THE 25 GREATEST DRIVES IN OHIO STATE FOOTBALL HISTORY
This past season's come-from-behind win over TBGUN (The Bad Guys Up North for the uninitiated), capped off by an epic, last-minute drive by the Buckeyes got me to thinking. Where would that drive rank among the fabled marches in OSU history? There are many terrific books and videos with various countdowns of Ohio State's greatest games, players and moments. But with Troy Smith and Company's heroics in Ann Arbor last November, I thought I'd take a stab at compiling a list of the great drives that the men of Scarlet and Gray have put together. The dramatic, game-deciding series where your heart was in your throat, where the stars who came through time and time again led the Bucks down the field, and where role players you didn't always see in the headlines chipped in their part or made that one memorable big play that defined their career.
By no means is this an exhaustive list. I've tried to leave no stone unturned in researching, but I'm sure as we go on I'll remember (or be reminded of) a clutch drive that won't make the list. As always, I welcome your feedback as we count em down. We will make our best efforts here at Buckeye 50 to remember one great Ohio State drive weekly, and we should be revealing our Number 1 right around the time fall camp opens. As Casey Kasem would say, And now, on with the countdown
#15- OHIO STATE VS. PITTSBURGH- JANUARY 2, 1984
Ohio State’s 1982 football season had been on the brink of disaster. The Scarlet and Gray were sitting at 2-3 after a 3-game Ohio Stadium losing streak- the first skid of its kind since the Horseshoe’s inaugural 1922 campaign- and even the much maligned 9-3 mark the team had achieved the previous two seasons looked remote. But the Bucks got their act together and rolled off 7 wins to close out ’82, with most everyone in and out of Ohio agreeing that they were one of the top teams in the nation by the time they finished dismantling Brigham Young in the Holiday Bowl. OSU, by all rights, should have been in Pasadena by virtue of their 24-14 win over TBGUN, but the Buckeyes and Iowa were the only two teams in the Big Ten to not play round-robin and Michigan had already wrapped up the conference crown by playing, and winning, the extra league game. It wouldn’t be a problem in 1983 as all Big Ten teams would play everyone else in the conference for the first time ever.
Ohio State, despite losing Tim Spencer, Gary Williams, Marcus Marek, Glen Cobb and Jerome Foster, hoped to carry the momentum from the end of ’82 into the ’83 season. And despite the loss of one non-league game in order to play round-robin in the Big Ten, September would be anything but boring as fans looked forward to a Week 2 trip to Norman to face Oklahoma in a rematch of the bitter ’77 loss in Columbus. After disposing of Oregon 31-6 in the opener, the Bucks fought through the stifling heat of Owen Field to knock off Barry Switzer’s second-ranked Sooners 24-14, with OSU tight end John Frank hauling in a pair of touchdown passes.
Riding a nine-game win streak and perched at #3 in the polls, the Buckeyes traveled to Kinnick Stadium and were promptly upset 20-14 by Iowa, the Hawks’ first win over OSU since 1962. Iowa QB Chuck Long had what would prove to be his one career moment of glory against the Buckeyes with a 73-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter to Dave Moritz to provide the winning margin. OSU got back on track with a 69-18 thumping of Minnesota, but the next week at home against Purdue it took two Garcia Lane punt-return touchdowns (the only time a Buckeye has brought two punts back in the same game) to subdue the Boilers 33-22. In Champaign the following Saturday Ohio State led 13-10 with 1:43 to go, but were unable to get one final first down to kill the clock from the Illini 17. Illinois needed all of 37 seconds to then march 83 yards downfield, with tailback Thomas Rooks taking a pitchout around the right side for 21 yards and the winning touchdown in a 17-13 victory. OSU’s offense got cranked up as Earle Bruce’s squad rolled over Michigan State, Wisconsin, Indiana and Northwestern by an average score of 44-16, but the regular season ended on a sour note with a 24-21 loss in Ann Arbor in a game remembered primarily for the failed “Lachey Right” fumblerooski call and less-than-sterling color commentary from Woody Hayes on the television broadcast. It had been announced prior to the UM game that the winner would play in the Sugar Bowl while the loser would be in the Fiesta Bowl, so for the second time in four years the Bucks headed to Tempe.
The Scarlet and Gray agonized over what could’ve been in 1983. The seniors, who had been through three consecutive 9-3 seasons, now needed a win in the Fiesta Bowl to salvage that record for a fourth straight year. The Bucks were third in the nation in scoring at 34.7 points a game, trailing only top-ranked Nebraska and Brigham Young, but the bulk of the points had come against the Big Ten’s lesser lights. And the injury bug had bitten at the most inopportune times. Tailback Keith Byars had already racked up 98 yards at Iowa when he went out with an injured knee in the second quarter. Quarterback Mike Tomczak went out in the first period at Illinois with a concussion, and although freshman Jim Karsatos had rallied OSU to the lead, the offense hadn’t been able to salt the game away. And up in Michigan fullback Vaughn Broadnax had played sparingly, leaving Keith Byars to futilely try and execute Earle’s imaginative run-up-the-middle offense without his main lead blocker.
Ohio State’s Fiesta Bowl opponent would be the Pittsburgh Panthers, who were 8-2-1 and ranked #15 in the nation, one spot behind the Buckeyes. Pitt had started the 1983 season 2-2, but had fired off six wins in a row before battling archrival Penn State to a 24-24 tie. Second-year coach Foge Fazio had been Pitt’s defensive coordinator from ’79-’81, and in that three-year stretch the Panthers had finished 11-1 each season while ranking 4th, 1st and 1st, respectively, in total defense. Fazio’s ’82 squad had matched Ohio State’s 9-3 mark but had finished third in total defense. Pitt’s ’83 “D” featured future Pro Bowlers Chris Doleman and Bill Maas and had closed at #8 defensively. On offense, John Cummings had come out of fall camp as the heir apparent to Dan Marino at quarterback, but Cummings had suffered a broken collarbone on the last play of Pitt’s opener against Tennessee so the reins were handed to sophomore John Congemi. After a slow start, Congemi finished with 1,599 yards passing, 14 touchdowns and 6 interceptions, including 13 TD’s and only one pick as the Panthers were going 6-0-1 down the stretch.
Buckeye Nation hoped the OSU offense would resemble the balanced attack they had seen most of the season as compared to the predictable, vanilla look of the TBGUN loss. Keith Byars had amassed 1,126 yards on the ground to go with 19 touchdowns, which put him second in the nation in scoring behind Heisman winner Mike Rozier and made him the only unanimous first-team All-Big 10 pick. But quarterback Mike Tomczak was no slouch, having pitched for over 1,700 yards and 12 touchdowns, including (grab onto something, younger Buckeye fans) FORTY-ONE completions to John Frank. Yes, that’s right, TIGHT END John Frank. (FYI- Ohio State tight ends caught 40 passes in 2004 and 2005 combined!) The game would begin rather auspiciously as Frank dropped a pass on OSU’s first play, but he would more than redeem himself later.
The game would be Ohio State’s only one of the ’83 season to be played on grass, and it would be the first meeting between Pitt and OSU since 1954. Buckeye fans who plunked down 21.50 for tickets to Sun Devil Stadium would have to bear unseasonably cold, windy conditions for gameday in Tempe. Those without tickets were facing a local TV blackout until the day before the game when the local NBC station in Phoenix (who would carry the broadcast) teamed up with Citicorp to buy up the last 5,000 tickets, ensuring a sellout so the game would be televised locally.
The Buckeyes shook off John Frank’s first play drop and marched down the field to light the scoreboard first. One of Pittsburgh’s pregame defensive keys was dealing with the versatility of Mike Tomczak, and it was on display on this opening march as the junior quarterback completed three passes, including a big 20-yarder to Thad Jemison, before capping the drive with a three-yard keeper to give OSU a 7-0 lead. The Bucks maintained the lead into the second quarter before Tomczak fumbled a snap from center Joe Dooley. Pitt recovered at their own 43, and Congemi drove the Panthers 57 yards in six plays, capping things off with a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Curtis Wilson to knot the score at 7-7. Keith Byars put the Scarlet and Gray back into the lead with a 1-yard touchdown run, his 20th of the season, and Ohio State took the 14-7 advantage into the locker room at the half. Tomczak had completed 9 of 11 passes for 131 yards in the first half, while the Bucks had rang up 108 yards on the ground. Pitt knew they would have their hands full with the almost 500-pound backfield of Byars and Vaughn Broadnax. In fact, Panther safety Tom Flynn had pointed out that in Pittsburgh’s three previous bowl games they had faced George Rogers, Herschel Walker and Eric Dickerson and felt that Byars and Broadnax were “comparable”. “They haven’t gotten all the honors and all the publicity of the others, but they’re just as good”, said Flynn.
Neither team scored in period three, with OSU safety Kelvin Bell helping to keep Pittsburgh off the scoreboard by intercepting a John Congemi pass in the endzone. But then the fireworks began on the second play of quarter four as Pitt finished off a long drive with a huge break. Tailback Joe McCall, who came into the game needing 154 yards to get 1,000 on the season (he would finish with 115), motored from the Buckeye 16 down to the 3 where he fumbled the ball into the endzone. Curtis Wilson was right there to fall on it for the score and once more the game was tied, 14-14. It wouldn’t stay that way for long.
Keith Byars and John Wooldridge were back to receive the ensuing kickoff, and with the winds whipping as the ball was kicked, Byars initially yelled for Wooldridge to take the ball. But it didn’t drift as far as Keith expected so he hauled it in and set sail to the left. Seeing a group of white shirts to his right, Byars cut back that way and cruised 99 yards for the touchdown, giving the Bucks a 21-14 lead. The return came up just shy of Ohio State and Fiesta Bowl records, as Dean Sensanbaugher (103 yards, 1943) and Billy Wentz (100 yards, 1960) had longer Buckeye returns, while Missouri’s Mike Fink held the Fiesta Bowl record with a 100-yard return against Arizona State in 1972. Byars’ return was also the first in a long line of big special teams plays Ohio State would rack up in future meetings against the Panthers. Carlos Snow’s 100-yard kickoff return would be the Bucks’ only bright spot in a 42-10 loss in 1988, while Butler Bynote ignited a 63-28 OSU win in 1993 with an 89-yard TD return of the opening kickoff. David Boston would put the finishing touches on a 72-0 beating of the Panthers in 1996 with a 66-yard punt return score, which was all the more incredible since the Buckeyes only had seven blockers on the field with Boston.
Although Ohio State had the lead back, Byars’ return hadn’t allowed the defense to rest, and John Congemi took Pitt right back downfield to score as he dialed up senior flanker Dwight Collins for an 11-yard touchdown to narrow the margin to 21-20. Collins had come into the season on the verge of several Panther career receiving records, having had the benefit of working for the previous three years with Dan Marino, but injuries had limited him to only 26 receptions in ’83 for 361 yards. He would haul in 7 passes against the Buckeyes, but at the moment none were bigger than this score with 9:47 left. Curiously though, Foge Fazio decided to go for two but the Panthers came up short as “Pepper” Johnson tipped Congemi’s pass attempt for Curtis Wilson and linebacker Clark Backus was able to knock it down to preserve OSU’s one point lead.
