Turning Points, Volume Three: An '88 Comeback

By Jeff Beck on May 16, 2013 at 4:30p
Turning Points

Setting the Scene

The year was 1988, and for the first time in 9 years, Ohio State had a new head man leading the Scarlet and Gray out of the tunnel.

On December 31st 1987, a 50 year old John Cooper was introduced as Ohio State’s 21st head coach.

He was chosen from seven candidates and was ultimately selected based on his sterling resume. 

Cooper served for 15 seasons as an assistant at Iowa State, Oregon State, UCLA, Kansas and Kentucky before accepting his first head coaching position at Tulsa in 1977. 

For 8 years Cooper served as Tulsa’s field general, and in each of the last 5 years of his tenure the team won the Missouri Valley Conference league championship.

John Cooper, interviewed before the 1988 LSU gameCoop looked so young in '88.

In 1985, JC was selected as Arizona State’s head coach and in three years he tallied a 25-9-2 record including a Rose Bowl victory over Bo Schembechler's Michigan Wolverines.

In his first season as head coach of the Buckeyes, Cooper would need every last shred of that experience as he was tasked with replacing all but five starters on the defensive side of the ball.

However, Cooper could take solace in the fact he had a talented stable of running backs to rely on including Vince Workman and Carlos Snow. 

The Buckeyes kicked off the season with a 26-9 win over Syracuse in front of the then largest opening day crowd of all time (89,768). The victory would break the nation-leading 14 game win streak of the Orangemen in front of a nationally televised audience.

Hoping to ride that momentum into their ensuing contest, the Buckeyes left Columbus  the following week to play the Pitt Panthers. Unfortunately, the second game of the season would be a far different story as the Buckeyes got stomped 42-10. Adding insult to injury, the following Wednesday RB, Workman, was released from the team after confessing to accepting money from an agent.

Needless to say, Cooper had a deflated team heading into its Sept. 24 matchup against LSU. The clash would be the first time an SEC team had set foot in the ‘Shoe since Kentucky in 1935.

Nail biter cityLeft for dead.

With roughly 4 minutes left in the fourth quarter and trailing 33-20, the Buckeyes were in need of a miracle.

Little did anyone know, the Scarlet and Gray would require just one minute and 18 seconds to turn coal into diamonds.

Turning Point: A Walk-On Gets It Done

It took sophomore QB, Greg Frey just 10 plays to move the ball 59 yards for a score. The drive was capped by a Snow 5-yard run up the gut with 1:56 left to make it 33-27.

It was then that Cooper took a chance. Conventional wisdom would dictate an onside kick, but instead Coop chose to kick the ball deep, relying on his defense to get the ball back.

The kick went for a touchback and quickly the Silver Bullets had LSU at 3rd and 12 on their own 18.

With no timeouts left on the Buckeye sideline, everyone in the stadium expected a clock killing run.

Instead LSU chose to toss it resulting in an incompletion and stopping the clock at 1:38. The Tigers’ drive had consumed only 18 seconds, and now the Buckeyes were going to get the ball back.

Not wanting to chance a muffed punt, LSU chose to run their punter out of the endzone for a safety, giving them the option to kick off or punt from the 20.

Head Coach, Mike Archer, elected to punt and the kick was returned 30 yards by Buckeye walk-on, Bobby Olive, to the LSU 38.


With no time-outs left the Bucks were in a crunch. In three plays the Scarlet and Gray were able to move the ball to the LSU 20, but they faced a 3rd and 7 to move the chains.

That’s when offensive coordinator, Jim Colletto, dialed up a play that had worked earlier in the game for a gain of 19: “Confirm 63 Y Bench”. The call was a post pattern run toward the center of the field targeting Olive.

With 44 seconds remaining, Frey dropped back on 3rd-and-7 from the LSU 20 and let it fly. The throw was too long, but Olive made the adjustment, laying out for it in the endzone. With the highlight-reel grab the Buckeyes had pulled off the impossible, coming back from 13 down to go up 36-33.

The Tigers would have one last chance from their own 34, but four downs gained only 3 yards.

With seven seconds left, the fans stormed the field, as OSU snapped Louisiana State’s streak of 14 road game victories.

That's what a walk-on can do for you.

Until next week, Turning Points…out.


Comments Show All Comments

Northbrook's picture

I was there for that one and on the field afterwards. The LSU fans were taunting Buckeye fans leaving early when we were behind. Boy did things change in a hurry.

