Revisiting the 2004 Season on the Eve of 2014

By Vico on August 14, 2014 at 10:45a
Santonio Holme scores against Michigan in the 2004 upset.
Eleven Warriors' 2014 Ohio State Football Season Preview

Two and half weeks from the start of the 2014 football season, Eleven Warriors' season preview looks back ten years in the past to the 2004 football team. Ten years removed from that season, assessing a team two years from an undefeated season whose hallmarks were a win against Michigan and Michigan Man Les Miles in the Alamo Bowl may seem like misspent energy.

However, that 2004 team bears a noteworthy resemblance to the 2014 team on the eve of the season. The 2004 squad was two years from an undefeated championship season much like the 2014 team will be two years from an undefeated season. However, that 2004 team had just a few holdovers from that legendary 2002 squad. It lost 14 players to the 2004 NFL Draft, including three first-rounders and four third-rounders. These players were the foundation of the national championship team. A youth movement was underway in 2004.

Likewise, Ohio State's 2014 team no longer features many players that formed the core of the undefeated 2012 team. The offensive line is gone. The star tailbacks are gone.

The attrition for the 2014 team is less-pronounced than the 2004 team, but the comparison is apt. Jim Tressel's 2004 team no longer resembled the talent-laden, if sloppy, team he inherited in 2001. It was a team in his vision. Urban Meyer's 2014 team will not resemble the talent-laden, if incomplete, team he inherited in 2012. This will be a team in his vision.

Ohio State fans will hope for a better result in 2014 than it got in 2004. The start to that season portended the struggle to follow. The season-opening win against Cincinnati was good enough. Ohio State hosted the Bearcats in a return-leg of a 23-19 near-defeat in 2002 in Paul Brown Stadium. However, the offense was unconvincing and rife with storylines that would shape the season to come.

Justin Zwick, the five-star quarterback prospect from Massillon by way of Orrville, got his much anticipated first career start but was unconvincing. He was 14/26 on the day with one touchdown to two interceptions. He also had three (sometimes credited with four) fumbles and lost one of them to Cincinnati.

Troy Smith debuted later in the game as a quarterback and showed flashes of the brilliance to come. However, his stat line was a simple 2-3 passing day for 29 yards and a touchdown to redshirt sophomore Santonio Holmes.

Mike Nugent against Penn State in 2004
Mike Nugent solidified his place in Ohio State history with a Lou Groza award and all-time program scoring record.

Still, a 27-6 win where Ohio State outgained Mark Dantonio's Bearcats 462-238 may have given Ohio State fans a sense of false confidence entering its next game against 0-2 Marshall. Ohio State fans remember the game for the game-winning field goal from Mike Nugent and the memorable Mike Tirico call that came with it. However, this game was rough from an Ohio State fan's perspective.

The Buckeyes outgained Marshall 403-290 but conceded 150 rushing yards to Marshall team led by Ahmad Bradshaw and Earl Charles. Santonio Holmes banner day of 10 receptions, 224 yards, and two touchdowns did not allay concerns about a Justin Zwick performance that featured two fourth-quarter interceptions that allowed Marshall to tie the game. Another unconvincing win kept Ohio State steady at no. 9 in the polls before a trip to Raleigh to play the Wolfpack.

Absent Philip Rivers, taken with the fourth pick of the first round in the 2004 NFL Draft, the return-leg in Raleigh was much less exciting than the three-overtime game in 2003. Ohio State won 22-14 against a Wolfpack team that finished with five wins. This game does well to encapsulate the problems of the 2004 football team. Lydell Ross' momentum in his first three-games sputtered. He finished with just 51 rushing yards on 25 carries. Justin Zwick had just 73 yards passing on 21 attempts. Ohio State won with just 137 yards of offense. NC State's five turnovers were the difference in a game in which Ohio State scored just one touchdown.

However ugly, the win in Raleigh was good enough to jump the Buckeyes two spots in anticipation of a trip to Evanston to play Northwestern after a bye. Ohio State's 2004 team started its mid-season derailment here. The Buckeyes lost 33-27 in overtime to a six-win Northwestern team that it had defeated in every encounter since 1972. Ohio State's 2004 team surrendered the second-longest head-to-head winning streaks among regular opponents.