The Buckeyes couldn’t get anything going offensively and punted back to Pitt, who took over on their 12. Congemi completed 5 of 8 passes on a 17-play drive that fizzled at the Ohio State 21. Not only was Pittsburgh facing a field goal situation in a windy stadium, but they were without their regular placekicker Eric Schubert. Schubert had injured his knee in the Panthers’ matchup with Syracuse back on October 29th and had missed the next two games. Then during Pitt’s first workout after landing in Phoenix, Schubert had re-injured the knee after catching a cleat in the turf of the practice field. Fazio had already gambled once and lost with the missed two-point conversion, so he sent in backup kicker Snuffy Everett and he was true from 37 yards away, giving the Panthers a 23-21 lead with only 2:39 to go. It was beginning to look like the Fiesta Bowl would join the Chuck Long/Dave Moritz pass, the Thomas Rooks run and “Lachey Right” in the line of 1983 Buckeye fourth quarter nightmares. And with Tomczak having gone 2 for 11 passing to this point in the second half after his white-hot start, the contest was turning out eerily similar to Ohio State’s last visit to Tempe after the 1980 season. Art Schlichter had thrown for 244 yards in the first half to help the Bucks to a 19-10 lead over Penn State, but in the final two quarters the Nittany Lions had made adjustments, held Schlichter to 58 2nd-half passing yards and scored 21 unanswered points to win 31-19.
Things looked even more bleak on the kickoff as John Wooldridge inadvertently touched his knee to the ground at his own 11-yard line while fielding the ball. Tomczak threw an incompletion, then hit Thad Jemison for a gain of only 3, bringing up a 3rd-and-7 at the OSU 14. Keith Byars, who had only caught one pass in the game for 7 yards, came through on third down with a 14-yard reception, giving the Bucks a first down at their 28. It was Byars for seven on a draw play, then backup tailback Roman Bates also scooted for seven and a first down at the OSU 42. Just as it appeared the offense was starting to cook, the deck went cold as Tomczak threw three straight incompletions. There was 1:21 to go in the game and the Bucks were facing 4th-and-10 with no timeouts.
The play call was ordinarily designed for tight end John Frank to go 8 yards and cut outside. But Frank made sure he was past the sticks, cut towards the Pittsburgh sideline and brought Tomczak’s pass in for a huge 13-yard pickup and a first down at the Pitt 45. Frank, who had been voted team MVP at the football banquet following the Michigan game, had scorched his hometown team with a clutch grab. But just as Buckeye fans were breathing a little easier, an incompletion and a 6-yard run by John Wooldridge brought up a 3rd-and-4 call with only 46 seconds left.
Coach Bruce decided to go with Split Louie Zoom Pass Left. Thad Jemison would be split left, with John Frank lined up next to the guard on the same side and both tackles together on the right side. Keith Byars would streak for the goal line between Jemison and Frank, while flanker Cedric Anderson would work from the right side. Byars had caught two passes for 70 yards in the Oklahoma game using the play, but Tomczak had decided to look for Anderson to try and get the first down. As he rolled right, Mike saw everyone covered- except Jemison. With Byars and Frank flooding the area, Jemison had gotten a step on cornerback Melvin Dean and Tomczak let fly. Jemison, who had waited three years behind Gary Williams for his chance to play as a senior, gathered in the pass for a 39-yard touchdown with only 39 seconds left, giving OSU a 28-23 lead.
The Panthers weren’t done yet. Taking over at his own 38, Congemi completed two passes, then scrambled to the Buckeye 24 with seven seconds remaining. But as the quarterback headed out of bounds, linebacker Rowland Tatum, who had knocked Oklahoma tailback Marcus Dupree out of that contest, hit him from behind. Congemi’s leg stuck in the ground and the result was a sprained ankle. Backup Chris Jelick came on but threw two incompletions and the Buckeyes had their 3rd straight bowl victory. The win also evened Ohio State’s all-time bowl record at 9-9 and wrapped up a fourth consecutive 9-3 season.
Congemi would be voted the game’s most valuable offensive player after going 31 of 44 for 341 yards and two scores. His 31 completions remain a Fiesta Bowl record to this day. Rowland Tatum’s 13 tackles would earn him the defensive player of the game award, while Pitt receiver Bill Wallace and Buckeye hero Thad Jemison tied a Fiesta Bowl record with 8 catches apiece, matching John Jefferson’s mark from 1975.
Ohio State’s 1983 season, overall, may be most remembered for the three tough losses, but the Scarlet and Gray had a dramatic bowl win to hang their hat on, and Thad Jemison had his name etched into Buckeye lore. The “Holy Buckeye” play at Purdue in 2002 would bear similarities to “Split Louie Zoom Pass Left”, and the Tomczak-to-Jemison strike would ignite a series of triumphant moments for the Bucks in the desert of Tempe.
#14- LOUISIANA STATE AT OHIO STATE- SEPTEMBER 24, 1988
The John Cooper era couldn’t have kicked off any better. His first Buckeye squad had handled Syracuse 26-9 in the 1988 opener, and it was the first time since 1961 that Ohio State had committed no turnovers or penalties in a game. Even Buckeye Nation’s most cynical members, who had wondered how Cooper found time to coach between Big Bear and hot tub commercials, had to be impressed. But it only took seven days for the wheels to come off the wagon as the Buckeyes traveled to Pittsburgh and were handed a 42-10 butt-kicking by the Panthers, the most lopsided OSU loss since the 1986 40-7 debacle in Washington. Quarterback Greg Frey, who had gone 12 for 17 passing in the opener, regressed to 9 of 29 against Pitt, while the defense surrendered 504 yards, including 363 on the ground. Arguably, it was Ohio State’s worst one-week turnaround since 1967, when they followed up a 30-0 victory at Oregon by laying a 41-6 egg in Columbus against Purdue. Backup tailback Carlos Snow had provided the only highlight of the Pittsburgh loss with a 100-yard kickoff return for OSU’s only touchdown, but little did Snow know how much more of a focal point he would become the next Saturday.
Starting tailback Vince Workman, an offensive co-captain, was asked by the FBI on the Monday after the Pittsburgh loss to come to Chicago to testify before a federal grand jury investigating sports agents Norby Walters, Lloyd Bloom and Dave Lueddekke. Cris Carter’s dealings with Walters and Bloom had cost him his senior season of eligibility just the year before, and rumors were rampant that Workman was now in the same boat. In fact, the betting line for the OSU/Pitt game had been taken down for a day the previous week as word spread that an OSU runningback and linebacker were facing suspensions. Although Workman denied any wrongdoing, by the Wednesday before OSU’s third game with LSU it was reported that Workman had taken $2,000 from Lueddekke in the months leading up to the 1987 season. Athletic director Jim Jones declared Workman ineligible for the rest of the 1988 campaign, and the Buckeyes’ promising start against Syracuse had taken a seriously dark turn.
Ohio State’s final non-conference matchup would be in the ‘Shoe against LSU, the first time the Bucks had hosted an SEC team since a visit from Kentucky in 1935. The two teams had battled to a 13-13 tie the previous year in Baton Rouge after a pregame fight during the coin toss. Cornerback Greg Rogan had picked off two LSU passes in the last two minutes of the game, but Matt Frantz’s 47-yard field goal attempt at the gun was partially blocked. It was one of only two blemishes on the Tigers’ record as they finished 10-1-1 under rookie head coach Mike Archer. LSU had come out of the gate strong in 1988, shutting out Texas A&M 28-0 and drilling Tennessee 34-9. The Bayou Bengals were averaging 421 yards offensively per game and were ranked #7 in the AP poll and #6 in UPI.
LSU had several streaks going as well- they had won 14 straight regular season road games dating back to November of 1984, while quarterback Tommy Hodson (who was 21-2 as a starter) had been on the losing end of ONE road game since junior high school. Hodson also had not been sacked in five straight contests. The only hit he had taken was in the week leading up to the Ohio State game when he had been rear-ended while driving his car in Baton Rouge. Hodson’s nose and forehead were cut when they hit the rearview mirror, but he would be ready to go against the Buckeyes. LSU’s fast start, coupled with the Bucks’ performance in Pittsburgh and the lingering Workman cloud, didn’t produce much optimism around Columbus as gameday neared.
A throng of 90,584 fans, the second-largest crowd to that point in Ohio Stadium history, packed the ‘Shoe for the nationally televised 3:30 kickoff. It was Hall Of Fame day also, and the new class included gridders Tom Perdue, a captain and academic All-American in 1961; Don Scott, a two-time All-American halfback in 1939 and 1940, and Jan White, the All-American end from the “Super Sophs”. Although Vince Workman was off the team, his presence was felt in the first quarter. After the Bucks forced LSU to kick on their opening series, Bobby Olive, who was fielding his first collegiate punt after taking over punt return duties from Workman, fumbled the ball and LSU recovered at the OSU 16. Tailback Eddie Fuller picked up four yards on first down, but right tackle Ralph Norwood was hit with a 15-yard personal foul penalty for a late shove on safety Jim Peel. The drive stalled and David Browndyke came on to boot a 37-yard field goal, giving the Tigers an early 3-0 lead.
Greg Frey got the Buckeye offense cranked up on their second drive, hitting a pair of third down passes to Jeff Ellis to move the ball to LSU’s 32. After Carlos Snow lost two yards, it was Frey to fullback Scottie Graham for 14 and a first down at the Tiger 20 as the first quarter ended. Despite seeing their team down by three, OSU fans had to be somewhat relieved as the Bucks had outgained their guests 104-37, aided by a 6 of 9 passing performance by Greg Frey. As the second quarter opened, offensive coordinator Jim Colletto sent in Confirm 63 Y Bench, a post route pass call for Bobby Olive out of his flanker position. Olive made a sliding catch of Frey’s throw at the one-yard line, and on the next snap Carlos Snow, on a play that would work time and time again in his career, took a pitch left into the endzone to put the Bucks ahead 7-3.
On LSU’s ensuing possession, Eddie Fuller converted a 3rd-and-3 situation with a 6-yard reception, but later on 3rd-and-4 from his own 42, Fuller was ruled out of bounds after what would have been a first down catch. Rene Bourgeois came on to punt, but Vinnie Clark broke through to block the kick. Linebacker and co-captain Mike McCray scooped up the loose ball on a friendly hop and took it 23 yards into the south endzone to widen the lead to 14-3. OSU’s special teams had struck for the second week in a row, and provided a bit of vindication for McCray. When the line for the Pitt game had been pulled due to rumors of an impending suspension for an Buckeye linebacker, McCray’s name had surfaced. It was guilt by association in a way as McCray had provided Cris Carter with a place to stay in the aftermath of his removal from the team in the summer of 1987. McCray had done nothing wrong off the field, and now had made a huge play on it.
