevc, came barreling in to crush the Spartans’ passer and force the fumble.
Remaining true to their “We’re Just Keeping Things Interesting” script, the Buckeyes stormed out to a 19-7 halftime lead only to have the visitors close to within five points at 19-14.
Coach Woody Hayes’ game plan had the Spartans reeling in the first half. Hayes eschewed his normal strategy, preferring to script the plays and again have the offense run what the Buffalo Bills would popularize in the 1980s, the No-Huddle Offense. He also ordered passing plays on-could it be?-first down.
“We have been running on first down, and they knew it,” Hayes said. “We also believed their defense against running was better than their pass defense, and still I believe it was.”
Before Whitfield would put the fire out, quarterback Ron Maciejowski, coming in for Rex Kern, who was sent to the bench with a horrible ankle sprain, took command once more to help OSU keep Pasadena in its sights. Mace, who had logged just twenty minutes of previous game experience, still managed to chalk up another game-clinching scoring drive; he capped it by calling his own number for a 2-yard run into the end zone.
As had been the case in previous weeks, the defense all but saved the day-and possibly the season-for Ohio State. The Buckeye defenders pounced on four Michigan State fumbles and picked off three Spartan passes. In a wild and woolly fourth quarter, OSU brought down MSU ball carriers for losses six times (and totaled 69 yards in losses for the game), and Doug Adams got in on the fumble-recovery party with a key pickup early in the fourth quarter just as MSU had crossed midfield and was threatening to effect a sustained drive.
Over on offense, Maciejowski had help from Larry Zelina (seven carries for 63 yards, two receptions for 48), Leo Hayden (10 carries for 48 yards) and Bruce Jankowski (eight receptions for 88 yards and one TD). Before departing, Kern was 9-of-12 passing for 138 yards and a 14-yard scoring pass to Jankowski.
“Larry Zelina was our best back today,” Hayes said. “He made some real big plays for us.”
Maciejowski also had help from the bench, his coach said.
“We called most of his plays. It would not be fair to him if we didn’t,” Hayes said. “Kern called all of his plays, usually at the line of scrimmage, although it’s difficult with about 85,000 people in the stadium and 75,000 of them are rooting for you.”
Still and all, it wasn’t until Whitfield made the last of his recoveries that the Buckeyes and their fans could relax. Then, and only then, could they begin to ponder the fact that their team was riding the crest of a ten-game unbeaten string which began the previous fall against, oddly enough, Michigan State at East Lansing with a 21-7 conquest.
“Once again, we beat ourselves,” MSU coach Duffy Daugherty said of his team, which the week before had upset Notre Dame, 21-17.
“You can’t turn the ball over that often. When you turn the ball over seven times to a team as good as Ohio State, it’s a wonder if you don’t get beat worse than that.”
Hayes said Kern would be held out of the upcoming game at Wisconsin.
Was a quarterback controversy on the horizon?
Zelina: That was a tough ball game.
Polaski: You’ve gotta remember, they were only two years removed from being national champs, and they pounded Notre Dame and had a lot of good players still left from that team.
Sensibaugh: If you check the scores, the week before Michigan State had really beaten Notre Dame. Everybody (the rest of the season) we played was coming off big wins. Michigan State was. Then Iowa; (Ed) Podolak had set a record the week before he played us with over three hundred yards. It seemed like everybody was coming off a huge game when they got to us. (Michigan’s Ron) Johnson had a huge game (347 yards) before they played us.
Otis: What I remember about this game, they came out and played a pretty bold game against us. They came with virtually an eleven-man line against us which didn’t do any good for me, obviously. And they had just beaten Notre Dame the week before. So they were sky high and I remember this was another turning point for us because we would have to rely on more than just the running game to be successful. And it seemed like they were going to start using you a little bit more. So with them jamming the line of scrimmage they had to give up something, and they’re going to give up the passing. That is, if we can get someone off the line of scrimmage. … And I was a little disappointed in myself this game.
Zelina: Well, there wasn’t much you could do about it. They jammed it up.
Otis: Yeah, they jammed it up, but you caught a couple big passes and Bruce Jankowski made some real big catches, one of them made the cover of Sports Illustrated. And Rex got hurt again and Mace came in and saved the game for us again with his leadership.
Zelina: As I recall, they had a man in every gap and dared us to run.
Otis: See, that’s when the QBs can start putting it in and then try to get outside. You probably ran the reverse in that game, didn’t you?
Zelina: Yeah, we ran a couple inside reverses and then we ran the 58 and 59 where we faked the dive to you and I came around from the wingback position and we’d option on the outside. The ground game wasn’t real effective that day. When Woody finally decided to throw the ball, it did help us.
Otis: Woody had a tendency of being pretty stubborn about trying something other than the running game.