The loss was shocking enough to Ohio State fans, but the details of the loss resembled details of the last three wins. Zwick was struggling and the number of sacks he was taking was increasing. Ohio State's running game gained no traction with Lydell Ross or Antonio Pittman. Playing against a spread offense led by Brett Basanez and Noah Herron, back when no one knew how to defend the spread, confounded a defense that had otherwise been good to that point.

Ohio State's mid-season struggles continued the next week at home to Wisconsin, resulting in a 24-13 defeat. It would be a rare loss in Jim Tressel's tenure as head coach and broke a string of 18 consecutive home wins for the Buckeyes.

The details of the loss were grim. Zwick was sacked five times and threw for just 125 yards. Stocco was not much better but looked much more competent for Wisconsin. He finished with 160 yards and two touchdowns. Ohio State had 99 rushing yards with senior Lydell Ross tallying just 30 for the day. By contrast, Wisconsin's Anthony Davis had 168 yards on 39 carries. Ohio State was shutout in the second half after trailing by just one point at halftime.

Justin Zwick against Iowa in 2004
The Iowa disaster ended Zwick's trial as starting quarterback.

The real implosion came the next week in Iowa City in a 33-7 defeat to the Hawkeyes in the middle of its renaissance under Kirk Ferentz. A touchdown with just over two minutes left in the fourth quarter saved Ohio State from its first shutout loss since 1993.

Whereas the stats from the previous loss to Wisconsin was grim, the details of this loss were outright appalling. Troy Smith was substituted in the third quarter for Justin Zwick after a third quarter fumble that effectively ended Justin Zwick's playing time for the remainder of the season. In almost two quarters of play, Smith had seven rushing yards on six attempts and threw for 76 yards on 12 attempts. This was good enough for 25 percent of Ohio State's rushing yards for the day and over half of its passing yards. Ohio State finished with 177 yards of total offense for the game, outgained by Iowa by 271 yards.

However, this game was the turning point in not just this season, but Ohio State's trajectory going forward. A youth movement followed in Ohio State's next three games. Troy Smith started the next week against lowly Indiana, pacing the Buckeyes with 161 passing yards and two touchdowns on 24 attempts. He added 61 yards rushing as well. True freshman Antonio Pittman was the star of the game, rushing for 144 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. True freshman Ted Ginn Jr. was the recipient of Troy Smith's touchdown pass on the day, a 59-yard strike. Ohio State won 30-7 to end its first 0-3 streak in Big Ten play since 1988. The win also prevented Ohio State from its first 0-4 Big Ten opening slide since 1922.

Ted Ginn Jr in the Alamo Bowl
Ted Ginn Jr. shined in the second half of the 2004 season.

Ohio State's offense took a step back the next week against a meek Penn State team that featured a brilliant defense. Smith was six of eight passing on the day for 59 yards and no touchdowns. He was sacked three times as well. However, Ted Ginn Jr. had his first real breakout moment in running a Jeremy Kapinos punt back 67 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. A Tyler Everett pick-six and Branden Joe touchdown added to a 21-10 Ohio State win.

Ted Ginn Jr. again stole the show the next week against Michigan State in East Lansing. Ginn had three touchdowns, one on a reverse, another on a catch, and another punt return for a touchdown. He had 170 all-purpose yards for the game in Ohio State's 32-19 victory in a game where Ohio State's defense conceded 407 yards of offense.

Ohio State's second wind concluded for the moment with a loss in West Lafayette to Purdue. Purdue was on a four-game skid but was a good football team in 2004. That four-game skid just happened to include Wisconsin, Michigan, and trips to Northwestern and Iowa. Troy Smith had three interceptions to offset 192 passing yards in a 24-17 loss to a Purdue team that rolled 384 yards of offense on an Ohio State defense that struggled against every competent offense it faced.

All that was left was for Ohio State to conclude the regular season at home against Michigan. 9-1 and AP no. 7 Michigan entered this game riding high on its own youth movement. Michigan's offense featured a true freshman starting quarterback and a true freshman starting running back that were supported by a seasoned offensive line and an explosive wide receiver corp. 

Further, Michigan had already secured the Rose Bowl bid by virtue of a win against Iowa earlier in the season and an undefeated conference slate entering the season finale. A victory in Columbus over a mid-table Ohio State team would give Michigan the outright conference championship. This was when Michigan wins in Columbus were part for the course. The Wolverines had won six of their last ten games against Ohio State in Columbus to this point.