The blocked punt had come courtesy of Vinnie Clark, who had also fought through off-the-field problems after sitting out his freshman year due to grades. Ironically, Clark’s blocked punt was the first kick he had stuffed since his junior year in high school at the Cincinnati Academy of Physical Education. In the Division 3 state championship game at Ohio Stadium, Clark’s block of an extra point had provided the winning margin in CAPE’s 7-6 win over Chagrin Falls Kenston.
Following McCray’s score, the Tigers got a little special teams magic of their own as Eddie Fuller returned the kickoff 59 yards to the Ohio State 31. On 2nd-and-9, Tommy Hodson fired to flanker Tony Moss, who gathered the ball in at the 22, spun out of a tackle and scooted down the east sideline into the endzone to complete the 30-yard play. Browndyke converted and just like that OSU’s lead was 14-10.
Late in the second period the Buckeyes had driven to the LSU 20, but on 3rd-and-3 Frey’s pass hit linebacker Ron Sancho in the helmet and caromed into the hands of Greg Jackson at the Tiger 13. Eddie Fuller, starting at tailback in place of Harvey Williams (who was redshirting with an injured knee after going over 1,000 yards in ’87), ran for 8 on first down but the Tigers picked up an easy 15 as David Brown was hit with a personal foul call. But that momentum appeared to go up in smoke as the Tigers were whistled for holding on the very next play. Hodson dialed up fullback Victor Jones for 7, then connected with Alvin Lee (who had snared 10 passes the previous week at Tennessee) for 6 and then 21 to advance the ball to the Buckeye 40. After an incompletion, Tony Moss hauled in an 18-yard aerial to move the sticks to the OSU 22. The Buckeye defense stiffened and with under a minute to go in the first half, the Tigers lined up for a 31-yard field goal try. Holder Chris Moock got the snap, jumped up and plowed up the middle for 5 yards and a 1st-and-goal at the 9. But Hodson couldn’t hook up with Fuller or Lee on his next two throws, and with the clock burned down to 3 seconds, Browndyke came on to drill a 27-yard field goal, cutting Ohio State’s lead to only 14-13 at halftime.
The Buckeyes received the second half kickoff, and aided by an unusual illegal block penalty on LSU, began with great field position at their 46. Scottie Graham’s 11 yard reception got the Bucks a first down at the Tiger 41, and on the next play Carlos Snow broke 4 tackles while motoring for 25 yards to LSU’s 16. With 3rd-and-3 at the 9, Frey was sacked by Ron Sancho for a loss of 9, so Pat O’ Morrow came on and booted his 6th field goal of the season in as many tries, opening up the Buckeye lead to 17-13.
Tommy Hodson brought the Tigers right back, covering 78 yards in only 6 plays to give his team its first lead since the end of the first quarter. Tony Moss lit the fuse with a 37-yard reception, then later on 2nd-and-10 from OSU’s 31, Eddie Fuller got loose down the seam and gathered in Hodson’s pass while backpedaling away from the line of scrimmage. Fuller’s super leaping effort was good for 28 yards to the Buckeye 3, and on the next play Fuller did the honors with a 3-yard burst to cap the drive. The point after was good and the Bayou Bengals took command 20-17.
Fuller continued to gouge the Ohio State defense on LSU’s next possession as he rumbled for 13, 6 and 7, while Hodson hooked up with Alvin Lee for 10 and Tony Moss for 16 on a screen, giving the Tigers a first down at the Buckeye 15. OSU’s defense stiffened and forced another David Browndyke field goal attempt. This one was good from 35 yards out, and after three it was 23-17 in favor of LSU.
Ohio State’s special teams struck another big blow on the ensuing kickoff as Carlos Snow brought the kick back 50 yards to the Tiger 42. Frey and Bernard Edwards teamed up for a big 13-yard completion, but the march stalled and Pat O’Morrow’s second field goal of the game reduced the deficit to 23-20, LSU. It was now time for the Tigers’ special teams to be heard from as kick returner Slip Watkins brought the kickoff back 42 yards to the Ohio State 45. Tight end Ronnie Haliburton converted a 3rd-and-7 with a 10-yard catch, and then it was Hodson to Tony Moss for 14 more, setting LSU up at OSU’s 18. Four rushing plays moved the ball to the 3, but Hodson misfired on two straight passes and in came Browndyke. Buckeye linebacker Andy Gurd jumped offsides on the field goal attempt, but Mike Archer decided against taking the flag. The Tigers wouldn’t have picked up a first down and the further the ball was towards the goal line, the worse the angle would be for his kicker. LSU declined the flag, and Browndyke hammered a 20-yard field goal, giving the Tigers a 26-20 advantage with 8:43 to play.
The Buckeyes could still do nothing offensively and gave the pigskin back to Hodson and Company with 7:03 left. Looking to drain the clock, Archer called Eddie Fuller’s number on four consecutive rushing plays, and the tailback advanced the ball to his 44, where it was 3rd-and-5. Hodson rolled to his right and fired into a crowd towards Moss, who had found a hole in the OSU zone defense at the Buckeye 42. But Hodson’s pass was high and Moss tipped it- right into the hands of Alvin Lee who gathered the ball in at the 32 and steamed down the west sideline for a touchdown. Browndyke’s PAT made it 33-20 with 4:29 to play, and folks began streaming out of Ohio Stadium, shaking their heads at Lee’s unbelievable catch.
For Ohio State to have any chance, they had to get a touchdown on their next possession, and the offense had only put the ball in the endzone once. But with the chips down Greg Frey moved the “O” 59 yards in 10 plays to cut into the lead. Things looked dicey when Ron Sancho again sacked Frey for a loss of 3 on a 2nd-and-5 call, but Bobby Olive got free on third down for 12 to keep the drive alive. Another 3rd-and-8 arose from the Tiger 24, and this time it was Jeff Graham snaring a 19-yard pass to give OSU a first-and-goal at the 5. On second down from there the Bucks crossed LSU up with a run up the middle by Snow, who took it in for his second TD of the day. With O’Morrow’s point after it was 33-27, and the Bucks had two timeouts left.
John Cooper elected to kick the ball deep instead of trying an onside boot and it went for a touchback. Eddie Fuller gained one yard, then OSU safety Jimmy Peel dragged Hodson down for a loss of 3, bringing up 3rd-and-12 at the Tiger 18. The Bucks had burned their last two timeouts after those two plays, and everyone in Ohio Stadium figured another run was coming. 1:43 remained, and one more run plus a likely delay of game call would leave the Bucks with under a minute to work with.
On third down, Hodson actually threw deep down the left side towards Alvin Lee, but the ball sailed out of bounds as Lee had cutoff the route. Why LSU threw the ball is to this day one of football’s great mysteries, but now the clock was stopped at 1:38 and Rene Bourgeois trotted on to punt. The Tigers took a 5-yard delay of game, and then Bourgeois fielded the long snap and ran out of the back of the endzone for a safety. Now LSU lead 33-29, and the Buckeyes would get the free kick- and one last chance.
LSU had the option to kick off or punt from the 20, and Mike Archer elected to let Bourgeois punt. Bobby Olive gathered the kick in at his own 32 and started up the middle before losing his balance. Planting his free hand to keep from falling, Olive straightened up, turned the left corner and was finally run out of bounds at the LSU 39. Ohio Stadium was alive with 1:24 to go, and those that had remained got even louder as Frey hit Jeff Graham for 16 yards to the Tiger 23. Carlos Snow gathered in a short, 3-yard catch and with no timeouts left the Bucks hurried to the line. Frey looked for tight end Jeff Ellis but the pass was tipped by Tiger linebacker Rudy Harmon and fell incomplete. Now it was 3rd-and-7, and offensive coordinator Jim Colletto decided to see if history could repeat itself. On Ohio State’s first scoring drive of the afternoon, Bobby Olive had caught a 19-yard pass to put the Bucks at LSU’s 1-yard line. Now, with OSU needing that 19 plus one to take the lead, Colletto sent in the same call- Confirm 63 Y Bench, Olive on the post.
Frey dropped back and let fly with a pass that was just a bit long. Olive laid out in the endzone and made a diving catch, making sure he got his arms under the ball. Ohio Stadium went absolutely berserk and the marching band and several fans poured onto the field. The Scarlet and Gray had scored 16 points in a minute and 18 seconds to incredibly take a 36-33 lead over LSU. The Tigers had one last shot from their own 34 but four passes gained only 3 yards and the fans stormed the playing field even though 7 seconds remained. After clearing the mass of humanity, the officials wound the clock and time ran out so the crowd could “officially” engulf the field.
The Buckeyes didn’t really have the talent to maintain the momentum they gained from the dramatic LSU win. They would finish 4-6-1 overall and 2-5-1 in the Big Ten, and to this day 1988 stands as Ohio State’s last losing season in football. The Bucks almost pulled another stunner on November 19th as they rallied from a 20-0 halftime deficit to lead Michigan 31-27 with less than 2 minutes to play, but TBGUN got the last laugh as John Kolesar gathered in the winning touchdown pass to knock off OSU 34-31.
1988 is a forgotten year in Buckeye football annals for the most part, but that one September afternoon deserves its place among Ohio State’s most dramatic comebacks of all time.
#13- ILLINOIS AT OHIO STATE- OCTOBER 13, 1984
All right, quick, what year is it? Ohio State’s head football coach is in his sixth year, the team is coming off a Fiesta Bowl victory over a tough independent team, the defense only has two defensive linemen back while the offense is headed by an experienced senior quarterback who played little in the spring game. The returning tailback went over 1,000 yards in his sophomore season, the offensive line is strong despite some shuffling, and the conference opener will be against one of the teams who beat you last year.
2006, right? Well, sure, but it all applies to the 1984 season as well. While Earle Bruce’s sixth edition was coming off the dramatic Fiesta Bowl win over Pitt, they had to overhaul the defense for the upcoming campaign. Only Dave Morrill and Dave Crecelius returned as starters along the “D”-line, but just like now Buckeye Nation hoped the offense could carry things until the stop troops could gel. Quarterback Mike Tomczak would be in his third year as a starter and had tailback Keith Byars (1,199 yards in ’83) to make the ground game go. Although some of the “big uglies” up front had changed positions, there was still lots of experience with junior Rory Graves and seniors Jim Lachey, Kirk Lowdermilk, Scott Zalenski and Mark Krerowicz.
In the second quarter of the spring game, Mike Tomczak suffered a broken leg and speculation as to when he would be back ran rampant all summer. (I’ll admit to being disappointed when Jim Tressel sat Troy Smith down after one series in this year’s spring game, but I’m sure Tressel, who was the runningbacks and receivers coach for the ’84 Buckeyes, vividly recalls that Tomczak injury). And when the sixth-ranked Bucks opened with a shaky 22-14 win over Oregon State, after trailing 14-3 at the half, it seemed evident that the offense missed its leader. The pollsters took note as well, dropping OSU to ninth despite the victory. However the next week the Buckeyes wiped out Washington State 44-0 as Tomczak saw his first action and led the “O” to touchdowns on his first three drives.
