Flashback: Ohio State vs. Illinois, 1996

By Joe Beale on November 13, 2013 at 1:45p
Is this a man or a mountain? You decide.

The 1996 season was a strange one for Ohio State. The results were typical, of course; a winning season, a bowl game, lots of all-Big Ten and even some All-American honors. Losing to Michigan was normal for a John Cooper-coached team. But overall it was a strange season for several reasons.

First of all, the team was expected to be a contender despite losing all of the key skill players on offense. Quarterback Bobby Hoying and running back Eddie George had completed their record-setting OSU careers the previous season, and gone with them were All-American wide receiver Terry Glenn and All-Big Ten tight end Rickey Dudley. Also departed was bruising fullback Nicky Sualua. Still, the team opened the season ranked #9 due to the large number of returnees on defense and a strong class of incoming freshmen.

Second, the most celebrated returning player was not playing at one of the glory positions, but rather was toiling away at left tackle. Orlando Pace had come to Ohio State with an already mature physique and many honors from his high school days, and he had proceeded to live up to all of them in his first two years with the Buckeyes. More than anyone else in college football, he helped to popularize the term "pancake" to describe the act of putting a defensive player on his rear when blocking him.

Third, even though the defense was returning eight starters (nine if you count part-time starter Winfield Garnett at defensive tackle) including All-American defensive end Mike Vrabel, the defensive spotlight was quickly stolen by a true freshman who jumped into the starting line-up at middle linebacker. Andy Katzenmoyer was the most highly-touted member of the incoming recruiting class, and he even managed to convince Archie Griffin to let him wear his old number 45 (the number had been unofficially retired since 1975).

Finally, despite returning only five starters on offense, and none you could name other than Pace, the team started the season by scoring 142 points in their first two games combined. Going for 70 or more in back-to-back games would be unusual in any season, but it was a big surprise when the team is replacing so much of their offense and most of the replacements are either inexperienced former backups (running back, quarterback) or freshmen (wide receiver).

At wide receiver, freshman David Boston quickly made his presence known while fellow freshman Michael Wiley turned his limited opportunities into several explosive touchdown plays. At tight end, D.J. Jones returned from a year of inactivity to become a strong blocker and a solid receiver. Unknown reserve Matt Calhoun stepped up to fill the void at fullback, while redshirt freshman Rob Murphy filled the lone opening on the offensive line.

The real drama was at quarterback and running back, where no one expected to see the kind of production they had gotten out of Hoying and George. Stanley Jackson had been Hoying's backup in 1995, so many observers expected him to step right in as the starter. Absolutely no one had ever heard of Joe Germaine, a transfer from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College who was already 21 years old due to having served two years of missionary service with the Mormons prior to playing college football.

Jackson and Germaine shared time in the two blowouts to start the season (70-7 over Rice and 72-0 over Pitt), and the tandem was so successful that coach John Cooper decided to stay with a platoon system for the season. It worked to perfection as they rolled over #5 ranked Notre Dame on the road and crushed #4 ranked Penn State at home. Hard-fought victories over conference foes Wisconsin, Purdue, and Iowa followed, and then as the weather started to turn ugly the Buckeyes defense became even more ferocious in a 45-0 stomping of Minnesota.

By this point, Ohio State had risen to #2 in the rankings, and they prepared for a road trip to play 2-6 Illinois. Cooper had not shown much mercy against bad teams up to this point, and it was doubtful that he would have any for the Illini. Cooper's run of futility against Michigan is legendary, but many have forgotten that he had a lot of trouble with Illinois in his first few years.

Sharing time was not his idea, but he rolled with it.Germaine arrived at Ohio State ready to play, and to win.

From his first season in 1988 until 1992, Ohio State played Illinois every season and lost all five games. They broke through with a victory in 1993, but then stumbled again at home in 1994. The 1995 OSU team was a beast, and when 4-4 Illinois came to town, the Buckeyes mauled them viciously, as if taking out the years of frustration all in one blow.

As it turned out, the mauling was not quite finished. On a cold and blustery afternoon in Champaign, OSU started slowly under Jackson, but when Germaine came in the floodgates opened. From that point, the Buckeyes scored touchdowns on seven consecutive possessions and they finished with a 48-0 triumph.

It was the second straight shutout and third on the season for the OSU defense. This feat was not equaled again until 2009, and again the second team in the back-to-back shutouts was Illinois. Revenge for all of those seasons of futility was not yet complete, however. In 1997, Cooper's Buckeyes thrashed a really bad Illinois team in Columbus 41-6, thus completing a trio of games in which OSU outscored the Illini by a combined score of 130-9. 

Of course, Germaine and the Buckeyes would have their finest hour later that season in the Rose Bowl, when they defeated the Arizona State Sun Devils 20-17. In that game, Germaine would run the two-minute drill to perfection to overcome a 17-13 deficit and ruin any chance ASU had for a split national title. His five-yard scoring pass to Boston in the waning seconds of the game cemented his legacy at Ohio State, and all late-game drives from there on and forevermore will be compared to his.

For your enjoyment, here's a "drive-thru" video from Vico showing Ohio State vs. Arizona State in the Rose Bowl.



