Setting the Scene
The year was 1979, and the program was just dealt a major blow after a punch in Dec. of 1978 sent the team’s iconic coach packing.
Twenty-eight seasons had passed since Ohio State was burdened with the duty of searching for a new coach, but it didn’t take long for them to locate him.
On January 12,1979, roughly 14 days after the punch heard 'round the world, Athletic Director, Hugh Hindman, announced that Iowa State head coach (and former Hayes assistant) Earle Bruce would take the reins.
Few envied Bruce’s position as replacing the greatest leader to ever coach the Buckeyes seemed an insurmountable task.
Luckily, Bruce’s transition would be aided by a young and talented QB named Art Schlichter.
In '78 the pride of Miami-Trace started all 12 games as a freshman. Joining him in the backfield would be Paul Campbell, the team's leading rusher.
In addition to Schlichter and Campbell, the Buckeyes would return nine starters and 43 returning lettermen.
Despite the loss of Woody, the squad thrived under the tutelage of Bruce and his staff.
In the season opener the Buckeyes throttled Syracuse 31-8 followed by a close 21-17 victory against Minnesota.
The following week the Scarlet and Gray would move on to handily defeat Washington State before taking on UCLA in the Coliseum.
The Buckeyes were able to squeak out a win, as Schlichter orchestrated an amazing 17-13 comeback victory in the waning minutes of the game.
The victory would move the 4-0 Bucks up to eighth in the AP poll.
After that the wins kept coming, most of them by a huge margin. In OSU’s next six games they would average 40 points to their opponents’ 4.5.
Heading into their Nov. 17 tilt against the #13 Wolverines (8-2), the 10-0 Buckeyes had moved up to No. 2 in the country.
A raucous Ann Arbor crowd of over 106k was on hand to witness the game (then the largest college football crowd in history).
Early on the mob didn’t get to witness much as both teams remained deadlocked at zeroes in the first quarter.
Scoring opened up in the second as Ohio State kicker, Vlade Janakievski, nailed a 23-yarder to make it 3-0 Buckeyes.
The Maize and Blue would go up 7-3 on a 59-yard bomb from QB John Wangler to WR Anthony Carter. Then in the final seconds of the half, Janakievski would hit a 25-yard FG to pull the Buckeyes within one at 7-6.
In the third quarter, Schichter would come out swinging hitting TE Chuck Hunter on an 18-yard pass in the corner of the endzone. The TD would mark the first time the Buckeyes scored 6 against Michigan since 1975. A two-point conversion failed leaving the Scarlet and Gray up five at 12-7.
Ending the third the Wolverines regained the lead after a TD and two-point conversion put them back up 15-12.
The teams would trade possessions for most of the fourth until the Buckeyes forced a punt with roughly four minutes to play in the game.
Turning Point: A Buckeye Block Party
The undefeated Buckeyes were staring down the barrel of a Michigan defeat. Unable to make any noise in the fourth and with time winding down, something needed to go their way.
With Michigan punter, Brian Virgil, ready to kick it away Coach Earle Bruce decided to bring the house rushing 10 men. Needless to say, this didn't go well for Virgil.
Here’s the play in all its glory.
As you can see, Virgil got completely biffed by two defenders, but LB Jim Laughlin was credited with the block.
The ball was picked up by DB Todd Bell and he took it in 18 yards for the score putting the Buckeyes up 18-15. Janakievski missed the extra point, but the Scarlet and Gray wouldn’t need it as the 3-point margin was enough to get the win.
The victory pegged the Buckeyes at No.1 in the country and earned them a trip to Pasadena to play No. 3 USC in the Rose Bowl.
The Scarlet and Gray put up a valiant fight, going down 10-0 but rallying back with 16 consecutive points to take the lead at 16-10. Unfortunately the Trojans were able to put together a game-winning drive to topple the Buckeyes 17-16, ultimately ending any hope of a national championship.
Still, the impressive 11-1 season earned Coach Bruce the nod for college football’s “Coach of the Year”.
In just his first season, Bruce had taken the Buckeyes to the brink of a national championship, ultimately proving life without Woody Hayes could and would go on in Columbus.
Until next week, Turning Points…out.