A Michigan win was a safe bet. In fact, Kirk Herbstreit predicted a Michigan win, marking the first of many times Herbstreit would fall out of favor with Ohio State fans during his broadcasting career. Cries of Herbstreit as "Judas" at least echoed among the Ohio State fans I knew in college that were marching into the Horseshoe with me before the 1 p.m. kickoff.

The game that unfolded was unlike anything most analysts predicted. Ohio State scored on its opening salvo, a 68-yard pass from Troy Smith to Anthony Gonzalez. Michigan scored touchdowns on its next two drives to take a 14-7 first-quarter lead. Ohio State scored the next 13 points to take a 20-14 lead into halftime over the repeating Big Ten champions.

The third quarter marked the point where Ohio State took firm control of this game and, for all intents and purposes, the rivalry. After Michigan's second drive of the second half ended with a punt after seven plays and 15 yards, Ted Ginn Jr. returned Adam Finley's punt 82 yards for a season-defining touchdown. Ohio State now had a two-touchdown lead over the favored Wolverines. It added another touchdown on its next drive and ultimately prevailed 37-21. Even as decided underdogs, Ohio State was able to control its home turf against Michigan like Michigan was able to do in 1995.

Ohio State was selected to conclude its 2004 season in San Antonio against Les Miles' Oklahoma State Cowboys. However, the preparation for the bowl game was far from uneventful. Ohio State announced that Troy Smith would be suspended and ineligible for the Alamo Bowl after breaking an undisclosed team rule. The NCAA later extended this into the first game of the 2005 season, revealing the nature of the infraction. Smith had accepted $500 from a booster back when accepted chump change from a booster was the worst thing in the world for an amateur athlete. 

The outrage seems like an anachronism now, but it was palpable. That Ohio State football was still plagued by Maurice Clarett's messy departure from the program and had the ongoing issue with Jim O'Brien's firing from the basketball program made Ohio State an easy piñata for an ESPN network first discovering how it could cover college football with a "hot takes" perspective. This bled into the coverage of the Alamo Bowl itself, during which Ohio State's scandals felt like all ESPN wanted to discuss. Comments like those from Kirk Herbstreit, who again soured himself among Ohio State fans by saying he would not send his hypothetical college-aged son to play for Ohio State's offense, may be the start of the ESPN persecution narrative that Ohio State fans sense in watching ESPN college football programming.

The drama surrounding the Alamo Bowl for Ohio State was much greater than the drama of the game itself. Ohio State mauled Oklahoma State for Jim Tressel's most convincing bowl win during his tenure. Everyone looked good in what amounted to a send-off for players like Lydell Ross and Mike Nugent. Ross had 99 rushing yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Mike Nugent had four field goals and took Pete Johnson's record as Ohio State's all-time leading scorer. Ted Ginn Jr. had 78 receiving yards and 40 rushing yards. Ohio State shutout Oklahoma State for over three quarters, winning 33-7 to conclude 2004 on a high note.

Revisiting 2004 before the start of the 2014 season does lend to easy comparisons between both teams separated by ten years. The youth movement is a common feature of both teams. Ohio State's youth movement in 2004 focused on quarterback and wide receiver. This year's youth movement is seen more at running back, linebacker, and, to a lesser extent, defensive line. Problems of attrition at most other positions are shared as well.

Ohio State's 2014 football team should have a much better offense than the 2004 squad had. That, more than anything, makes a comparison of the two seem like apples and oranges. Having a returning senior quarterback with a solid offensive philosophy supporting him helps Ohio State compensate the loss of Carlos Hyde and four of five two-year starters on the offensive line. Both teams share similar concerns about defense, though. Ohio State's 2004 defense was the worst of the Jim Tressel era under first-year coordinator Mark Snyder. If Ohio State's defense in 2004 was never going to be more than adequate, it was done no favors by an anemic offense and faltered on its own accord down the stretch.

Further, Ohio State's defense in 2013 was unwatchable. Good against the run, Ohio State's defense, and secondary especially, was all-time bad against passing offenses. The addition of Chris Ash and Larry Johnson, along with reshuffling of coaching priorities for Luke Fickell and Kerry Coombs, may lead to similar growing pains for an Ohio State defense where youth will play a role in the linebacker corp and at safety.

Ohio State's 2004 team concluded its season 8-4 with a convincing home win against Michigan and a blowout win in its bowl game. A similar campaign for the 2014 team would be a greater disappointment. It would lack some of the feel-good elements that the 2004 team has in retrospect. 