Comments Show All Comments

ABrown07's picture

I will never forget watching that Rose Bowl win over ASU with my grandpa when I was 8 years old. I recall all the media attention Jake the snake got before the game and I remember hoping Andy Katzenmoyer would smash him given the chance. I was never a fan of John Cooper or his "lucky buckeye" largely because he couldn't ever play with Michigan, but he made me proud that night.

I don't like nice people. I like tough, honest people.

-Woody Hayes

SomethingOriginal's picture

I was at that rose bowl. I was 11 years old!

gravey's picture

I was at the Illinois game...less entertaining.  But I was so excited to get there, that at the end of the game, I looked down and realized I was wearing house slippers!  (I was in grad school, living in Urbana)

daytonbuckeye's picture

I remember watching that Rose Bowl game with two of the most obnoxious ASU fans when I was stationed at Hunter Army Airfield. They did not stop talking trash until that last touchdown. Then they moped around the rest of the day. 

3 85 yards and a cloud of dust.

fartymcpooperson's picture

It is easy to forget how fast that those mid-90s teams were and how well the executed on both sides of the ball.  They also played a very exciting brand of football.  Those were some really, really good teams ... I will never understand how they lost all those games to Michigan.

Into the garbage chute, flyboy!

bigbill992001's picture

Cooper recruited great players to tOSU.   Lots of them.   This team shoulda been NC

igo43's picture


"The minute I think I'm getting mellow, I'm retiring. Who ever heard of a mellow winner?" - WWH

nm_buck's picture

We were ALWAYS the better team.  I could never figure it out either.  I imagined someone in ttun had made a deal with the devil along the way, and one day the meat chicken would have to pay the piper.  The last decade could be evidence that I was correct.  I hope we destroy them in meatchickenville this year just to cement our dominance.

"The future is bright at Ohio State."  - Urban Meyer 1/1/15

ScarletGray43157's picture

Sweet memory.  I watched this game with my wife (then fiance') on TV.  I can never forget her fist pump when Boston walked in.  

In old Ohio there's a team that's known throughout the land...

Hovenaut's picture

Focusing on the positives of that season, and there were plenty of them. 
I could not wrap my head around the notion Ohio State lost five straight to the Illini in the early Cooper years - Eddie George you are eternally forgiven for those two lost fumbles in the '92 game. Man I got such grief about those games - served with some fellas from Illinois, hardly college football fans but they enjoyed rubbing it in just the same. 
No disrespect to Action Stanley Jackson, never understood why Germaine didn't start/play more often during the '96 and '97 seasons. 

L-TownNut11's picture

The top picture with Pace, when is that from?  When was there no stands at that end?  Am I crazy? 

L-TownNut11's picture

I see the soccer goal is up, were those stands roll away? 

Buckeye_Ryan's picture

I was wondering the same thing!

Born a Buckeye, raised a Buckeye, will die a Buckeye.

BuckeyeQ6's picture

Yeah, I noticed that too.  They used to play the Crew games there, I know.  It looks very different!

NGBuck21's picture

I looked at football vids on youtube from 91 and 92 and they have south stands in there. So those stands had to be roll away stands. Weird

Joe Beale's picture

The South Stands were always temporary, even after the expansion in 1991. It wasn't until after the massive stadium renovation project of 2001 that the South end of the stadium was permanently enclosed.

gwalther's picture

The Club Level and Press Box also look considerably smaller...

Class of 2008

buckeye56's picture

South stands were taken down after football season to allow use of the track, which was still there up till '99. they weren't so much roll away as they were like a big scaffolding.

dlb72osu's picture

Yeah, that was why it was called a 'Horse shoe'. Not so weird. Open on the end.

I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.

- Invictus

yankeescum's picture

Jesus that game gives me chills.  I was sixteen, badly hung over, and I live in Alaska so it was early here, but I got up at my buddy's house and watched the entire thing by myself, sipping water and eating aspirin wondering if my father was having heart palpitations in our house only a couple of miles away. Hanging on to every single play and no one to share it with.  Still possibly my favorite Buckeyes game of all time, although there was a fight in the desert with some guys from Miami that was pretty good too.

jreiter81's picture

It was a great victory for Ohio State!

Scarlet & Gray Forever

Metal Guru's picture

I was sitting in my family room with my 3 year old daughter watching the Rose Bowl game that year (yes, she actually watched football at 3 years old). My wife called down from upstairs for me to put my daughter to bed. I thought "No way, the Bucks are going to drive the field and I'm not going to miss it". When Boston walked into the end zone with 19 seconds left we were both up and dancing for joy, a memory for a lifetime.

nm_buck's picture

I remember all during that 2 minute drill... the camera kept focusing on the snake.  At first he was happy as hell... winking into the camera etc... because he had made these types of comebacks all year.  It was expected.  They continued showing him... celebrating with teammates... winking into the camera... enjoying what was going to be yet another come from behind victory and a potential national championship.  It wasn't long before the smiles turned to serious concern... and eventual dismay after a little-known frosh named Boston had walked into the endzone.  The snake's facial expressions had changed 180 degrees in less than 2 minutes.  I loved every minute of it.
Also not to be forgotten about this game... was the incredible beating Germaine took... his chin was busted up badly... I think they stitched it up on the sideline... yet he continued to rally the troops and lead by example... a perfect example of toughness and mental discipline that the snake just didn't possess... as evidenced by his immediate exit into the locker room after the game.

"The future is bright at Ohio State."  - Urban Meyer 1/1/15