Big Ten play got underway the next Saturday as the conference would have a round-robin schedule for the second straight year, and the Bucks would have a leg up as only they and Wisconsin had won both of their non-league tilts. A late fourth-quarter touchdown pass had given Iowa a 20-14 upset over OSU in ’83, but this time around the Scarlet and Gray drilled the Hawkeyes 45-26, breaking the game open from a 10-10 tie. Keith Byars got his Heisman bandwagon on the road by rushing for a score, catching a touchdown pass and throwing an option pass to Mike Lanese for another tally. Linebacker Larry Kolic filled in when freshman Chris Spielman went down with an ankle injury and helped turn the game around by picking off a Chuck Long pass and taking it back for a touchdown. After beating a rejuvenated Minnesota team led by first-year coach Lou Holtz 35-22, the Buckeyes rebounded to #2 in the polls behind Texas. Iowa, the team everyone felt would battle OSU for the Big Ten crown, had been humbled, and Earle Bruce’s squad was 4-0 for the first time since the Rose Bowl season of 1979.
The next week in West Lafayette, Ohio State led Purdue 17-7 in the third quarter, but the Boilers used a pair of Jim Everett touchdown passes and an interception return for a score by Rod Woodson to take a 28-17 lead with 9 minutes to play. OSU cut the lead to 28-23, then got the ball back with 1:23 to go at their own 20. Facing a 4th-and-25 situation from their 27, Mike Tomczak and Cris Carter hooked up on a clutch 27-yard pass to keep the drive alive, but later on a third down play Keith Byars failed to get out of bounds to stop the clock after a reception to Purdue’s 28. With no timeouts left, the offense hurried to the line, and Tomczak looked to the down marker on the sideline- which still read third down from the previous play. Tomczak fired the ball out of bounds to stop the clock, but it was fourth down. I can still hear WTVN Radio’s Chuck Underwood crying out in disbelief, “Why, oh why did Tomczak throw the ball out of bounds?” Purdue, who had won 6 games total the previous two years, now was 3-0 in the Big 10 and in sole possession of first place while OSU, Iowa and Michigan were all 2-1. Illinois was 3-1 in the league and set to invade Columbus the next Saturday for Homecoming. Since 1896 only three teams- 1959 Wisconsin and 1981 Ohio State and Iowa- had won or shared a Big 10 title with two conference losses.
Illinois, led by fifth-year coach Mike White, was 4-2 overall, and in 1983 had become the first (and to this day the only) conference team to beat all other Big 10 teams in the same season, including a last-minute 17-13 upset of Ohio State which was Illinois’ first win over the Bucks since 1967. The good news for OSU was that both of the Illini’s 1984 losses had come on the road (34-19 at Stanford and 21-16 at Iowa), while the bad news was that they would be facing an offense led by receiver David Williams, who was leading the nation in receptions with 53 and yards with 793. After the way Jim Everett had riddled the Buckeye pass defense the previous week, Williams had to be licking his chops. The Bucks could counter with their big tailback Keith Byars, who led the country in rushing with 160 yards per game and was second in scoring at 13.2 points per game. It remained to be seen which Illinois run defense would show up at Ohio Stadium, the one who had held Wisconsin to 26 total rushing yards the week before, or the one that Iowa’s Ronnie Harmon had gashed for 191 yards on September 29th. The Illini were also trying to defend their Big 10 crown while knowing they would not be playing in a bowl game, a result of probation handed down for recruiting violations. The Buckeyes had the obvious motivation of avoiding a second league loss in addition to the revenge factor for the ’83 upset, not to mention they were looking to extend a 12-game Ohio Stadium win streak. But OSU fans had to wonder if the team had shaken off the nightmarish Purdue ending.
Ohio State pounded out one first down on their opening possession, but then were forced to punt. Taking over at their own 20, Illinois marched to the Buckeye 43. Then, in an almost mirror image of his winning touchdown run from the year before, runningback Thomas Rooks got loose around the right side for 39 yards before roverback Sonny Gordon forced him out of bounds at the 4. On 3rd-and-goal from there, quarterback Jack Trudeau, who had completed 66% of his passes for 1,459 yards coming into the game, rolled right and hit receiver Randy Grant in the endzone to give Illinois a 7-0 lead.
The Illini forced another Tom Tupa punt and set up shop at their 34. Trudeau immediately dialed up tailback Ray Wilson for 17 to move into Buckeye territory, then later connected again with Randy Grant for 23 to move the sticks to OSU’s 13. The Bucks’ “D” stiffened, so coach Mike White sent in his son Chris for a field goal. Chris White, who had booted 5 field goals against Wisconsin the week before and was 14 of 16 on the year, capped off the 8-play drive with a 26-yard boot, making it 10-0, Illini.
Things went from bad to worse on Ohio State’s very next snap. Looking to get things jumpstarted from the 20, quarterback Mike Tomczak double clutched as he looked to hit Cris Carter on a quick out. Cornerback Mike Heaven, who had tied for 2nd in the conference in ’83 with 5 picks, made a diving interception and just like that it was Illinois’ ball at the OSU 21. It only took Trudeau and Co. 4 plays to cash in as David Williams made a super leaping catch over Sonny Gordon and linebacker Dennis Hueston in the back of the endzone for a 9-yard score. Now the Bucks were in a 17-0 hole, and when Keith Byars fumbled on OSU’s very next play with Craig Swoope recovering at the Buckeye 22, the tired defense trudged back out. Trudeau only needed six plays to complete the drive-which carried over into the second quarter-as he threaded the needle to tight end Cap Boso for an 8-yard TD. It was now Illinois 24, Ohio State 0, and ever since Keith Byars’ touchdown had given OSU a 17-7 lead on the opening march of the third quarter at Purdue, they had been outscored 45-6. The Ohio Stadium crowd was turning ugly and CBS was probably looking for a backup game to switch viewers to.
Slowly the Buckeyes got the offensive oars in the water on their next series, but they came up empty on a fourth-down pass from the Illini 13. Another glimmer of hope came from the defense as they forced Illinois’ first punt of the afternoon, but OSU found themselves pinned at their own 9. In three plays, though, they had hammered out to their 41, then Mike Tomczak faked pumped to the left and fired deep down the right sideline to Cris Carter. The ball hung up for an eternity as the wide-open Carter waited on it, and he hauled it in at the Illini 23 before being decked by Craig Swoope. The Horseshoe now was coming back to life, and after a holding call, Tomczak and Carter hooked up on a short crossing route. Carter shook off a tackle and scooted to the Illinois 16, and on the next play Keith Byars took a pitchout left. Fullback Barry Walker buried linebacker Rob Sebring, and Byars did a 360 to get out of safety Dave Edwards’ grasp. The big tailback motored into the endzone and the Bucks were finally on the board. As the crowd roared, the Illini’s Dwayne Pugh refused to let go of Byars’ ankle in the endzone. Keith finally pulled away as Pugh was surrounded by the entire Buckeye offensive line. Safety Craig Swoope came flying in and blindsided center Kirk Lowdermilk, drawing a personal foul flag and earning himself a seat on the bench for the rest of the day. With 4:13 to go in the half it was 24-7 and OSU would be kicking off from the Illini 45. Over on the Ohio State sideline after the touchdown, Keith Byars looked right into the CBS camera and declared “We’re coming back” to the nation. With the short field after the Swoope penalty, everyone anticipated an onside kick. Rich Spangler’s boot was bobbled by Illinois and Buckeye linebacker Joe Jenkins came out of the pileup with the football at the Illini 31.
Two plays later, Earle Bruce reached into his bag of tricks. Tomczak faked to Byars, then faked an end-around pitch to flanker Mike Lanese. With pressure bearing down on him, Tomczak threw a rainbow off his back foot towards Cris Carter, who was lonesome at the goal line. Three Illini defenders had closed in by the time the ball arrived, but Carter made an incredible leaping catch and fell into the endzone for a 30-yard touchdown. Now it was a ten-point game at 24-14, Ohio Stadium was rocking and the players were breathing a little easier. And although OSU’s two scoring drives had taken a total of 8 plays, the defense now had its wind back along with a ton of momentum. Jack Trudeau moved the Orange and Blue to their 46 on the ensuing series, but then his deep pass down the left sideline was picked off by Sonny Gordon at the Buckeye 38. A ten-yard run by Byars moved the ball into Illini territory, then on 3rd-and-10 from the Illinois 43 Tomczak hit his freshman split end Cris Carter for 19 to the 24. After a 9-yard reception by Doug Smith, the Bucks used their last timeout with :37 to go in the half, then Tomczak fired a bullet to Mike Lanese at the 4. As WOSU-TV’s Jack Kramer marveled at the “relentless comeback by the Buckeyes”, Byars took a pitch to the left, got a great block from fullback Roman Bates, and dove over the pylon for Ohio State’s 3rd touchdown in less than 4 minutes. The 21 unanswered points had cut the Illinois lead to only three, and as Jack Trudeau took a knee to end the half, the Illini, visibly frustrated by the turn of events, exchanged shoves with OSU’s “D”. Anyone who only saw the halftime score of 24-21 probably thought, “Hey, great game so far”. If only they knew…
Just as the game had seemingly blown up in Ohio State’s faces in the first quarter, the wheels continued to come off the Illinois wagon as the second half commenced. Ray Wilson took the kickoff 4 yards deep in the endzone and brought it out, only to be tripped up at the 11. Steve Hill stripped the football away at the 14 and it rolled to the 26 where William White fell on it for the Buckeyes. Keith Byars immediately circled the left side for 17, then carried for 3 and 5 yards before diving one yard for the score to give Ohio State its first lead of the day at 28-24. Byars had carried 20 times for 106 yards and 3 touchdowns it a little over a half. Not since the Oklahoma game of 1977 (where OSU overcame a 20-0 deficit to lead 28-20, only to lose in the final seconds 29-28) had Ohio Stadium been witness to two completely different ballgames in one.
The Illini showed what they were made of, though, launching a drive that reached Ohio State’s 32 in six plays. At this point Jack Trudeau had healthy numbers- 21 of 27 passing for 203 yards and three TD’s- but the Buckeye defense tightened and Chris White was called on for a 46-yard field goal try. Scott Leach just missed blocking it, but the kick was good and the OSU lead was down to one at 28-27. Ohio State’s offense had been on fire for 4 straight drives, and now they revved it up again from their 23. Runs of 11 and 4 by Keith Byars brought up a 2nd-and-6 at the Bucks’ 38. Tackle Mark Krerowicz jumped offside, moving the ball back to the 33 and setting the stage for one of Ohio Stadium’s greatest moments ever. Mike Tomczak audibled to a draw play to Byars, who broke through the right side behind great blocks by Scott Zalenski and Barry Walker. As he reached the east sideline, Byars cut back towards the middle and somehow his completely tied left shoe came flying off of his foot. It didn’t matter- Keith blew right by the entire Illinois secondary for a 67-yard touchdown. A secondary made up of, as analyst Paul Warfield pointed out on the WOSU telecast, members of the Illinois track and field team.
