BATON ROUGE, La. — The crowd, LSU's fourth largest ever, hardly knew how to react. Some fans cheered when a blocked field goal in the final seconds saved a 13-13 tie with Ohio State. Others were disconsolate, staring at the scoreboard.
The LSU players were similarly divided about the outcome. A couple of them were seen on their backs, kicking their feet into the air with joy. Others limped off the field, their heads bowed, thinking of all the missed opportunities, their high ranking (No. 4) shot to pieces.
It was as LSU tailback Harvey Williams said, somewhat brightly at first, "We're still undefeated." Then, frowning, he added: "But we didn't win the game either."
Hardly anybody deserved to win the game. LSU, despite all its firepower, kept shooting itself in the foot. The Tigers (3-0-1) got to the Ohio State eight-yard line in the final two minutes. Then Tommy Hodson forced a pass to Wendell Davis, a ball that Buckeye Greg Rogan caught and returned 33 yards.
"I know what you're all wondering, what we were doing out there," LSU Coach Mike Archer said. "We were playing to win. We'll never play to tie as long as I'm coach here. We will always go for the touchdown."
LSU did and got nothing except bad field position, although a field goal would have won the game, as it turned out.
Ohio State (2-0-1), which set up scores with a halfback pass (Vince Workman to Everett Ross for 25 yards) and a fake field goal (Scott Powell to George Cooper for 11), responded by returning to its conservative ways and faltering at midfield in the final minute.
Incredibly, the Buckeyes got another chance after Tom Tupa pinned the Tigers on the two-yard-line with a 56-yard punt and Rogan again intercepted a Hodson pass.
But some slow spotting by officials after the Buckeyes ran their first play forced them to go for a 47-yard field goal on their second, with just five seconds remaining.
Ohio State Coach Earle Bruce was furious that so much time had elapsed between plays. Later he softened. "I'm not going to say anything about the officiating," he said evenly. "Why complain? They're seven nice gentleman from the South."
Still, there was time for the field goal--five seconds and 47 yards remaining until an Ohio State upset victory. But LSU's Karl Dunbar nicked the ball in flight and it fluttered like a shot mallard, well short of the end zone.
"We will take a tie," Dunbar assured. He was one of the few people in Tiger Stadium who celebrated afterward, his feet in the air.
This was probably the conclusion, unsatisfying as it was, that everybody earned. It was not a crisply played football game.
LSU's Hodson was clearly off most of the game, even though he passed for 267 yards. "I wasn't sharp to anybody."
Ohio State's Tupa, who passed for 92, couldn't do anything exciting but punt. There seemed to be a lot of three-yard passes.
Although Workman ripped off some clever runs for the Buckeyes, the Ohio State offense all too often resembled the familiar locomotion of Woody Hayes.
--Workman's halfback pass in the first quarter that set up one of two Matt Frantz field goals.
--Powell's throwing on a fake field goal in the fourth quarter, which LSU players said they read immediately, to set up a Tupa touchdown pass to Jay Koch.
The latter was an obviously botched coverage. Even as Tupa was calling signals, safety Greg Jackson was seen barking at linebacker Darren Malbrough. "I was trying to communicate," Jackson explained, "about picking up the tight end." He failed. Koch stood alone in the end zone for the pass.
LSU was not doing much better. With sophomore Hodson hitting on passes of 30 and 24 yards, the Tigers drove easily for a touchdown on their first possession. But that remained their offensive highlight as the team settled for two field goals by David Browndyke thereafter. Hodson threw two interceptions and backup Mickey Guidry one.
Sophomore Williams, who said earlier in the season that he considers himself the "the best in the Southeastern Conference," could break off no run longer than 12 yards, getting only 55 for the day. He had been averaging 9.7 yards a carry, more than 100 a game.
He blamed this inability to run free on Ohio State's Chris Spielman, a linebacker he earlier had said probably wasn't even as good as the ones he practices against.
"He's good," he said finally. "He's just not as big as I thought he'd be."
Archer, the youngest major-college coach at 34, thought he'd turn 40 before the day was over. "I could sense the momentum changing in the second half," he admitted. And it was the Ohio State defense that was changing it. "They're every bit as good as people say, and Spielman is every bit as good as people talk about him."
With both defenses forcing the play, it was inevitable that mistakes would decide the game. Hodson, who is a thrilling passer most of the time, probably should have fired the ball into the stands rather than force it to a tightly defended Davis.
"Maybe you'd like to do that," Archer agreed, "but he pulls the trigger and he's doing it pretty well for us.'
With experience he will probably do it better, and so will the rest of LSU. They start only four seniors on offense, five on defense. For most of them, Ohio State was LSU's first real opponent.
"It's not like Cal State Fullerton or Rice," Williams agreed, referring to two of LSU's overmatched opponents earlier in the season. "Still, we showed everybody up north we can play football down here in the SEC."