Flashback: Ohio State vs. Indiana, 1981

By Joe Beale on October 6, 2010 at 8:36a
As a player, he was hard to beat.Schlichter worked hard to keep up with opposing QB's

A bit scary, but in the end, just a routine victory: that's how you would describe Ohio State's 29-10 victory over Indiana on October 24, 1981. OSU led just 12-10 at halftime, but pulled away in the 2nd half. It was a welcome change from the typical late-game "hold on for dear life" scene that was played out many times during the season, scenes that sometimes ended with disaster (as in the 35-31 loss to Minnesota, after leading 31-21).

The 1981 season began with Ohio State fans still in a bad mood after losing to State Penn 31-19 in the 1980 Fiesta Bowl. In that game, OSU QB Art Schlichter had over 200 yards passing at halftime but coach Earle Bruce was determined to get a running game going in the 2nd half. As the Buckeye coach willingly shackled his best weapon, the Nittany Lion defense shut them down and unleashed RB Curt Warner against the worn out OSU defense. The resulting come-from-ahead loss stung the Buckeye faithful and created all kinds of bad press about Bruce and his "boring run it up the middle offense". But there would be nothing dull about OSU games in 1981.

Ohio State suffered the loss of several key players after the 1980 season, including the entire secondary. This led to games in which no lead was safe, as quarterbacks routinely shredded the young defense. On the other hand, under Schlichter the OSU offense often seemed unstoppable. The senior QB was on his way to setting many school passing records and setting up well for a career in the NFL. The running game, with former fullback Tim Spencer leading the way at RB, was cruising along. Spencer took his first carry of the season to the house against Duke, an 82-yard burst that began a 147-yard performance. Making up for the porous defense would be difficult, but this offense seemed well suited for the task.

Indiana was led by veteran coach Lee Corso, in his 9th season at the helm (he would leave after one more season to become an announcer for the USFL). Corso had made the program respectable, but he was mostly known in Columbus for a silly stunt he had pulled 5 years earlier. In a 1976 game at Indiana, Ohio State returned an interception for a TD, but missed the extra point. Trailing 6-0, IU marched down the field and scored to take a 7-6 lead. At that point, Corso took a time out and had his team quickly assemble under the scoreboard. He then had a photographer take a picture of the score, presumably so that he would have some evidence that his team had once had a lead on Ohio State. The lead was short-lived, and Woody Hayes ran up the score on Corso to the tune of 47-7. Apparently, Hayes was not amused. 

 Like that previous encounter, the Buckeye offense struggled to score in the first half against Corso's defense. Indiana QB Babe Laufenberg was able to pass the ball effectively, although not as easily as some of the other Big Ten QB's against OSU's young secondary. Spencer sprained his ankle early in the game, which created an opportunity for backup RB Jimmy Gayle. Gayle responded by carrying 29 times for 186 yards. In the 2nd half, the OSU defense shut down the Hoosiers and Ohio State cruised to a relatively easy win. Placekicker Bob Atha set a school record with 5 field goals, a performance that would bring a smile to the current OSU coaching staff.

There were not many easy victories in the 1981 season, and so this one was a welcome relief for OSU fans and for Bruce and his assistants. The team would eventually finish 9-3, winning at Michigan and holding on for a win in the Liberty Bowl against Navy. Art Schlichter would eventually be chosen by the Colts in the first round of the NFL draft, but his career was derailed by his gambling addiction. Tim Spencer played one more season at Ohio State before departing for the USFL. He would finish his pro career in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers. Eventually, Spencer was hired as an assistant on the the Ohio State coaching staff under John Cooper and was retained by Jim Tressel when he was hired. In 2004, Spencer left OSU to become running backs coach for the Chicago Bears, where he still coaches today under fellow former OSU assistant Lovie Smith. His son Evan Spencer is committed to play for Ohio State in 2011.


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Dr. Kenneth Noisewater's picture

I love these Flashbacks.   Keep them coming.    I vividly remember the season opener against Duke, as it was Alumni day, and my dad was in the Alumni band that would do the Quad Script Ohio's along with the current band.   So that was the one game we went to every year.   I remember the pitch Spencer took to the house on the very first play as well.   I realize that isn't the game you are talking about here, but the mention of it brought those memories flooding back, so thanks!  

Chris Lauderback's picture

Brian Fantana rules!

Joe Beale's picture

We do one of these every week during football season.  Do a search for "flashback" on the site search engine and you can find all the previous ones.  And thanks for the kind words.

Todd-Not Boeckmann's picture

I remember the Duke game as well.  What I remember most was how gawd awful hot it was that day in C deck.  My sister was living in those condos just past Max and Ermas on Henderson and Kenny.  All I could think about the whole second half was how wonderful that swimming pool was going to feel after the game.  My future brother in law and I jumped into the pool in our clothes it was so hot.

On the wall guarding the North Coast from all Weasel invasions.

Poe McKnoe's picture

Ole Miss is failing on so many levels in deciding a new mascot.

Bucksfan's picture

Left field comment.  Where did that come from?

Jason Priestas's picture

It's from a link in Buckshots.  Unfortunately you can't comment on the items in that list now, but that should be rollin out very, very soon.

Bucksfan's picture

okay....what's Buckshots?  How does it relate to the Indiana game?  I'm not trying to be a dick...it's just I've been noticing a string of random comments lately on these threads...and I'm usually pretty up on my in-jokes.

741's picture

The feature formerly known as "Good Shizzy"...

Jason Priestas's picture

Tip of the 40 to Good Shizzy...

Leanenaud's picture

I still think they should have a tranny drag queen donning a confederate flag. Classy, just the fine folks from Mississippi.

Buckeye_Mafia's picture

Oh but Old Miss is a bunch of rich hillbilllies. So they are classy to Southerners. Laugh eveyime they say tOSU fans are trashy compared to Old Miss

"At critical moments throughout the season, we learned about the character of this football team.  This was a team of true character, of true resilience." -- President Barack Obama

iball's picture

Buckeye fans need to realize that we are living in an unprecedented age of domination on the gridiron. Not that the strive for excellence is bad, but let's appreciate the excellence displayed by our program in the last 8 years.

“There’s one thing I have learned through all my adventures and conquests - it’s that some people are just wired for success. I had no choice when it came to being great - I just am great.” – Kenny Powers

Matt's picture

In light of his quad injury, I feel as though TP's Heisman campaign is over before it ever really started. 

Of course, it's not the first time a stand-out Buckeye Heisman campaign ended precipitously.



buckeyedude's picture

I wonder if McNutt plays QB? We need a good backup if Terrelle goes down!



Jason Priestas's picture

Some of the quotes in that article were priceless.

"We asked the guy at the T-shirt company what we should do, and he told us not to make any more T-shirts. I guess he's been our legal counsel."