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Internal problems hurting Buckeyes

The Associated Press

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.

Tuesday, November 09, 1999

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. On Saturday, they host 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) where the Buckeyes are 0-5 under head coach John Cooper.

No one knows for certain why a team that started the year with title aspirations is now churning just to win more games than it loses.

”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’ve been saying all throughout the season that it’s going to get better, that we’re going to have better games. But we still haven’t put it together. We still haven’t played that perfect game that we’ve been waiting for.”

In the wake of an Saturday’s 23-7 loss at Michigan State – in which the Buckeyes mustered all of 79 total yards and four first downs – Cooper said he doesn’t believe his players are blaming each other.

”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 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. He was wondering why I wasn’t performing up to my abilities.”

-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.

”People are getting frustrated,” Stultz said. ”Sometimes when they think they’re not at fault, obviously they’re going to point fingers. But sometimes you’ve got to look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘Did I do everything in my power to help this team win games?’ That’s what it boils down to.”

Ohio State has had little disension 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.