A similar fate seems unlikely given Ohio State's favorable conference schedule and a four-year starter at quarterback. However, growing pains resembling those in 2004 are not entirely out of the realm of possibility.


Comments Show All Comments

stonybull's picture

Teddy Gin's returns in the michigan game were AWESOME.  I was watching with some very confident mich fans and I was talking smack the whole week before THE GAME.  It was a fun time.

In fact my cousin's neighbor (mich fan) had a bell on his porch.  He said we was gonna be ringing it all night after The Buckeye get clobbered.  My brother and I kept going over to his bell and rang the crap out of it so much that he removed it.

Beating Okie State with no QB was so fun to watch.

What a long strange trip it's been

+7 HS
doodah_man's picture

An upvote sir for "bang the clap out of it". 

Jim "DooDah" Day

"If I were giving a young man advice as to how he might succeed in life, I would say to him, pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio.” --Wilbur Wright, 1910

+1 HS
Poe McKnoe's picture

Look back at 2004? No.

+3 HS
apack614's picture

Teddy is the man! But please God let us be better than the 2004 team!

I can't wait to poop in the PL bathroom.

+1 HS
seafus26's picture

I barely remember 2004 due to being a decade ago and the forced Jagermeiter consumption during our poor season. I kinda remember every time we turned around a DB was going down to an injury. That was the Achilles heel against spread teams. OSU traveled well to San Antonio for the Alamo Bowl, despite the season. However, I remember almost the entire River Walk being clad in orange shirts. They were a nice group of fans very interested in our history, but confident in their 11 point favorite team. I took cash off several of them, knowing, we were FINALLY healthy. It was certainly a transition year and we hadn't established a RB yet, but injuries to DBs made a transition year seem worse than it was. It also was possibly the first exposure of a Bollman line not having a top flight RB to make them look better

Go Bucks and michigan STILL SUCKS!

seafus26's picture

After the Alamo Bowl, the River Walk was all Scarlet and almost zero orange (I have no idea where all those people went). Too bad that's not one of the prominent bowl hostings. That after game atmosphere was far better than any in Tempe or Pasadenea. It wasn't quite New Orleans, but it was rocking

Go Bucks and michigan STILL SUCKS!

spacemonkey57's picture

I may be wrong but I thought that if Wisconsin had beaten Iowa in the 3:30 game that day they would have gone to the Rose Bowl and we would have cost Michigan a Rose Bowl berth.  They would have been 7-1 in the conference with a 10-2 overall record vs. Michigan's 9-3.

+1 HS
Jpfbuck's picture

I believe you are right Space,,UM had clinched a tie and had Wisky won and UM lost they would have tied for the title (at 7-1 each in conference) and Wisky would have gone to the Rose Bowl as UM had gone the year before having lost to USC, and they had the better overall record and had not played head to head.

+1 HS
jamesrbrown322's picture

I love that 2004 team because the last game that I attended with my dad was that season. We went to the Indiana game at the Shoe, which was basically Teddy Ginn's coming out party. He had some pretty amazing plays also against Mich St., Michigan and Oklahoma St. that year.

This was the only side of Ginn which most Michigan defenders saw that day:

And Santonio Holmes is one of those players that I don't think many of us appreciated at the time he was at OSU, but we was a very good WR, and probably one of the 3-4 best they've had since Cris Carter.

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." - Winston Churchill

+9 HS
shadybuck's picture

This guys that lived across the street from the place I partied at my first year on campus used to sell Zwick a lot of... recreational activity, maybe that had something to do with the slow reaction timing and fumblitis

+2 HS
Barnsey69's picture

I got hammered at Hiney Gate and passed out/barfed in my boy's hotel room. Somehow I avoided being shaved, drawn upon, or desecrated in any fashion that normally occurs when you pass out in a common area. Probably have Teddy G et all to thanks because everyone one too happy about the victory to notice me!

Man I miss the ol Hiney Gate days and endless hallway parties in the stank-ass Holiday Inn. I didn't even know we won that game until that night...pathetic. Luckily I recorded the game so I watched it that night, while eating an entire Gatos pizza...all's well that ends well I suppose.

Thank the Maker that I was born in Ohio, cradle of coaches, US Presidents, confederate-stomping Generals, and home of The Ohio State University Football Buckeyes- 2014 UNDISPUTED National Champions!

