There has been a marked change in the football philosophy at Ohio State. Although most players and coaches and others associated with the school don't want to talk much about the differences between former Coach Woody Hayes and his successor, Earle Bruce, "because it wouldn't be fair," one characteristic of the new Buckeyes is obvious. They have replaced total predictability and brute force with a little sophistication and finesse, and that change could carry them all the way to a national championship.
Bruce is calling the shots, but the man who is making it click for the 9-0 Buckeyes is sophomore quarterback Art Schlichter (pronounced Sleestur), who already has his followers mumbling "Heisman," and that isn't wishful thinking. Schlichter is perhaps the best all-around quarterback in college football.
There are two basic types of college quarterback: the drop-back passers like Mark Hermann of Purdue, Paul McDonald of Southern Cal and Marc Wilson of BYU, and the runoption quarterbacks like Donnie Little of Texas, Kevin Scanlon of Arkansas and Steadman Shealy of Alabama.
In between is that rare quarterback who has the arm and ability to read defenses needed by a drop-back passer and the legs and durability to be a runner. Schlichter is that rare type.
He was something of a flop as a freshman last year, through no fault of his own, but this season he has blossomed into a young Terry Bradshaw, the man whose style Schlichter's most resembles.
Hayes survived for decades with his three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense because the Buckeyes were just bigger and stronger than most of their opponents.
When he finally realized that he had to throw the ball if he wanted his team to have a real chance for a national championship, Hayes went out and recruited Schlichter, the best passer he could find.
Schlichter was a hot-shot, do-everything 12-letter player at Miami Trace High School in Bloomingburg, Ohio. He threw 46 touchdown passes in high school.
Schlichter was brought in and moved ahead of two-year starter Rod Gerald, a running quarterback, and told, "Do it."
Schlichter threw five interceptions in his first college game and 21 for the season, and the Buckeye record was 7-4-1, their worst season since 1971.
The problem was that there was no sophistication in the passing attack. Hayes felt that since he had a great throwing quarterback, all he had to do was send his receivers out and Schlichter would get the ball to them.
Not even Schlichter was that good. Because he is such a gifted athlete, Schlichter nevertheless set an Ohio State single-season total-offense record last year with 1,840 yards -- 1,250 passing and 590 rushing -- but it was hard on him.
"There is always pressure being the quarterback at Ohio State," he said, "and I felt it. It was rough, but I learned a lot from the experience."
When Bruce replaced Hayes at the end of last season, he gave the passing game an injection of sophistication. The result: The Buckeyes are undefeated and Schlichter is the fifth-leading passer in the nation, completing 53.2 percent of his throws for 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns, with only four interceptions.
"We're using the pass differently than we did last year," Schlichter said, "We'll throw on first down or anytime now. It's not just a go-knock-'em-down offense anymore. We can finesse some people now. We're using the pass as a weapon and not just when we have to. A lot of the interceptions I threw last year were because people knew when I was going to throw and here I was going to throw it.
"That's just not the case anymore. Our passing attack has gone up a few levels. We have some checkoffs and some plays where there are four or five people out on patterns."
Bruce calls the plays from the sideline, but is not against letting Schlichter free-lance.
"When you've got a kid who can do things Art can do, you have to let him do them," Bruce said.
The Buckeyes run a lot of dropback and pro-type play action passes. Schlichter gets back and sets up so quickly, and has such a good offensive line, that he is seldom pressured into throwing before he is ready.
When Bruce wants him to, Schlichter runs the option offense like he born to the job, and, at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, is as big and strong as most tailbacks. He has run for eight touchdowns so far this season.
But it is as a passer that Schlichter is at his best.
Like Bradshaw and Roger Staubach and all good NFL quarterbacks, Schlichter has more than one way to deliver the ball to a receiver. He can rifle it 40 yards on a line, dump it softly over a linebacker's head or just rare back and let it go 75 yards downfield, all with equal ease. He can also go to his left and accurately throw back to his right, one of the most difficult things for a right-handed quarterback to do.
Schlichter says that he doesn't concentrate on just one pass receiver, either, but instead sees the entire field and recognizes situation. He reads defenses so well that many of Ohio State's pass patterns call for a receiver to make adjustments as he is running the pattern.
"I can break a pattern most any time and Art is quick enough and smart enough to read it and still get the ball there," said wide receiver Doug Donley, who caught five passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns in the Buckeyes' 42-0 romp over Michigan State two weeks ago.
"I feel good and relaxed out there and in command," Schlichter said. "I have great people around me and I'm a year older, a year smarter and year more confident."
The Buckeyes are two games away from a perfect season and a Rose Bowl berth and a real shot at the national title.
They play Iowa today, then comes the showdown with Michigan in Ann Arbor Nov. 17.
Ohio State probably is the hottest team in the nation right now, having won its last four games by a cumulative score of 189-13. It has totaled more than 500 yards in total offense in each of the games.
"I'm not out to brag or anything," Schlichter said, "but I believe in myself, that I can get the job done and lead the team to victory."