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.