The Buckeyes now led 35-27 and Ohio Stadium was completely berserk over the now-legendary run. Guard Jim Lachey brought the shoe (which Keith Byars still has to this day) to the tailback and couldn’t believe it was still laced up. Byars had rumbled for a career-high of 191 yards rushing in the loss to Purdue the previous week, but now in 23 carries he had amassed 188 yards and 4 touchdowns.
After an exchange of punts, Illinois began a drive at their 37 and gave the Bucks a taste of their own medicine, leaning on runningback Thomas Rooks as they moved to the OSU 33. After a nine-yard reception by Randy Grant, Rooks carries twice more for 15 yards to move the ball to the Buckeye 9. Rooks now had set a new career high for himself with 138 yards on 21 carries. After forcing an incompletion, the Buckeyes came with an all-out blitz but Trudeau found a wide-open Ray Wilson on a delay for the score. Trudeau now had 4 touchdown passes, and when he rolled right and dove into the endzone on a two-point conversion try, the score was tied at 35-all and that’s how things stood as the third quarter came to a close.
To this point in the game, none of the offensive fireworks had required much time. Only one of the eleven scoring drives by both teams had needed more than 10 plays. In the fourth quarter both squads upped the ball-control ante. The Buckeyes moved to the Illinois 25 in nine plays, where they faced a 3rd-and-6. Cris Carter leaped to snare a 7-yard catch, his 7th reception of the day for 134 yards. The next two plays gained 5, then on 3rd-and-five from the 13 Tomczak tried to hit Byars but Dwayne Pugh was dragging Mike down by his facemask and the pass landed nowhere near Keith. Despite the blatant facemask grab, Tomczak was called for grounding and the Bucks were penalized back to the Illinois 30. OSU was still in Rich Spangler’s range and Tomczak, who was rightfully in the officials’ grill, was dragged away before he was flagged. Spangler nailed the 47-yard field goal with plenty to spare and with 10:21 to play OSU led 38-35.
Back came the Orange and Blue, starting from their own 22. In fifteen plays Mike White’s troops marched to the OSU 7, where it was 1st-and-goal. Thomas Rooks hit for 4 and then 2, giving him166 yards on the day and setting up a 3rd-and-goal play from the 1. The call was for Rooks one more time on a dive up the middle, but yard number 167 never came as linebackers Fred Ridder and Pepper Johnson stuffed him in midair. Now it was decision time for Mike White. If Illinois scored the touchdown, the Buckeyes would have a little over three minutes left but would have to go the length of the field. A field goal would forge a tie, which wouldn’t completely kill Illinois’ Big 10 chances if the game ended that way, plus they would still have all their timeouts left to try and get the ball back. If they went for it and failed, OSU would only need a field goal to win. Any of the scenarios would require the Illini defense to stop Ohio State, which they hadn’t done since the second quarter. White sent his son Chris in, and the kicker responded with 17-yard boot to tie the contest at 38 with 3:18 to go.
The ensuing kickoff resulted in a touchback, and the Buckeyes took over at their 20. On first down Tomczak’s pass to Cris Carter was incomplete thanks to questionably tight coverage. As Keith Byars recalled on the DVD “Echoes Of Glory”, the offensive linemen took exception to the play call and made it clear what they wanted to do-
“The offensive linemen were…upset,” recalled Byars. “And the coaches saw the look on their faces. If we’re gonna win the football game, we’re gonna win it with those guys up front”. Cris Carter had no doubt put his name on the national map with his performance, but Messrs. Graves, Lachey, Lowdermilk, Zalenski and Krerowicz wanted to win the game, erase the memory of the bitter ’83 loss and atone for the horrid first quarter only one way- by pounding Keith Byars at Illinois until they were dead and buried. And they had extra incentive- Byars currently had 224 yards on 32 carries, tied for the fourth-highest rushing total in OSU history with Calvin Murray (Indiana, 1980). Archie Griffin’s school record of 246 was sitting there for the taking. And it only took one play as Byars plowed through the left side for 23 yards, moving past Ollie Cline (239 yards at Pitt, 1945), and Archie (239 vs. North Carolina, 1972 and 246 vs. Iowa, 1973) for the greatest rushing day in Buckeye annals. And he wasn’t through yet.
Backup tailback John Wooldridge, who had a 65-yard touchdown scamper in the third quarter called back on a motion penalty, came on to give Keith a breather and rang up 7 on a pitchout to the right. From midfield, Byars picked up 4 and a first down. Back came Wooldridge, taking an option pitch for 5 to the Illinois 41. Byars slammed for 8 to move the chains again to the Orange and Blue 33. The yards were coming in chunks now as Byars hit for 6 more, then Wooldridge took a handoff to the left, cut back to the right and sped for 18. For a split second it looked as if John would score but Dave Edwards grabbed him by the collar and roped Wooldridge down at the nine. Keith burrowed for 6 more to the 3 and Illinois called time with 58 seconds to go. The Illini “D” finally stopped Byars for no gain on second down, then called time once more. So far on the drive Wooldridge had gone wide twice, but everything from Byars had been between the tackles. For this critical third-down, the Bucks went with one of their bread-and-butter plays- a pitchout to Keith to the left. Freshman fullback George Cooper, who had gone all the way on this drive and, like Cris Carter, introduced himself to the nation, knocked Dave Edwards down as Byars cut back and walked into the endzone with :36 left. Ohio State now led 45-38 and Byars had a new school record of 274 yards rushing. His five touchdowns also tied a school record set by Pete Johnson against North Carolina in 1975.
Despite the joy in Buckeye Nation, no one had forgotten that Illinois had only needed :37 the year before to go 80 yards for the win over OSU. And after Trudeau hit Randy Grant with a 19-yard pass to advance the ball to the Illini 40, it seemed the Orange and Blue weren’t going to go quietly. But Trudeau misfired on his next four throws and the Buckeyes had prevailed in one of the most exciting games ever in Ohio State history, a game that ended at 7:11 PM with portable lighting shining on the Horseshoe for the first time ever.
There was little doubt who the 1984 Heisman front-runner was after this game. Keith Byars now led the nation in rushing at 179 yards per game, and in scoring with 16 touchdowns. He had scored at least two TD’s in 12 straight contests, and after gaining 39 yards on his first 11 carries of the day, he had rolled for 235 on his other 28 totes. He would cap off the regular season with a three-touchdown day against TBGUN, but Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie’s miracle touchdown on the Friday after Thanksgiving to beat Miami, FL enamored the Heisman voters.
Keith Byars would finish as the runner-up to Flutie, falling victim to two of the Heisman voters’ most aggravating tendencies- rewarding a guy for one play or game (see Tim Brown, Charles Woodson, Desmond Howard, Flutie) and looking at career numbers instead of who had the best year.
The Buckeyes’ miraculous comeback put them back in the driver’s seat in the Big 10. Although there was a 4-way tie at 3-1, the Buckeyes had the best overall record at 5-1. After disposing of Michigan State, OSU traveled to Wisconsin and were beaten in the rain 16-14- the Badgers’ 3rd win in 4 years against the Bucks. Indiana went down 50-7, then on November 10th the Scarlet and Gray crushed Northwestern 52-3. But the big news came from elsewhere around the league- Michigan State had nipped Iowa and Wisconsin had handed Purdue their third conference loss. Unbelievably, the Buckeyes, even with the two Big 10 defeats, were in sole possession of first place. Only the Maize and Blue stood between Ohio State and a trip to Pasadena, and the Bucks broke open a tight game in the fourth quarter to win the outright league crown with a 21-6 triumph. However, the “9 and 3” bugaboo set in again on New Year’s Day as Southern Cal kept Ohio State out of the endzone until the fourth quarter and took advantage of four Buckeye turnovers to win the Rose Bowl 20-17.
The 24-point comeback would be eclipsed in 1989 as OSU rallied from a 31-point deficit to beat Minnesota. Eddie George would better Keith Byars’ single-game rushing record with a 314-yard effort against those same Illini in 1995, and earn the Heisman that had eluded Keith. Derek Combs would even score a touchdown without a shoe as he ignited a 23-7 thumping of Wisconsin in 2000 with an 80-yard, one-shoe gallop. Many of the records and moments of that October afternoon in 1984 have been eclipsed or duplicated, but it takes nothing away from the excitement of that day. And the members of that 1984 team would probably love to see another of their achievements ended- their title as Ohio State’s last outright Big Ten champion.
#12- OHIO STATE AT MICHIGAN- NOVEMBER 21, 1981
A big part of Ohio State’s football tradition is its pantheon of great offensive players, including five Heisman Trophy-winning runningbacks, not to mention two other runners and an offensive tackle that were Heisman runners-up. The galaxy of stars from “Chic” Harley to Troy Smith is bright, but Ohio State has always had a constant thread of defensive excellence as well. That foundation, however, was shaken tremendously in 1981. Heading into their annual battle with TBGUN, the Scarlet and Gray defense had already surrendered 216 points, tying them with the 1978 squad for the most points given up in any OSU football season. With the Michigan tussle and a bowl game still to be played, it was guaranteed the ’81 team would have that embarrassing record all to itself.
If you had glanced at the statistics leading into the UM matchup, you may have scratched your head seeing the Buckeyes fourth in the nation against the run at 83 yards per game. But OSU had come into the season with 4 brand new starters in the secondary and opponents had taken dead aim at them. The Bucks were dead last in the Big Ten in pass defense, and not even the fourth-best offense in the country (442 yards per game heading into Ann Arbor) headed by senior quarterback Art Schlichter could overcome the air assault that the secondary faced every week.
After disposing of Duke in the season opener, the Buckeyes had knocked off Michigan State to start Big Ten play, but Schlichter had injured an ankle on a keeper near the goal line in the Spartan game. With a trip to face John Elway and Stanford and a date with an up-and-coming Florida State team on the horizon, Earle Bruce couldn’t afford to not have Art in the lineup. But the fact remained that despite all the passing numbers Schlichter put up, his ability to run the option was a vital part of the Buckeye offense- one that would become virtually non-existent as 1981 progressed.
The Bucks held off a furious Stanford rally to win in Palo Alto 24-19, but the next week Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles tripped the Bucks up 36-27 despite a still-school record 458 yards passing by Schlichter. The next Saturday OSU dropped a 24-21 decision to Wisconsin, the Badgers’ first victory against Ohio State since 1959. It was the finale of a five-game homestand for Wisconsin which had began with a 21-14 upset of then #1-ranked Michigan on opening day.
The Buckeyes ran off three Big Ten wins in a row over Illinois (34-27), Indiana (29-10) and Purdue (45-33) before losing another shootout- this time to Minnesota 35-31. Gopher quarterback Mike Hohensee torched OSU with 444 yards through the air and five touchdown passes. The Bucks regrouped to pummel Northwestern 70-6, and despite the two league defeats and a leaky defense, they weren’t out of the Rose Bowl picture as they headed north on November 21st. With everyone in the Big Ten beating up on each other, there were still three teams alive for a shot at Pasadena.
