The year was 1987, the month was November and times were tough in Columbus. Earle Bruce’s Buckeyes were 5-4-1 and had dropped two of those four in the first half of the month.
The team was headed into their regular season finale against Michigan, but this week, football was taking a back-seat to a much larger challenge: saying goodbye to their head coach.
Following the previous week’s 27-29 loss to Iowa, University President, Edward Jennings informed AD, Rick Bay, he planned to terminate Bruce’s contract at season’s end.
That announcement didn’t sit well with Bay who had fervently persuaded Bruce to stay in Columbus after he received an offer to become the head coach of Arizona before the start of the season.
The firing so enraged Bay that he resigned on the spot then held a news conference against Jennings wishes to inform Buckeye Nation of the news.
Just like that, Bruce was rendered a lame duck tasked with readying his team for the biggest game of the season.
Setting the Stage
Donning a suit and fedora for his final outing, Bruce made his way onto the field and immediately noticed his players wearing white headbands. Angered by the unsanctioned uniform addition, Bruce motioned for his players to remove them until he got close enough to see their true purpose: each read "EARLE", the five letters serving as a simple symbol of solidarity and respect.
Despite the show of support, the emotions of the week clearly affected the Buckeyes out of the gate.
Midway through the second quarter, they found themselves in a 0-13 hole.
Then, with roughly six minutes to play in the half, OSU defensive lineman, Ray Holliman knocked the ball out of the hands of FB, Jerrod Bunch. The ball was recovered by the Scarlet and Gray at the OSU 39 and QB, Tom Tupa, went to work.
Driving the Buckeyes 61 yards to pay-dirt, Tupa managed to bring his team within striking distance at 13-7 despite being badly outgained 283 yards to a mere 91 in the half.
Coming out of the locker room to start the third quarter, the Wolverines received the kick-off but were held to a three and out by Chris Spielman and company. Which brings us to…
The Turning Point: Snow Puts The Bucks Ahead
Tupa trotted his squad out to the OSU 30 for his team’s first possession of the third.
Dropping back to pass, Tupa checked down to RB, Carlos Snow, in the flat who split two Wolverine defenders then received a great block by WR, Everett Ross, to spring him 70 yards for the score. Here’s a moving picture to prove it.
The TD put the Buckeyes up 14-13 for their first lead of the game.
The two teams would go on to trade possessions until OSU’s David Brown intercepted a Demetrius Brown pass near the 50 and returned it all the way to the Wolverine 19.
In just three snaps, Tupa was able to run a QB sneak up the middle to put the Bucks up 20-13. However, placekicker, Matt Frantz, would miss the extra point, keeping the Wolverines within striking distance.
An OSU fumble on their next possession would put TTUN in business at the Buckeye 46 and the Wolverines cashed in, knotting the score at 20-20 with a little over a minute left to play in the third.
Once again, the two teams would trade possessions until the Buckeyes got something clicking midway through the fourth.
The Scarlet and Gray moved the ball 77 yards, setting Frantz up with a 26-yard FG. He was able to nail it, putting the Buckeyes up 23-20
The Wolverines attempted to answer, but were rebuffed after RB, Leroy Hoard coughed up the ball at the OSU 47, leading to a Buckeye recovery.
The OSU offense was able to chew up all but nine seconds of the clock, and as Michigan’s last gasp fell incomplete, the Buckeye squad picked up their embattled coach and carried him off the field on their shoulders.
It was clear from the start the game would be played for Bruce. The win capped an 81-26-1 record in Columbus for Earle, a 5-3 bowl-record and a 5-4 tally in The Game.
Said Bruce after the game:
“I had a knot in my stomach all week. But I’m a professional. I’ll get a job, I have confidence in that. I’m a good football coach. We teach our players that when they get knocked down, they have to get up and go again…this was the ultimate test for me”
Well stated Bruce. Thanks for the memories.
Until next week, Turning Points…out.