Following a legend is never easy, and coach Earle Bruce can testify to the challenges of following Woody Hayes when he took over the helm of the program in 1979. But three years earlier, another legend had departed Columbus for the NFL (and the business world); running back Archie Griffin, he of the two Heisman Trophy awards and the NCAA's leading career rusher at the time, was gone and in OSU's run-heavy offense someone else needed to step up in order to keep things moving. Fortunately, Jeff Logan was waiting in the wings.
Logan had been a star at North Canton Hoover high school, and he backed up Griffin during the 1974 and 1975 seasons. In 1976 Griffin was gone, along with much of the offense, and Logan was stepping into the starting job on a team that was still expected to contend for the Big Ten championship. But he was not the only player in the spotlight.
1975 was also the last season for star quarterback Cornelius Greene, a three-year starter who had led his team to three conference championships (with the accompanying Rose Bowl berth) and was 2-0-1 against Michigan. Greene had also been named Rose Bowl MVP his sophomore season after the team crushed USC, 42-21. Now another soph, Rod Gerald, was taking over where Greene left off, and he was expected to continue the tradition of excellence that had been established by Greene and his predecessors, Rex Kern and Greg Hare.
It was not going to be easy to replicate the exploits of the 1975 team. That team had finished 11-0 in the regular season and would have won the national championship if they could have gotten past UCLA in the Rose Bowl. A 23-10 loss in that game ruined the perfect season, and many of the key players from that team had departed, including 3/5ths of the offensive line and all starting receivers in addition to Greene and Griffin.
Coach Woody Hayes always emphasized the running game, and this would be even more pronounced with Greene no longer handling the reins at quarterback. The one strong point for the offense was the presence of massive fullback Pete Johnson, a bruising runner in the tradition of previous stars like Bob Ferguson and Jim Otis, but with added bulk. Johnson was known for literally moving the pile for several yards on his carries even when there was no hole to speak of, and he had parlayed his strength and speed into an amazing 25 touchdowns in his junior season. Massive offensive tackle Chris Ward also returned along with guard Bill Lukens.
Unlike the offense, the defense returned most of its stars from the previous season. Especially significant was the presence of defensive end Bob Brudzinski and safety Ray Griffin. Other important players were defensive linemen Aaron Brown, Eddie Beamon, and Nick Bounamici, linebacker Ed Thompson, and cornerback Bruce Ruhl. The tried and true Hayes formula of defense and a strong running game would have to carry the team until the passing game came around (if it ever did).
The team quickly disposed of Michigan State in the opener at Ohio Stadium. Logan scored three touchdowns, including a 75-yard run on OSU's first possession after halftime and a 68-yard punt return for a TD. Johnson continued his scoring ways as he took a carry 58 yards to the house. Gerald ran the option to perfection and got in the end zone twice himself. The final score was a very satisfying 49-21, made closer than it appears due to the fact that Hayes emptied the bench in the second half after leading 35-0 at halftime.
In week 2, the Buckeyes went on the road to play their first game ever at Penn State's Beaver Stadium. This would be the 6th meeting between the two teams, with all 5 previous meetings taking place in Columbus. The previous season, Ohio State had defeated the Nittany Lions, 17-9, for their first victory in the series. The home-and-home agreement called for OSU to come to State College in 1976, and Joe Paterno's squad was itching to make amends for what had happened in Columbus.
The two teams traded punts in the 1st quarter as both defenses dominated play early. However, early in the 2nd quarter the Lions got a break when OSU punted and then interfered with the Penn State player who was trying to receive the punt. The hit was heavy enough to warrant a personal foul penalty and it set up PSU with good field position at the OSU 35. They quickly moved to the Buckeye 16 on a pass from quarterback John Andress to tight end Mickey Shuler.
Behind the strong running of fullback Matt Suhey, Penn State moved methodically to a first-and-goal at the OSU 4. But the Buckeye defense stiffened from there, and on 3rd down from the 6, Andress dropped back to try and hit Shuler again in the end zone. Griffin read the play and stepped in front to intercept the ball. He unwisely decided to run it out of the end zone and was tackled at the 3. Fortunately for OSU (and for Griffin, who would have earned the wrath of Hayes for that move), Shuler ran over and hit Griffin late after the tackle and the resulting penalty moved the ball out to the 18-yard line.
The turnover energized the offense, and Gerald executed the option to perfection, carrying the ball to the 30. On the next play, Logan took a simple dive play 49 yards to the PSU 21. From there, Johnson got his first two carries of the day and moved the ball to the 10. With a first-and-goal from there, Gerald ran the option from OSU's "Robust T" formation and kept it around left end for the touchdown. They missed the extra point, but the TD gave OSU a 6-0 lead.
The Nittany Lions attempted to respond as they put together a long drive into OSU territory. But on first-and-goal at the Buckeye 5, Andress pitched right to tailback Steve Geise and Geise could not handle the pitch. The ball was batted around and finally Brudzinski fell on it at the OSU 19 and that ended the threat. The Buckeyes ran out the rest of the clock to take a 6-0 halftime lead.
In the 2nd half, Ohio State began with the ball and kept it for most of the quarter. They had two long drives that ended in missed field goals, but they possessed the ball for so long that Penn State ended up with only one 3rd quarter possession (a 3-and-out). In the 4th quarter, the Buckeyes took advantage of good field position to move to the 10-yard line, and from there reserve wingback Bobby Hiatt took an option pitch from Gerald around left end for a touchdown, the first and only score of his career. The two-point conversion failed, and OSU led, 12-0.
Penn State finally scored to cut it to 12-7 on a 3-yard run by Suhey, but by then there were only 6 minutes left. Ohio State, led by the running of Logan, went on a methodical march down the field and did not give the ball back to the Lions until there was only 1:41 on the clock and they had used all their time-outs. Andress tried to pass the ball down the field but he was intercepted by OSU DE Kelton Dansler and that sealed the win.
Logan led OSU in rushing with 160 yards on 25 carries. He would end up rushing for 1,248 yards on 218 carries for the season, good enough for 4th best in school history (behind Griffin's last three seasons) at the time. The team would lose to Missouri the next week after beating Penn State, and ultimately finished 9-2-1 on the season, with the other loss coming at home to Michigan. They traveled to Miami for the school's first Orange Bowl appearance on New Years Day and took care of business against Colorado, 27-10.