15 yards and cloud of dust

Sunday, November 1, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The West Coast offense has surfaced on the East Bank of the Olentangy. Is nothing sacred?

The tailback is a decoy at Ohio State this season. A safety valve. An afterthought. The Buckeyes are airing it out as never before, passing to set up the pass, establishing the run mainly to give their receivers some rest.

Woody Hayes would have hated it. Except, of course, for the results.

Saturday's 38-7 stampede over Indiana improved the Buckeyes' unblemished record to 8-0, and should have shaken some sense into those silly people who concocted the Bowl Championship Series selection process. The nation's No. 1 team (at least according to the traditional polls) has yet to win by fewer than 17 points, and is able to reinvent itself each week depending on which brand of Buckeye poison its opponent picks.

Indiana coach Cam Cameron chose to crowd the line of scrimmage and challenge OSU quarterback Joe Germaine to complete passes. This was much the same strategic folly that underpinned the Maginot Line.

"It seems like everyone, including ourselves, is setting up to stop the running game," said OSU coach John Cooper. "There were some holes in the secondary, and when you're having a good day throwing it and protecting (the passer) like we were, we had to take advantage of it."

Germaine completed 31 of 45 pass attempts against the Hoosiers, for 351 yards and three touchdowns. It was the fourth straight game he had exceeded 300 yards passing, a feat last accomplished at Ohio State by, well, no one. Cooper acknowledged that he kept Germaine in the game well into the fourth quarter for the sake of promoting his Heisman Trophy possibilities.

Germaine remains a longshot in that venerable popularity contest, yet it shows how far Buckeye philosophy has evolved that the quarterback is now the focus of the football team rather than the belly series. Once renowned for its fundamentals, Ohio State is now famous for finesse.

"It's the same old 15 yards and a cloud of dust," joked OSU spokesman Steve Snapp.

Only 25 years ago, near the nadir of Hayes' narrow-mindedness, Fred Pagac led the Buckeyes with nine catches over an entire season. Saturday, Dee Miller caught eight passes in the first half alone, and David Boston caught eight in the second half. In the whole history of Ohio State football, only two receivers have gained as many as 1,000 yards in a single season, but Miller and Boston might both do it this year.

"We knew that these guys were game-breakers," said Indiana linebacker Jabar Robinson. "And that these guys could open up the game. They did it today."

Boston scored the Buckeyes' first touchdown with a 70-yard punt return, and later scored twice on short passes from Germaine. Miller did not reach the end zone, but gained 159 yards on 11 grabs.

Ohio State's games last longer now with all the passing, but they're far more entertaining than off-tackle ad nauseum. Presumably, the added dimension should add to the difficulty of beating the Buckeyes.

"No longer are you going to win the game on three yards and a cloud of dust," Miller said Saturday. "You have to be versatile."

Last year, Cooper tried too hard to achieve offensive balance, juggling Germaine and the run-oriented Stanley Jackson in a quarterback timeshare that seemed to be more about politics than production. This year, the job is clearly Germaine's, and Ohio State's balance has been breathtaking. The Buckeyes ranked 14th nationally in passing before Saturday's game, and 18th in rushing.

Weapons? The Buckeyes are armed to the teeth with talent, and Germaine's spirals are so tight you could floss with them.

"It (the offense) is working really good right now," said tailback Michael Wiley. "A lot of teams are trying to put people "in the box' to stop the run. They should be covering our passing game, because our passing game is killing people right now."

Wiley is thinking wishfully, and wistfully. He is old enough to remember when Ohio State liked to run the football.