Jan. 5, 2007
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) - Half a century later, Ohio State football still can't seem to shake the label "three yards and a cloud of dust."
Despite producing some of the fastest players in the NFL, and even though the Buckeyes have passed for more yards than they've run for in nine of the past 10 years, those seven words continue to be forever linked with the program.
So when top-ranked Ohio State takes on No. 2 Florida on Monday night in the national championship game, in the minds of many it will be a race between tractors and Porsches.
"Don't get me wrong. They definitely can run," said a rankled Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith. "But the way it's been portrayed is like, I guess, we've been winning our games by walking and jogging. It's like our guys haven't been running."
It's not just the general public that thinks that way.
"They haven't seen people like us, guys down here in the South who move as well as we do and are as fast and athletic as we are," Florida defensive end Jarvis Moss said. "They'll get a pretty good taste of it on the 8th. You can't really simulate our team speed and athleticism (in practice). Hopefully, we'll catch them by surprise and shock them."
There is no question that the Gators - and most of the teams in the Southeastern Conference - are flush with sprinters. But, at least in Big Ten country, Ohio State is considered to have skill-position players who can cover ground as quickly as any in the nation.
Pro coaches don't think of the Buckeyes as all brawn and no wheels. Cris Carter? He was from Ohio State. Same for running back Eddie George, wideouts Joey Galloway, Santonio Holmes, Michael Jenkins, David Boston and Terry Glenn, along with defensive backs Shawn Springs, Antoine Winfield, Ahmed Plummer, Nate Clements, Mike Doss, Donnie Nickey, Chris Gamble, Will Allen and Donte Whitner - all of whom were high draft picks within the past dozen years.
The whole "cloud of dust" motto stemmed from the regime of Woody Hayes (1951-78). Hayes once philosophized that "only three things can happen when you pass - and two of them are bad."
But times have changed - a lot.
After Hayes was fired for punching a Clemson player at the 1978 Gator Bowl, it took a few years to modernize the outdated, run-first-and-pass-only-when-necessary offense.
In 16 of the last 22 years, the Buckeyes have passed for more yards than they've run for. This season they've thrown for 2,756 and rushed for 2,161.
Does that sound like an offense built for plowhorses instead of thoroughbreds?
It's only when the Buckeyes leave the region that they face all the questions about whether they can "keep up."
"There was a lot of ignorance before I came here," said Ohio State strong safety Brandon Mitchell, born and raised in Atlanta, in the heart of SEC territory. "Everyone thinks it's three yards and a cloud of dust here. People were asking me, 'Why would you go there? You're just going to have a hundred tackles (a year). Nobody throws the ball there!"'
The Buckeyes used to rely almost exclusively on homegrown talent, but now have recruiting tentacles stretched across the country. This year's squad has 14 players from three states (Florida, California, Georgia) renowned for producing fast players.
"Everybody out there has speed," said Florida wide receiver Jamele Cornelius. "That's kind of a misconception people have nowadays because it used to be that way in the past. But (with) recruits not being afraid to go up north and out west from down south, there's not that big of a difference."
Ohio State also has put extra emphasis on speed when recruiting within its own state, with Buckeye-born receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez among the fastest players in college football.
So it's highly unlikely Ohio State will be surprised by the speed they'll see in the title game.
"You're going to see a whole bunch of fast guys on this field Monday night," OSU coach Jim Tressel said Friday at University of Phoenix Stadium. "It will be interesting to see the matchup. We don't worry about people's opinions, because we have to form people's opinions on Monday night."