Byars Speaks Up: Buckeyes Rise Up, Knock Off Iowa
When Ohio State’s Buckeyes gathered for their pregame meal Saturday morning, injured running back Keith Byars opened his mouth for some reason other than making room for a fork.
Byars, normally reticent, stunned his teammates with an emotional speech, punctuating it by knocking over a tray of water glasses.
The next crash heard at Ohio Stadium Saturday was Iowa toppling from the No. 1 berth it has held for the last five weeks as the Hawkeyes lost, 22-13.
The defeat also dropped Iowa (7-1 overall) into a first-place tie in the Big Ten standings with Ohio State (also 7-1) at 4-1, a half-game ahead of Michigan and Illinois, both at 3-1-1.
If Ohio State wins its final three games, it will represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl. But considering that their final game is at Michigan, the Buckeyes are looking no farther west than Ann Arbor.
As for the Hawkeyes, their aspirations for an undefeated season and perhaps a national championship were drowned in Saturday’s relentless rain.
“They’re heartbroken,” Iowa Coach Hayden Fry said of his players, “although I alerted them that the odds were against us staying undefeated. It was only a matter of time before something happened.”
The odds against the Hawkeyes were even greater Saturday, considering that they haven’t won in Ohio Stadium since 1959. No team has beaten the Buckeyes here in the last 20 games, the nation’s longest home winning streak.
But the Hawkeyes had overcome the odds before, defeating Michigan State with a touchdown 37 seconds before the game’s end and beating Michigan with a field goal on the game’s last play.
They entered this game on a crusade, wearing ANF (America Needs Farmers) decals on their helmets as a tribute to their state’s beleaguered farmers. But on this afternoon, Iowa needed offense: INO.
For the first time this season, Iowa quarterback Chuck Long couldn’t make anything happen for the Hawkeyes. He entered the game as the nation’s leader in passing efficiency, but it’s difficult to imagine him playing any more inefficiently.
Long completed 17 of 34 passes, but they gained only 169 yards as he couldn’t find his open receivers downfield. He also threw four interceptions and had three other passes dropped by Ohio State defenders. One of his passes was caught by an Iowa offensive tackle, which is illegal.
“I knew it was going to be a penalty,” said 6-4, 275-pound Mike Haight. “But it was the first time I’ve ever gotten my hands on the ball in college, and I was going to run with it.”
On a day such as this, the Hawkeyes were taking anything they could get.
One of Iowa’s wide receivers, Scott Helverson, said Long was “confused and frustrated.”
Long had no argument with that assessment.
“I didn’t play very well,” he said. “I don’t know what happened. The game went by so quickly, I can’t tell you what was going on. I’ll probably be sick when I watch the films.”
Fry supplied Long with a couple of excuses.
The Iowa coach said the 90,467 fans, an Ohio Stadium record, made so much noise that Long was unable to call audibles.
“The crowd noise didn’t bother me at all,” Long said.
Fry also said the rain, a drizzle at the beginning and a downpour by the beginning of the fourth quarter, had an adverse effect on Long.
“We’ve played five games in the rain,” Long said. “That didn’t bother me.”
So what was it that bothered Long?
Could it have been Ohio State’s defense, the defense that allowed Purdue’s Jim Everett 497 yards in passing two weeks ago, the defense that a Columbus Citizen-Journal columnist said Saturday would by lucky to hold Iowa to 1,000 yards?
That started the Buckeyes on a crusade of their own. After the game, Ohio State safety Terry White pulled a copy of the newspaper from his locker and began looking for the columnist. White didn’t look as if he wanted to discuss sentence structure.
Iowa gained 345 yards, its lowest total of the season. Running back Ronnie Harmon accounted for 146, rushing for 127 yards in 26 carries and catching 5 passes for 19 yards, before leaving the game in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury.
“I’m tired of having people criticize our defense,” White said. “People come up to me on the street and ask what’s wrong with the defense. I’m eating lunch, and students ask me what’s wrong with the defense. I knew we were going to come out and play our best game of the year.”
That they did. Not only did the Buckeyes hold the nation’s highest scoring offense, averaging more than 40 points before Saturday, to two touchdowns, the Ohio State defense consistently gave its offense excellent field position.
Three of Iowa’s five turnovers led to 17 points for Ohio State. The Buckeyes scored two more points by blocking an Iowa punt out of the end zone for a safety.
Ohio State’s offense would have had more to show for its efforts if not for two missed field goals. The Buckeyes had only two turnovers, remarkable considering the weather conditions. They have not lost a fumble this season.
This is a more diversified offense than the Buckeyes usually have. Quarterback Jim Karsatos, fifth in the nation in passing efficiency, threw for 151 yards (10 of 17, 2 interceptions). Fullback George Cooper had 104 yards in 17 carries.
Ohio State tailback John Wooldridge had 89 yards in only 8 carries, including a 57-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that gave the Buckeyes a 12-0 lead.
Wooldridge wasn’t supposed to play because of bruised ribs. But he volunteered for action before the game, after it became obvious that Byars wouldn’t be able to play.
Byars, who led the nation in rushing last season, missed the first five games this season with a broken foot, returned for two games and then suffered another foot injury last Saturday against Minnesota.
But no one could say he didn’t contribute to this victory.
“You could feel his emotion,” White said of Byars’ pregame speech. “He said they were coming to our hometown, where he haven’t been beaten in 19 games, and nobody should be able to beat us.”
The water glasses fell, followed shortly thereafter by the Hawkeyes.