Ohio State and Iowa were the only two teams in the Big Ten who had 8-game conference slates in 1981, while everyone else played a nine-game, round-robin schedule. And who had the Bucks and Hawkeyes, both at 5-2 in the league, left off their respective schedules? Yep, each other. Both teams trailed Michigan who sat at 6-2 in Big Ten play, so as the final Saturday dawned the Wolverines needed only a win over the Buckeyes to win an outright title and a second straight trip to the Rose Bowl. Iowa needed to beat Michigan State and hope for an OSU victory in Ann Arbor to smell the roses, while the Scarlet and Gray had to beat TBGUN and root for the Spartans to upend Hayden Fry. A combination of Ohio State and Iowa wins would mean a co-championship, but the Hawks would head west since the Buckeyes had been more recently.
After losing their opener (and preseason #1 ranking) to Wisconsin, Michigan turned right around and pulled the rug out from under the next week’s top-ranked team- Notre Dame. The 25-7 Wolverine win quickly ended Gerry Faust’s honeymoon as Irish coach. Bo Schembechler’s troops won three more before losing to Iowa 9-7, but they took advantage of having the extra conference game and ran off four more wins, moving back up to #7 in the AP poll. The Maize and Blue were 8-2 overall, 6-2 in Big Ten play and were established as 8-point favorites for the 78th edition of “THE Game”. With Ohio State at 7-3 overall, it marked the first time since 1967 that OSU and Michigan would enter their meeting with as many as five losses between them.
Although Ohio State’s Rose Bowl hopes were still alive, Buckeye Nation wasn’t exactly confident as gameday neared. But Earle Bruce had an ace up his sleeve- his predecessor Woody Hayes. Earle had Woody address the squad at Senior Tackle, then invited him along to Ann Arbor for the game. It was Woody’s first road trip with the team since his firing, and his blatant disregard for the “no cheering” rule in the Michigan Stadium pressbox (where he watched the game) greatly irritated the Michigan press contingent, much to the amusement of their Ohio colleagues.
One guy who certainly didn’t amuse Ohio State was Anthony Carter, he of the game-winning touchdown reception for Michigan in the 1980 game in Columbus. And Woody probably filled the “Big House” pressbox with a few colorful words as Carter brought the opening kickoff back 52 yards to spark a drive down to the Buckeye 25. The OSU defense then gave the first indication that they had finally brought their “A” game as roverback Doug Hill picked off a Steve Smith pass. OSU was forced to punt, and Carter brought the kick back 19 yards to the Buckeye 29. On 2nd-and-9 Carter hauled in a 13-yard pass for a first down, extending his consecutive games streak with at least one reception to 19. A pair of runs by fullback Stan Edwards (father of former UM receiver and current Cleveland Brown Braylon) helped give TBGUN a first-and-goal at the five. Edwards plowed for 2, then Steve Smith rolled right and tried to hit Edwards out of the backfield but the pass went off his hands. Edwards could only gain one on 3rd-and-goal from the 3 before being stopped by middle guard Nick Miller and linebacker Glen Cobb, so Ali-Haji Sheikh came on to boot a 19-yard field goal, giving the Wolverines a 3-0 lead with 6:59 left in the opening period.
As the first quarter ticked away, linebacker Marcus Marek snagged Ohio State’s second interception of the game, and Schlichter finally got the offense rolling. From the OSU 20, Art connected with Cedric Anderson for 17. Tailback Tim Spencer, who had gone over the 1,000-yard mark the previous week against Northwestern, then bolted for 13 and 15 to advance the ball to Michigan’s 35. A pair of Spencer runs alternating with two completions to tight end John Frank gave the Bucks a first down at the UM 12. It was fullback Vaughn Broadnax for 5, Spencer for 3 and Broadnax for 3 and now it was first-and-goal at the one. Spencer was stopped for no gain but on second down Schlichter sneaked over for the touchdown, capping an 83-yard, 13-play drive. With 9:57 to go in the first half it was Ohio State 7, Michigan 3.
Anthony Carter once again got loose on the kickoff, bringing it back 30 yards to the UM 33, but Steve Smith couldn’t hook up with a wide-open Vince Bean and the Wolves were forced to punt. Cedric Anderson, who had blocked a punt at Purdue, got a piece of this one, giving the Buckeyes good field position at their own 39, but they couldn’t do anything with it and punted back to Michigan with 1:21 to go until halftime. Smith and Bean combined on a 22-yard pass play to put the ball in Ohio State territory, but Smith promptly threw four straight incompletions and the half ended with the Bucks still up 7-3.
On the Buckeyes’ first possession of the third quarter, Gary Williams extended his consecutive game catch streak to 35 with a nice one-handed grab to give the Bucks a first down, but they couldn’t sustain the march and punted to the Michigan 25. Butch Woolfolk burst for 20 on the first play, then Anthony Carter made a 10-yard reception to advance the ball into Ohio State territory. Stan Edwards bolted for 17 on a trap play to move the chains to the OSU 25, then Edwards and Woolfolk took turns carrying the ball until it was 3rd-and-2 from the Buckeye 6. Steve Smith attempted to run the option to the left side but cornerback Shaun Gayle stormed through to drop Smith for a loss of 3. Haji-Sheikh delivered a 26-yard field goal to draw UM to within a point at 7-6.
The Wolverines gained even more momentum two plays later courtesy of their safeties. Schlichter’s pass for Cedric Anderson was tipped by Keith Bostic and intercepted by Tony Jackson at Ohio State’s 48. Smith kept on an option for 13, and on the next snap Woolfolk picked up 5 and UM gained a gift 15 yards as Marcus Marek was hit with a facemask penalty. With Michigan on the Buckeye 15, Marek more than redeemed himself as he made the stop on the next three plays, forcing the Maize and Blue into a 4th-and-1 call from the OSU 6. Ali Haji-Sheikh, who had only made 3 field goals all season long in 8 attempts coming into the game, nailed his third of this game from 23 yards away and Michigan was back in the lead at 9-7 with 2:26 to play in the third quarter.
On Ohio State’s ensuing series Schlichter found John Frank down the seam for a big 29-yard pickup, but on the first play of the fourth quarter Schlichter’s deep throw for Anderson was short and was intercepted by cornerback Brian Carpenter, who returned it to the UM 18. Schlichter had broken an OSU drought of 13 straight quarters without a touchdown against Michigan by connecting on a scoring toss to Chuck Hunter in 1979. For his career, though, Art was now 32 of 75 passing against the Wolverines for 462 yards and the one touchdown, but with Carpenter’s pick he had now thrown seven interceptions against TBGUN. Bo’s troops couldn’t stand their own good fortune as Butch Woolfolk fumbled after being hit by Kelvin Bell. Shaun Gayle recovered and the Bucks were back in business at the Wolves’ 27.
Two runs by backup tailback Jimmy Gayle gained four, then Schlichter had to hurry a throw down the sideline to Spencer and it fell incomplete. Bob Atha was sent in to try a 40-yard field goal, which had the distance but was nowhere near the goalposts. UM had dodged a bullet, and on their next drive Smith dialed up Carter for gains of 17 and 12, then found Vince Bean for 22 to the Buckeye 8. Michigan’s running game, which had been effective most of the day, was then buried as Smith took to the air. A fade pass to Carter in the corner of the endzone was incomplete, then on second down tight end Craig Dunaway was wide open in the endzone after Glen Cobb fell down in coverage, but Smith threw it behind him. It immediately came back to haunt Michigan as Smith’s third-down pass for Dunaway was tipped by Shaun Gayle and picked off by Kelvin Bell. Gayle had been covering UM’s other tight end, Norm Betts, but had left him as Smith scrambled right and threw into a crowd. Bell’s interception set the Buckeyes up at their own 20 with 8:32 to go in the game.
Spencer got the drive started with a pickup of 5, then it was Schlichter to John Frank for 6 yards and a first down at the Buckeye 31. Spencer gained 2, then Art once again tried to hit Frank down the seam but it was incomplete. Facing 3rd-and-8, Schlichter got heat from Tony Osbun, stepped to his left and floated a pass down the sideline. Tim Spencer went up to grab it for a gigantic first down at the OSU 44. Now with 6:25 left, Schlichter faked to Spencer, rolled right and drilled a 17-yard pass to Gary Williams for another first down at the Michigan 39. Spencer barreled for 4 and John Frank snared a pass for 5 more. With a 3rd-and-1 at the UM 30, Schlichter sneaked for the first down but fumbled the ball. Guard Joe Lukens fell on it to avert disaster and the Buckeyes had a first down on the Michigan 28. On the next play Tim Spencer took a handoff around the right side, picked up a great block from Vaughn Broadnax and scooted for a huge 18-yard pickup to the Wolves’ 10. The Bucks came back with the very same play and Spencer worked it for 2. Once more, the same play was called but this time to the left and Spencer eked out 2 more. With just over three minutes to go the Buckeyes had a 3rd-and-goal call at the 6.
Earle Bruce and the offensive coaches decided to see if they could get history to repeat itself. Just a little over two years earlier in Los Angeles, the Bucks had scored a touchdown in the last minute to beat UCLA 17-13 using “Play Pass 21”, a rollout which gave Schlichter the option to run or throw to his tight end. In that UCLA game, Art had thrown to Paul Campbell in the back of the endzone for the gamer. Now in Ann Arbor two years later, Bruce again sent in “Play Pass 21”. Art would look for John Frank, but the coaches also trusted that Art wouldn’t do anything to ruin their shot at a potential winning field goal, either. As the Buckeyes broke the huddle, the second-largest Michigan Stadium crowd ever of 106,043 (trailing only the ’79 Ohio State game throng) came to its feet. If the play failed, it would only be a 23-yard field goal, but Atha had missed badly on his only other attempt. And even if the kick was good, Michigan would have almost three minutes and all their timeouts to try and get Haji-Sheikh, who was 3 for 3 already on field goals, into position for another.
Bringing Gary Williams in motion from right to left, Schlichter faked to Tim Spencer and rolled to his right. Fullback Vaughn Broadnax was holding off outside linebacker Carlton Rose as Schlichter saw that Frank was covered. With four Wolverine defenders bearing down on him, Art came to a stop and faked inside. At that moment, Broadnax got the better of Rose and knocked him into Keith Bostic, the closest defender to his quarterback. Schlichter ducked around Broadnax and stepped into the corner of the endzone before being drilled into the piles of ice along the “Big House” wall around the field. Only 2:50 remained on the clock and Schlichter’s second touchdown of the game had put the Buckeyes out front 14-9.
Anthony Carter gave UM fans a glimmer of hope by bringing the ensuing kickoff back 34 yards to the Michigan 38, but the Maize and Blue, who had outscored their opponents 98-23 in the fourth quarter coming into the game, couldn’t muster anything. Smith scrambled for 6 but ended a miserable passing day by chucking three incompletions to finish 9 for 26 through the air- all against the “worst” secondary he faced all year. Ohio State ran out the clock as Tim Spencer pounded out one last first down and became only the second runner all year to gain 100 yards on the Wolverine defense. In the Bucks’ last 3 games Spencer had picked up 97, 108 and now 110, and the fact that he gained over 1,000 yards was all the more remarkable considering he shared a great deal of playing time with Jimmy Gayle. Meanwhile Butch Woolfolk, who had rang up 141 yards on 31 carries against OSU in 1980 and had put up 100+ yards in Michigan’s first five games of ’81, was held in check by the Buckeye defense to the tune of 84 yards on 19 totes.
