Ohio State fans continue strong affiliation toward Woody

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 16, 2003

Like an Elvis fan club, there is a faction of Ohio State fans that has never quite accepted the fact that its leader is no longer living.

Woody Hayes, the ultraconservative and ultrasuccessful Buckeyes coach, died in 1987. His converts choose to remember his 205 victories and 13 Big Ten titles and not that he left the job in shame, fired after punching Clemson linebacker Charlie Bauman in the 1978 Gator Bowl.

The Hayesites wear black ballcaps with a red 'O' on them, just like Woody wore. They dress in shirt-sleeve white shirts and narrow ties - even in the depths of winter - just as Woody did. And they are committed to Woody's hatred of the forward pass and love for a bruising running game.

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They were apoplectic about the words coming out of the mouth of current Ohio State coach Jim Tressel on Tuesday.

''We felt like if we could have established the pass, that we were going to have a chance to then establish the run,'' Tressel said in the wake of a 17-10 loss at Wisconsin on Saturday that snapped Ohio State's 19-game winning streak.

So ineffective is the Buckeyes' running game that they have resorted to throwing the ball first in hopes it might open things up for runners who are averaging just 118 yards a game - 87th of the 117 Division I-A teams in the country.

Remember Hayes' ''3 yards and a cloud of dust''? The Buckeyes are averaging a puny 3.2 yards per carry this season.

The Hayesites grumble and moan on talk radio about suspended tailback Maurice Clarett, banished for accepting improper benefits and then lying about it to investigators. Yet with almost the identical offensive line last season, Clarett averaged 113 yards a game.

Clarett had 1,237 yards rushing last year. At his current pace, leading rusher Maurice Hall - who shares only a first name with Clarett - will total 574 yards this season. Only twice in the last 31 years has Ohio State's top back had fewer than 600 yards. Each time the head coach was fired - Hayes in 1978 and Earle Bruce in 1987.

Tressel is as confused as anyone.

Asked point-blank what is wrong with the running game, Tressel pinned the problems on injuries, missed assignments and great defense. Ultimately he admitted, in his own brand of coachspeak, that he has no idea what the future holds for his ground-up ground game.

''Nowhere do I think that I've got all the answers as to what we will be,'' he said.

NO HEISMAN HELP: Minnesota running back Marion Barber III can't count on his coach for a boost in his Heisman candidacy.

After missing most of last season with a hamstring injury, Barber set a single-season school record with his 14th rushing TD in last Friday's loss to Michigan.

Barber, who also had a career-high 197 yards rushing, has 740 yards rushing this season and four 100-yard performances in the Gophers' ''tailback by committee'' backfield.

Yet when a reporter asked coach Glen Mason if Barber deserves to be mentioned in Heisman discussions, he quickly brushed off the question.

''I don't worry about that,'' Mason said. ''He gets what he deserves. That's become a publicity campaign, both you and I know that.

''He deserves to be considered a pretty good running back, because that's what he is.''

WIN ONE FOR THE SORGI: Wisconsin quarterback Jim Sorgi is trying to look at the bright side of being choked by Ohio State linebacker Robert Reynolds.

Unable to return to the game after Reynolds' rash attack, Sorgi said several teammates came up to him on the sidelines and assured him they were going to win for him.

''In that sense, it was actually an uplifting event,'' Sorgi said. ''I think the team rallied around me. It kind of angered some of my teammates, to the point where they were willing to fight for me.''

Reynolds apologized to Sorgi and Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez, both on the phone and publicly. Reynolds will practice with the No. 8 Buckeyes this week but has been suspended for the game against No. 9 Iowa.

Sorgi, sore throat and all, is expected to be back for the 14th-ranked Badgers' game at home against No. 13 Purdue.

ARTISTIC FREEDOM: Purdue coach Joe Tiller has no rules against body art, but he made it perfectly clear Tuesday, he's not impressed with the growing number of tattoos.

''I offer them all sandpaper if they want to remove it,'' he said. ''What I wonder is what will they think when they're 30 years old. Will it still be cool?''

Tiller said he has seen all kinds of designs and initials. But Tiller does have a preference for the next player to add a tattoo.

''I keep asking them when someone's going to get one that says Joe T. or something,'' he said.

QUICK-HITTERS: Illinois quarterback Jon Beutjer, who has started all seven games, is resting a sore back and will be replaced by either Dustin Ward or Chris Pazan when the Illini play No. 17 Michigan. … Three Big Ten teams (Minnesota, Michigan State and Wisconsin) are bowl eligible and three more (Michigan, Purdue and either Iowa or Ohio State) could join them on Saturday. … Michigan's Lloyd Carr expects a photo finish in the Big Ten: ''When you look at some of the games coming up, and when you see as many teams as there are in this conference that are very good football teams, it's going to be a crazy finish.''