Hovenaut's picture

Crazy to think that team beat solid 'Cuse and LSU teams that year, and wound up 4-6-1 (if I recall).

Ugh, and that Pitt loss.....must be a high point for Mark May.

Northbrook's picture

Yeah, I was at that one too. Depressing.

BUCKfutter's picture

With no timeouts left on the Buckeye sideline, everyone in the stadium expected a clock killing run.

Instead LSU chose to toss it resulting in an incompletion and stopping the clock at 1:38. The Tigers’ drive had consumed only 18 seconds, and now the Buckeyes were going to get the ball back.

Les Miles has been the LSU coach a lot longer than I realized...

the kids are playing their tail off, and the coaches are screwing it up! - JLS

ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

That moment when you're reading an article, you think of the perfect smart-assed thing to comment, then you read the comments and someone beat you to it. 

Class of 2010.

BUCKfutter's picture

it's happened to me more times than i can count

the kids are playing their tail off, and the coaches are screwing it up! - JLS

Barney's picture

I went to the game with family.  My uncle Jack played for LSU in the 60's and their AD at the time was an old friend and teammate.  Jack left our seats with around 4:30 on the clock to go to the locker room.  You know, to congratulate the Tigers on the victory.  I can still see the look on his face when we met up at the cars afterward.

Set your gearshift for the high gear of your soul!

NoVA Buckeye's picture

ESPN refuses to acknowledge this game's existence. NCAA currently looking for violations to remove this win from the record books just to make Mark Emmert and Mike Slive happy.

The offseason begins when your season ends. Even then there are no days off.


What I can't believe is an SEC team actually came north of the Mason-Dixon line. That game is probably one of the reasons why they don't. Afraid they'll get their asses embarrassed LOL.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

Hey pretty interesting when the SEC teams actually travel up north for some games.  What do you know they do get beat.  Must be nice to play just about every bowl game in your backyard.  I'd like to see us schedule some more SEC schools to come up to Columbus for a visit.  I think it would lead to some great games and show the country that B1G football is pretty good. 

BuckeyeChief's picture

Ahh, the Cooper era...man, was he a great recruiter, but I think a lot of people always looked at him as an outsider, looked for every misstep as a reason to pile on and the pressure on him was so high to beat ttun, he got very tight and the team reflected it. I think I heard Justin Zwick state that if Coop was still the coach, he wouldn't have went to OSU; I also heard some boosters hated him so much they pushed recruits to go elsewhere.

I was very, very young at this time, had just moved in from NYC and wasn't the rabid, die hard maniac I am now. I remember having a family friend who was a model/ OSU graduate, who told me "Just wait, you'll be a fan in scarlet and grey soon enough" and so it was...

"2014 National Champions...deal with it!!!"

Knarcisi's picture

Coop!  Bitter sweet.  He raised the bar on the program, and expectations.  Tainted by TTUN and bowl losses.  His teams quit and underperformed at times.  Did win a Rose Bow that had escaped us since the 70s.  Have to credit him with taking it up a notch.  Tress built on that to give us our 1st championship in over 30 years.  Urban will take it a step further.  Thanks, Coop, for adding to the legacy. 

Buckabroad's picture

That was the first game I ever attended in the Shoe. Absolutely stunning, even to this day.

"The minute we stop expecting greatness, we become Wisconsin."

Haybucks's picture

I remember seeing the "Re-Cooperated" OSU t-shirts, but didn't like the insinuation.  That LSU game was sweet as was the 13-13 tie at #5 LSU the following year.   

If the world comes to an end, I want to be in Cincinnati. Everything comes there ten years later. -  Mark Twain


nickma71's picture

I also was there. They announced it was the second largest crowd in stadium history at 88k and change. That seems strange now knowing they pulled in 89k and change two weeks earlier. And by God that will be the last time an SEC team travels to the Shoe. They can not afford to have their fake persona shown wrong. I was reading youtube comments around 2010. One asshole said the last OOC game Florida played was 41-14. Never mind that Urbs stellar defense let 120 lb 5.4 speed Mike Hart put up 40 points and 500 yards of offense. They act like losses never happen. And in an depth showing is the SEC is 500 against the Big 10 during the BCS era, or something similar. It is just our Buckeyes that dropped eggs against them.

Homey1970's picture

Was the first game of my freshman year and just my second game ever at the Shoe (Illinois in 1984).  You Reds fans might remember it was 8 days after Tom Browning's perfect game.