Heisman tradition blocks Pace

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The case for Orlando Pace is slightly loopy, and yet perfectly logical. Pushing a tackle for the Heisman Trophy is an exercise in football folly. Yet Pace probably deserves nothing less.

Eddie George is gone, and Ohio State has not missed the most recent Heisman recipient so much as a chinstrap. In their first two games this fall, the Buckeyes have steamrolled Rice and pummeled Pittsburgh by a composite count of 142-7.

Perhaps Pepe Pearson is every bit George's equal. Perhaps the OSU running back has been enhanced by crummy competition. Or maybe it doesn't matter who carries the ball in Columbus so long as Orlando Pace is the one clearing the way.

''It's tough for him to win the Heisman,'' said Buckeyes offensive coordinator Joe Hollis. ''But as the best player in college football? I'm prejudiced, but I'd vote for him. Who would you trade him for? I don't know that I'd trade him for anyone.''

Orlando Pace stands 6-foot-6, weighs 325 pounds, and is as light on his feet as a frog. Pittsburgh defensive end Jared Miller, a spry 250 pounds, looked like a boy doing battle with a bear Saturday afternoon. He was incapable of overpowering Pace, unable to get around him, and had neglected to bring any firearms onto the field.

''It's comical, and it's kind of amazing,'' said Ohio State quarterback Stanley Jackson, of watching his titanic tackle at work. ''You watch him on film and sometimes I have to ask the guy, 'Are you playing with him?' He looks like sometimes he's just playing with guys, smacking them back and letting them come at him. He's just the best I've ever seen.''

Big man going places

Orlando Pace is the whole offensive line package: size and strength and desire and discipline. And something more. He can move.

''There was a screen pass in the first game where he was 40 yards downfield,'' said Mike Jacobs, the Buckeyes' offensive line coach. ''Some guys can get there and those defensive backs will avoid them, but he's got the ability to break guys down downfield. . .

''The abnormal with him is normal. He kind of spoils you.''

Pace has been a starter at Ohio State since the day he arrived from Sandusky as a freshman, and he has developed into a player who demoralizes those in his path. Dave Kennedy, Ohio State's strength and conditioning coach, says he has seen teammates loaf through drills against Pace in order to conserve energy for a battle they might win.

''They're kind of defeated when they go into it against him,'' Kennedy said. ''After the first couple of times, he just kills their will.''

Pace is so far ahead of his class that he probably should have been promoted to the NFL by now. He chose not to challenge the league policy against drafting sophomores last spring, but is bound to be among the first players selected whenever he turns pro.

''I think Orlando Pace is one of the best tackles in football today,'' Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz said Tuesday. ''I didn't say college football, I said football. He's a dominating blocker, and a great pass blocker.

''Can he take that team and put them on his back? Yes.''

Saturday, his show goes national. Ohio State is to play at Notre Dame, and the Buckeyes' primary point of attack will be Pace's shoulder pads. If he tramples enough aspiring tacklers, Orlando Pace could be a household name by halftime.

''If they don't know about me by now,'' he said, ''they'll probably know against Notre Dame.''

Conceivably, Pace's Heisman campaign could gain impetus against the Irish. More likely, he will simply secure the Outland Trophy and a second Lombardi Award Saturday afternoon.

No lineman has made a meaningful run at the Heisman since Ohio State's John Hicks finished a distant second to Penn State's John Cappelletti in 1973. There's no reason to believe voters are now prepared to take their eyes off the ball to follow the blocking.

Tim Sullivan is an Enquirer columnist.

Published Sept. 25, 1996.