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.

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