The classic comeback earned Ohio State a share of the Big Ten championship with Iowa, but over in Iowa City the Hawkeyes thumped Michigan State 36-7 to earn their first piece of the conference title since 1960 and their first trip to Pasadena since after the 1958 season. It would also be the first time that someone other than Ohio State or Michigan represented the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl since the 1968 game featured USC and Indiana.
Art Schlichter made his 48th straight start at quarterback on December 30th as the Bucks concluded their 1981 campaign with a 31-28 win over Navy in the Liberty Bowl. It wasn’t the finish that Schlichter had hoped for, but he certainly could brag of being only the second quarterback in Ohio State history to win both of his starts in Ann Arbor (Don Unverferth had led OSU to wins in 1963 and 1965, and no Buckeye QB since has won two starts at the “Big House”). And for the much-maligned Scarlet and Gray defensive unit of 1981, not only had they put forth their best effort of the year to earn their Gold Pants, but they had become the first defense to hold a Bo Schembechler-led Michigan team without a touchdown in a game at Michigan Stadium.
DRIVE #12- OHIO STATE 14, MICHIGAN 9- NOVEMBER 21, 1981
#11- IOWA AT OHIO STATE- NOVEMBER 16, 1957
In 1955, Ohio State had followed up their national championship season of ’54 with another outright Big Ten title, although they were denied a second straight Rose Bowl trip due to the league’s “no repeat” rule. “Hop” Cassady had won the school’s third Heisman Trophy, and things couldn’t have been any better for Woody Hayes and his charges. But the high times were about to end.
While talking to Sports Illustrated writer Robert Shaplen for an article that appeared in the magazine’s October 24th, 1955 issue, Woody had mentioned that he loaned some of the $4,000 he received from his TV show to his players for travel expenses, clothing and other non-luxurious needs. Although Hayes felt he was only trying to help those on his team who weren’t as well off, the tone of Shaplen’s text made it sound more devious-
“Once signed, a recruit can count on some financial help from Hayes if he is “in need”. Woody insists that he never forks up for a luxury- another narrow line- but it’s certainly also true that he makes sure he won’t lose any valuable men by financial default.”
Once the story was public, the Faculty Council began to investigate the loans. This prompted an additional probe by the Big Ten, which turned up more dirt. Apparently Buckeye gridders involved in the athletic job program were being paid up front for those jobs, then either paying back the money later (or working it off), or not repaying anything. The conference looked into the matters for six months, and on April 26, 1956 commissioner “Tug” Wilson announced Ohio State would be placed on probation for one year, which included a ban on playing in the Rose Bowl. The Bucks would have to be content with shooting for an unprecedented third straight outright Big Ten championship.
OSU went 2-1 in the non-conference, dropping a 7-6 heartbreaker to Penn State. Both teams had scored their only touchdowns in the last 4 minutes of the defensive struggle, but a missed extra point cost the Buckeyes the ballgame. Their fortunes had been better in league play, though. Ohio State had entered the season with 13 straight Big Ten wins, only 2 short of Michigan’s record of 15 wins over the 1946-47-48 era. The Bucks knocked off Illinois, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Indiana to set a new school and conference record of 17 consecutive league triumphs, and only Iowa and Michigan stood between them and three straight years of monopolizing the Big Ten rings. But in Iowa City on November 17th, the Hawkeyes scored on a third quarter touchdown pass and held on to upset the Buckeyes 6-0, ending the streak and propelling themselves into the outright title. (OSU’s 17-game stretch of Big 10 victories remains a record to this day, equaled only by the Bucks themselves from 1967-69). The Scarlet and Gray didn’t recover by the next Saturday as Michigan blanked them 19-0. It marked the first time a Woody Hayes-coached team had lost two in a row, and the Bucks hadn’t been shutout back-to-back since 1947.
Ohio State was back in the Big Ten’s good graces for the 1957 season, but were picked to be nothing more than a first-division finisher for the league crown. The competition figured to be stiff as the preseason AP poll had four Big Ten schools in the Top 10- Michigan State (#3), Minnesota (#4), Michigan (#6) and Iowa (#9). The Hawkeyes’ position was somewhat surprising considering they had all but 4 players back who had started the Rose Bowl win over Oregon State the previous January. The Bucks came in at #17, but after the opener against TCU even that looked way off base. OSU had overcome a 90-yard punt return for a score by future Cleveland Brown Jim Shofner (still the longest punt-return TD by a Buckeye opponent in the modern era) to lead 14-12, but the Horned Frogs scored in the third period to take an 18-14 lead and that’s how it ended. It was Woody’s first loss in an opener, the teams’ first opening day defeat since 1950, and now the Bucks’ overall losing streak had reached three, something that hadn’t happened since 1943. The next week in Seattle, the Buckeyes had gone to the half tied at 7 with Washington, but then the entire season seemed to turn as halfback Don Sutherin brought a Huskie punt back 81 yards for the touchdown that ignited a 35-7 win. The momentum carried over into Big Ten play as Illinois (21-7) and Indiana (56-0) were knocked off. On October 26th in Madison, OSU trailed 13-0 but came back to drop the Badgers 16-13. Ara Parseghian’s Northwestern squad was an easy Homecoming victim 47-6 (is it any wonder Ara used to badmouth Ohio State every chance he got when he was at CBS?) and then Purdue was handled 20-7. The Iowa Hawkeyes were next up for Ohio State and a check of the conference standings told you all you needed to know-
Iowa’s tie had come against Michigan on November 2nd (21-21), and the Hawkeyes were seething over a national magazine’s insinuation that they had “quit” at the end of the game when they got the ball back with three minutes to go and hadn’t opened up the offense. Michigan State’s only loss had come against Purdue but heading into play on November 16th, the Spartans were actually ranked #4 in the AP, with Iowa at #5 and the Buckeyes at #6. MSU would be facing Minnesota while the Bucks and Hawks tangled, and for Iowa and Michigan State it would be their Big Ten finales while Ohio State, of course, still had “THE Game” left to play.
For OSU it was simple- beat Iowa and pack your bags for Pasadena. The Hawkeyes were out of the Rose Bowl picture but could lay claim to an outright league title with a win in Columbus. The Spartans hadn’t played either Iowa or Ohio State in ’57, plus they had scheduled one less Big Ten game than Ohio State. MSU’s only Rose Bowl scenario was to beat Minnesota while the Buckeyes lost their last two games.
Needless to say, the buildup in Columbus that week was typical of Michigan week, and the game had the nation’s attention as well. At the beginning of the ’57 season, Vice-President Richard Nixon had expressed his interest to Ohio Senator John Bricker of catching a Big Ten game at Ohio Stadium. When the senator handed Nixon a schedule and offered an invitation to any home contest, Nixon immediately picked the Iowa game.
The excitement surrounding the contest was tempered somewhat around Buckeye Nation by the team’s injury situation. Starting halfback Don Clark, the team’s leading rusher and scorer, had pulled a groin muscle in the first quarter against Purdue and sat out the rest of the game. Clark’s backup, Don Sutherin, who also handled punting and kicking chores, hadn’t been available at all against the Boilers due to a sprained ankle. And halfback Joe Cannavino also went down in the Purdue game with an ankle sprain in the first period. Compounding all this uncertainty in the backfield, Iowa had been the country’s #1 team against the run up until their 44-20 win over Minnesota the previous week. The Gophers had rushed for 223 yards, which dropped the Hawks to second in the nation in run defense, but this served as little consolation to the offensive coaches.
Sutherin was back at practice on Monday, but all week Clark was unable to do anything but jog lightly. Finally on Thursday, Hayes closed practice so he could find out which of his backs could run. Sutherin was ready, Cannavino would dress but not play much, but worst of all Clark was ruled out. Since the Buckeyes would still be able to go to the Rose Bowl by beating Michigan even if they lost to Iowa, it was decided that Clark would sit.
As gametime neared, the city was at a fever pitch. The Big Ten title and Rose Bowl were on the line against a team that had ended Ohio State’s record Big Ten winning streak the year before. The 6-0 loss had left a sour taste in OSU’s mouth, especially over the Hawkeyes’ playing field. Iowa coach Forest Evashevski had let the Kinnick Stadium grass grow noticeably long to try and slow the Buckeye running game. Woody Hayes had threatened to get a lawn mower and cut it himself, prompting Evashevski to call Hayes “a disgrace to football”. Supreme efforts had been made by both coaching staffs to keep the two head men apart. Throw this bad blood into a game with all the marbles at stake and it’s little wonder that the Ohio Stadium press box was bulging with its largest media contingent ever. Over 400 reporters from all over the country had gathered, and although the only television coverage was a closed circuit broadcast back to Des Moines, there were FIVE different Columbus radio stations airing the game.
An “official” record crowd of 82,935 packed the Horseshoe for the 1:30 kickoff. (The “unofficial” attendance record of 90,437 had been set in 1926 for the TBGUN matchup, but the figure was a guess at best- fans had broken down gates to get in.) OSU received the kickoff, and on the game’s first play halfback Joe Trivisonno, who had been moved from fullback on Tuesday in practice, broke loose around left end for 30 yards to the Buckeye 48. If there was any question how physical this game would be, it was answered right away as Iowa’s Mike Hagler lost 3 front teeth making a diving tackle on Trivisonno. And if there was doubt about what this contest meant, that was erased as Hagler returned to the lineup and ended up carrying 7 times for 49 yards.
Co-captain Galen Cisco, who would go on to a 40-year career in Major League Baseball, immediately pounded for 10 and just like that OSU was at the Iowa 42. The Bucks churned to the 24, then Trivisonno hammered over left tackle for 13 to the Hawks’ 11. Dick LeBeau picked up 3, but then after keeping the ball exclusively on the ground the entire drive, quarterback Frank Kremblas went airborne. Co-captain Leo Brown caught a pass out of the endzone, and a third down throw for Jim Houston was knocked down. Don Sutherin came on to boot a field goal from the 15 and less than 5 minutes in Ohio State led 3-0, but Buckeye partisans were questioning the wisdom of the two passes when the ground game had made hay early.
Iowa’s first possession began at their 34, and they mixed the running of quarterback Randy Duncan and halfbacks Bill Happel and William Gravel to advance to OSU’s 8. On second-and-goal, Duncan fired to end Bob Prescott for the touchdown to cap off the 10-play march and give Iowa a 6-3 lead, which is where it stayed as Prescott’s point-after attempt sailed wide.
The Hawkeyes forced a punt, which Mike Hagler-minus the three teeth- returned to the Ohio State 35. Hagler picked up two on a reverse, then Duncan hooked up with his favorite receiver, Jim Gibbons, for 18 to the Buckeye 15. Gibbons, whose 17-yard touchdown catch had accounted for the only points in Iowa’s 6-0 upset over OSU in ’56, had tied an Iowa record with 9 receptions the previous week against Minnesota. The 164 yards Gibbons put up with the nine grabs set a school record which stood until 1980. With the Hawkeyes knocking on the door, the Scarlet and Gray defense rose to the challenge, forcing a Kevin Furlong fumble which Jim Houston recovered at OSU’s 21.