Zelina: Oh, you think so? … Wagon, you guys got ready for Triplett, because he was the option quarterback. Do you guys (on defense) remember doing anything special for Michigan State?
Stillwagon: I remember Debevc and Whitfield were supposed to tackle Triplett. … (Points to Zelina:) Didn’t you knock Saul out of that game?
Zelina: That was the next year, our junior year.
Stillwagon: Because I’m playing against his brother-they had a really big team, didn’t they? …
Zelina: Yeah. No. You’re right. It was that game, because we were running the option and I came back and I cracked on his brother …
Stillwagon: He was a linebacker …
Nick Roman: One was a linebacker and the other was a guard or something …
Stillwagon: Rich and Ron.
Zelina: You’re right. I tore his knee up on that. I didn’t mean to. I just threw …
Nick Roman: You threw low in practice, too, you SOB.
Zelina: Our junior year, one punt I caught and his brother just came down and nailed me. He got up and he said, “The name is Saul.” …
Stillwagon: And you said, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt your brother.” …
Zelina: So the next punt is the one I took back seventy-three yards for a touchdown, and I said, “The name is freakin’ Zelina.” … They were a tough team, though (in 1968). They had a tailback by the name of Love that was a heck of a running back.
Stillwagon: The only thing I remember about Michigan State was that (MSU coach) Duffy Daugherty came down before the game … and he says, “How’re you doing, Jim?” And Woody comes over, and he says (to Daugherty), “What the heck are you doing down here? (Then, to Stillwagon:) “Don’t listen to this guy! He’s just trying to soften you up. (Then, to Daugherty:) “You get back up that field or I’m gonna kick your butt!”
Tatum: They had a couple big plays over the middle and they scored on us, but I remember we kind of wore them down and the defensive line played a good game that day. They were harassing Triplett and I remember he got so nervous one time because we had been blitzing him that he took a snap and the ball went straight up in the air and I think Debevc recovered it. I think he was just getting worn out from the blitzes we were throwing at him and he saw it coming and tried to pull away from the center too quick and the ball just went straight up in the air.
Zelina: Michigan State was a good team.
Tatum: Yeah, they had some horses.
Zelina: I think another thing we saw here (on the video tape) was the versatility of the offense, because Jankoswki had a big game this game with his receptions. And on defense, too, it seems as if everybody’s getting interceptions. Rads (Mike Radtke) had a big game. Radtke had a lot of big plays.
Nick Roman: (Debevc) was hurt. Rads was Sports Illustrated’s player of the week. He had, like, four sacks and an interception. … You guys were playing them, and I was operated on October 28.
Donovan: They were all bigger than me.
Zelina: I will say that we probably had the finest set of pulling guards in the Big Ten with (Tom) Backhus and (Alan) Jack and Phil (Strickland) and Brian. It was …
Stillwagon: They were quick.
Zelina: It was phenomenal. They were 205, 207, 210 (pounds), but they could all run. They could ALL run. Can’t run now, can we Brian?
Donovan: Not much.
Zelina: We pulled against Michigan State, and it was awesome. Just awesome.
Schmidlin: In talking about the guards, I was at Buffalo (of the American Football League) and they needed somebody to run offensive guard (in practice). I went in and did several plays, and at that point the coach just shook his head and said, “It must have been nice to be Ohio State.” Just because I was doing the job well enough. He wondered how I got on defense when I was doing that well on offense. (The players instantly begin imitating a dump truck shifting gears, sort of like the noises Schmidlin purportedly made when he played.)
Zelina: There’s that old truck again! … Ski, remember anything about that interception?
Polaski: Just that I thought Baugh was gonna catch it, and then he didn’t …
Nick Roman: Tip drill!
Polaski: … Yeah, that was something that we did everyday in practice. Holtz was always out there during it all, telling us, “Boys, I’ve got a golden arm. I can throw all day.
Nick Roman: He had a golden tongue, too.
Zelina: Isn’t he amazing?
Polaski: It was fun.
Michigan State 0 7 13 0 – 20 Ohio State 7 12 6 0 – 25
OSU – Otis, 1-yard run (Roman kick). OSU – Jankowski, 14-yard pass from Kern (kick failed). MSU – Triplett, 1-yard run (Boyce kick). OSU – Otis, 3-yard run (pass failed). MSU – Foreman, 13-yard pass from Triplett (Boyce kick). OSU – Maciejowski, 2-yard run (pass failed). MSU – Love, 1-yard run (pass failed). Attendance – 84,859
First downs 18 24 Rushing 59-134 54-214 Passing 9-15-137-3 16-26-215-1 Total yards 271 429 Punts-avg. 5-38.6 7-37.2 Punt returns 4-60 3-17 Kickoff returns 5-73 5-58 Int. returns 1-7 3-36 Fumbles-lost 5-4 2-1 Penalties-yards 4-26 7-71