Tuesday, November 09, 1999

Buckeyes' nerves fraying

Cooper denies team is at breaking point

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State's Buckeyes are finding it difficult to point toward Saturday's home finale against Illinois at the same time they're pointing fingers at each other.

        Despite reports of schisms on the team and confrontations on the sidelines and in the locker room after Saturday's 23-7 loss at Michigan State, coach John Cooper said he doesn't believe his players are blaming each other after the Buckeyes' fourth loss of the season.

        “I haven't seen any signs of it,” he said Monday. “I haven't seen any signs of people not working hard in practice. I'm sure there are some of them upset with the kind of year they're having.”

        There appear to be lots of examples of a team at the breaking point.

        • Linebacker Tim Cheatwood was suspended Monday. Ohio State spokesman Gerry Emig said the sophomore was suspended by Cooper for “conduct during the game last week.” The suspension, which apparently didn't have anything to do with Cheatwood's conduct on the field, includes all practices and Saturday's game.

        • In the second quarter, wide receiver Ken-Yon Rambo dropped a sure touchdown pass. When fullback and co-captain Matt Keller ran downfield to try to encourage him with a pat on the back, Rambo pushed Keller's arm away.

        • Dan Stultz, the team's kicker and punter, confirmed Monday that he got into a verbal exchange on the sideline with Cooper.

        “He just questioned if I was competing,” said Stultz, who punted 10 times in the swirling winds for an average of 32.9 yards. “He said it was not like me to be hitting the ball like I was. It was the frustration of Coach Cooper at the time.”

        • And Cooper brought up another example.

        “I'm sure there are some people who think they should be playing,” Cooper said. “One kid on Saturday didn't play because he sat back on the bench and pouted. If you take that kind of attitude, I don't want you.”

        Cooper said he wouldn't disclose who the player was.

        Ohio State has had little dissension on the team in recent years. Then again, the Buckeyes have finished No.2 in the polls in two of the last three seasons.

        “When you lose four ballgames, you're not going to have the same kind of unity and camaraderie,” Cooper said.

        Seldom has Ohio State had to deal with a worse performance on offense than against Michigan State. The Buckeyes had three first downs on their first possession — and only one more the rest of the day. They netted zero rushing yards on 22 attempts. Not since 1964 has Ohio State done worse at running the ball.

        The Buckeyes (6-4, 3-3 Big Ten) need to win one more game to assure a winning record and qualify for a second-tier bowl. After playing host to Illinois (5-4, 2-4), which also needs a win to meet the over-.500 bowl standard, Ohio State ends the regular season at 16th-ranked Michigan (7-2, 4-2). The Buckeyes are 0-5 under Cooper in Ann Arbor.

        “As a competitor, you can deal with losing but it's harder to deal with losing when you know the team just didn't give its best effort or its best effort didn't come out on the field,” co-captain and cornerback Ahmed Plummer said. “That's the hardest part. We still haven't played that perfect game that we've been waiting for.”


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