Woody Hayes had taken note of the passing game failures on the opening drive, so now with the momentum of Houston’s fumble recovery, General Hayes kept things landlocked. Bob White, who had started the season at center but was playing more and more fullback, carried on 4 of 6 running plays as the Buckeyes moved to Iowa’s 48 early in the second period. With the Hawkeye defense keying on White, Frank Kremblas faked to him and kept for 14 and a first down at the Iowa 38. Three more rushes moved the chains to the 26, then Kremblas rolled out for 11 more to the Old Gold and Black 15. Bob White hit for 4 and again for 3, then Kremblas faked once more to White and drove for 4, giving the Bucks a first-and-goal at the 4. Dick LeBeau picked up 3, then it was Kremblas on a sneak for the score, his sixth touchdown of the season. Sutherin booted the PAT and the 79-yard drive of 16 straight running plays put the Bucks out front 10-6.
Iowa came right back, sparked by “Marvelous” Mike Hagler, who returned the ensuing kickoff 37 yards to his own 46, then circled left end on the next snap for 22 to the Ohio 32. On first down William Gravel coughed up the ball and Jim Houston recovered at the Buckeye 40, but Ohio State was penalized for being offsides and the Hawkeyes were off the hook. Two plays later Canton, Ohio native John Nocera went over right tackle for 12 and a first down at the Bucks’ 13. Hagler drove over the left side for 7 and Gravel gained 1, bringing up a third-and-2 situation from OSU’s 5. Gravel got the call, but once more he fumbled. The football rolled all the way back to the 23, where Leo Brown picked it up and raced the remaining 77 yards into the endzone. However, in 1957, a fumble couldn’t be advanced so the ball came back to the Buckeye 23. A clipping penalty thwarted Ohio State’s efforts so Kremblas came in to punt. Gravel gathered it in at his 30 but was drilled by three scarlet shirts and fumbled yet again, with OSU recovering at Iowa’s 21. Within a five-minute span Gravel had put the pigskin on the ground three times, which was probably no surprise to Iowa fans who had seen their team fumble 19 times coming into the game, with 12 being recovered by the opposition.
It looked as if the Buckeyes would waste the golden opportunity as a delay of game penalty and a 5-yard loss by Frank Kremblas while recovering his own fumble brought up a 3rd-and-18 from the Hawkeye 29. Woody Hayes hadn’t called a pass play since the two goal-to-go incompletions on OSU’s opening drive, but now he ordered one up and Kremblas fired to Dick LeBeau for a huge 22-yard pickup to the Iowa 7. The next three plays only produced 3 yards, so Kremblas lined up for a field goal. The snap from center was short so holder Dick LeBeau tried to run but was stopped for no gain. Iowa ran out the clock and the Buckeye lead remained 10-6 at halftime.
The Hawkeyes took the second half kickoff and worked out to their 48 with a ground attack, but as soon as Randy Duncan went to the air disaster struck as his pass deflected off Bob Prescott’s fingers and was intercepted by Galen Cisco. The Bucks couldn’t get going and Kremblas punted out of bounds at Iowa’s 30. Duncan then engineered an 11-play march, hooking up with receiver Jim Gibbons 3 times for 29 yards. Don Horn added a 15-yard run and William Gravel barreled off left tackle on an 11-yard scamper that put the ball at the Buckeye 1. Duncan did the honors with a sneak and after Prescott’s PAT the Hawkeyes led 13-10 with 5:39 left in the third quarter.
The Bucks launched their next drive from their own 25, but two incompletions brought up a quick 3rd-and-10 play. Kremblas kept the drive alive, hitting Joe Cannavino for 16 and a first down. Bob White plowed up the middle for 30 big yards to put the ball at Iowa’s 29. Five running plays put the ball at the 13, where it was 2nd-and-7. Back in the first quarter, Jim Houston had recovered a Kevin Furlong fumble when the Hawkeyes were at the OSU 15. Now from almost the same spot, Kremblas threw towards Houston in the endzone but Furlong picked it off and brought it out to the 22. It was the first interception Ohio State had thrown all season and the timing couldn’t have been worse. Iowa ran one play to milk the rest of the third-quarter clock, and with 15 minutes to go Forest Evashevski’s troops held on to their 13-10 advantage.
There was no “Hang On Sloopy” in 1957 to rally the team and crowd before the fourth quarter, but something clicked immediately for the Scarlet and Gray as Dick LeBeau intercepted a Randy Duncan pass at the OSU 41. Two Bob White plunges moved the ball into Iowa territory but the drive fizzled and Kremblas’ punt was downed at the Hawkeye 6 with 12:09 to play. Iowa’s ground game punched the ball out to the 20, but Duncan was buried by Bob White for a monster 13-yard loss which effectively halted the march. Iowa punted for the first time all day, and in fact it was the first Hawkeye punt since the Michigan game two weeks previously. John Nocera’s kick was fielded by Joe Cannavino, and he was brought down at the Ohio State 32. There was 7:51 left in the game and 68 yards stood between the Buckeyes and a trip to Pasadena.
Bob White plowed over right tackle for 4, then dragged several Iowa tacklers with him on a 9-yard romp, giving OSU a first down at their own 45. Sticking with the old adage “You dance with who ya brung” (apologies to my English teachers), Kremblas sent White over left guard and the Covington, Kentucky native broke out for 29 yards and a first down at the Hawkeye 26. Ohio Stadium was going absolutely bananas as Dick LeBeau gave White a breather and hit the same hole at left guard for 3 yards.
Bob White picked up 5 more and for the first time on the drive the Buckeyes faced a third down. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what to do- White drove for 10, giving the Bucks a 1st-and-goal at the 8. Once more White got the call and blasted for 5. Legend has it that in the huddle Frank Kremblas asked White, “Got anything left, Bob?” to which the big redhead simply nodded. Kremblas handed to White who hammered in for the go-ahead score- the fourth time the lead had changed hands in the ballgame. Don Sutherin converted and the Buckeyes lead 17-13 with 3:53 left as the record crowd shook the ‘Shoe to its foundation.
It was now up to the defense as Iowa took over at their 25. Several thousand hearts moved into their owners’ throats as Randy Duncan hit Don Norton for 16 and Jim Gibbons for 12 to put Iowa at the OSU 47. On the next play, Duncan went on top again but Bill Jobko, who would be named Ohio State’s team MVP at season’s end, intercepted the pass while falling backward at the Buckeye 33. After his heroics at fullback, Bob White actually moved back to center and led Kremblas on three straight quarterback sneaks. With the clock down to 36 seconds, Kremblas punted to Iowa’s 31. Three Duncan aerials fell incomplete and the Buckeyes were Big Ten champions and had punched their ticket to the Rose Bowl. The fans stormed the field, tearing down both goalposts and carrying Bob White off the field. White finished the day with 157 yards on 22 carries, two more than Iowa’s entire rushing total for the game.
The Buckeye locker room was in bedlam. There was a brief moment of calm as OSU legend “Chic” Harley addressed the squad, but shortly after that Hayes was thrown fully clothed into the showers. His troops were outright Big Ten champions for the third time in four years, and it was the first (and to date only) time that Ohio State had lost their opening game and won out. And for the first time since the Big Ten and Pac-10 had entered into the new Rose Bowl agreement in 1946, OSU had the trip to Pasadena wrapped up prior to the Michigan game, an achievement equaled only by the 1996 team.
On the national front, the Buckeyes received major help that afternoon. #1 Texas A&M was upset by Rice, while #2 Oklahoma, owners of a modern record 47-game unbeaten streak, was edged 7-0 by Notre Dame. OSU went into Ann Arbor ranked #3, and overcame a 14-10 halftime deficit to drub the Wolverines 31-14. Bob White picked up where he left off against Iowa with 163 yards on 30 carries. In seven games leading up to the Hawkeye contest, White had carried 37 times for 232 yards. In the final two tilts White had rumbled for 320 yards on 52 carries.
The Bucks moved to #2 in the AP after the TBGUN win, but were first in the UP (United Press) and INS (International News Service) polls. (The two would later merge to become UPI). Auburn held the #1 spot in the AP poll and validated it with a 40-0 shellacking of Alabama on November 30th. OSU finished #2 in the AP but UP and INS stuck to their guns, naming the Buckeyes national champions for 1957. The national titles were awarded before the bowl games in those days, and it was probably a good thing for Ohio State since they needed a Don Sutherin field goal early in the fourth quarter to subdue Oregon 10-7 in Pasadena. After getting routed by California 28-0 in the 1921 Rose Bowl, Ohio State had now won three Rose Bowl trips in a row.
Bob White’s one-man show on the final drive against Iowa has gone down in Buckeye lore as one of the greatest individual accomplishments in school history. His performances against the Hawkeyes and Michigan would be the springboard to an All-American season in 1958 (He would be the first of four All-American fullbacks to play under Woody, paving the way for Bob Ferguson, Jim Otis and John Brockington). The Hawkeyes would be victimized by White again in ’58 as he powered for 209 yards in a 38-28 win over an Iowa team that had already won the Big Ten crown. The 209-yard performance was, at the time, the second highest rushing total in Ohio State history, trailing only Ollie Cline’s 239-yard effort against Pittsburgh in 1945.
Vice-President Richard Nixon had watched Ohio State’s 1957 win over Iowa from Senator John Bricker’s box in section 17A. That evening he and Woody Hayes had dinner together at Bricker’s home, sparking a lifelong friendship between the two. When Nixon was president-elect in 1969, he would come to the Rose Bowl to see Ohio State win the national title over Southern Cal, and in 1987 he delivered the eulogy at Woody’s funeral. And while all the details weren’t quite correct, he began by describing their first meeting-
“I vividly recall the time I first met Woody Hayes 30 years ago. It was right after the Ohio State-Iowa football game in 1957. It was a great game. Iowa led 13-10 in the middle of the fourth quarter…A big sophomore fullback, Bob White, carried the ball 11 straight times… It was three yards in a cloud of Hawkeyes. He finally scored. Ohio State won 17-13…Afterwards, at a victory reception, John Bricker introduced me to Woody. I wanted to talk about football. Woody wanted to talk about foreign policy. You know Woody- we talked about foreign policy.”
In Robert Vare’s 1974 book “Buckeye”, Hayes corroborated this account, though adding his own touch- “I met (Nixon) back in ’57, I think it was, after we had upset Iowa. He was Vice-President then and we were over at Senator Bricker’s house having dinner. I remember he asked me an awful lot of questions about the game and football in general, and I asked him a lot of questions about foreign policy. I’ll tell you this much: Back then he knew a helluva lot more about football than he did about foreign policy!”
DRIVE #11- OHIO STATE 17, IOWA 13- NOVEMBER 16, 1957