+2 HS
jamesrbrown322's picture

Right there with you. Hiney Gate was yet another great Buckeye tradition that I miss. It was great to hang out there immediately before or after hitting Conrad's!

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts." - Winston Churchill

+4 HS
stonybull's picture

Bingo Bango

What a long strange trip it's been

doodah_man's picture

...and the Danger Brothers...

Jim "DooDah" Day

"If I were giving a young man advice as to how he might succeed in life, I would say to him, pick out a good father and mother, and begin life in Ohio.” --Wilbur Wright, 1910

+1 HS
Barnsey69's picture

Hell yes, the Danger Bros were the perfect compliment. Hey maybe they'll make an appearance at Dubgate??

Thank the Maker that I was born in Ohio, cradle of coaches, US Presidents, confederate-stomping Generals, and home of The Ohio State University Football Buckeyes- 2014 UNDISPUTED National Champions!

seafus26's picture

I was surprised we never used the Shot Ginn, again. You could sense it in the Alamo Dome that night from the Ok St fans when he'd line up at QB, "oooooh, shit..." At the very least it could have been a formation we rush to the line with and the opposing team calls a TO before the snap.

Go Bucks and michigan STILL SUCKS!

+1 HS
BucksFan2000's picture

The thing I remember about the Alamo Bowl was how much harder the Bucks were hitting.  It seemed like they were playing a high school team.

Unfortunately, OSU needed Troy to play that game, then carry into the next season as the starter.  I think 2005 was the best of the Troy Smith teams, and that Texas and PSU would have been wins if he was the starter from day 1.

+1 HS
LouBuck35's picture

I'm 30 years old.  Barely old enough to vividly remember the Cooper years, at least the early portion.  2004 was smack dab in the middle of my time enrolled at tOSU.  A freshman year with a national championship? Sign me up for 3 more years like this one.  I can vividly remember sitting in my friends' apartment on the night of the Northwestern game feeling like it was the lowest point of my life. Losing to Wisky and Michigan the year before was bad enough, but at least those teams were quality conference opponents.  But Northwestern?? We didn't really know what to do with ourselves.  Quickly, though, we found out what we were dealing with with J Zwick and Slydell getting the majority of the touches.  I don't know if I've had more of an emotional swing than from the end of the 3 game skid to watching Ted Ginn return that punt in The Game. Dispair to euphoria.  Definitely a bizarre season.

I want a fall Saturday in Ohio Stadium..

+1 HS
What Would Troy Smith Do's picture

I remember a few things vividly from this year.  I remember the NW OT loss.  I remember having a friend over from Iowa for that loss and the 3 game losing streak.

I really remember Smith's coming out party against TTUN and I went to the Alamo Bowl victory over the other OSU.

It wasn't a great year but with the victory against TTUN and the bowl win the season's early struggles didn't really matter.  It's amazing what a victory in The Game does along with a bowl win.  It really soothes any unpleasantness that may have happened earlier in the season.

+1 HS

The youth movement is a definite similiarity between the 2004 team and the soon to be 2014 squad, but I REALLLLY hope the records are far different. I can stomach a 1-loss season. 8-4? Too horrible to contemplate. Let TTUN's fans worry about that.

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

Johnny Ginter's picture

2004 holds a special place in my heart because of two reasons:

1. mike nugent

2. the michigan game, still the funniest and most delightful game i have ever seen in person

MacG91's picture

Lydell Ross' momentum in his first three-games sputtered. He finished with just 51 rushing yards on 25 carries.

Sounds about right..


chemicalwaste's picture

Just about, except you could replace "games" with "steps" and start the whole thing of with "Two-yard-loss"

jhart's picture

Of all those games I think I remember the Marshall game the most.  I was watching the game at an apartment of my wife's - then girlfriend - friends' and was really the only one watching the game.  Everyone else was milling about, drinking, hanging out, socializing...and I was the only one glued to the TV watching the game (this was in Chicagoland with a bunch of non-Buckeye fans).  Occasionally people would check in on my well being/stress level, and I remember at one point my wife telling me, "You're starting to scare people."

But, oh man, the euphoria and tension release I felt when Nugent hit that field goal!

...I may have a problem...

+4 HS
UFest57's picture

There's a support group for people like you (and me)... it's called 

+3 HS
Crumb's picture

That Marshall game was the first Buckeye game I ever got to see in person. Santonio Holmes burned them bad that game and then the Nuge finishes with a 55 yarder like it was nothing.

"The only good thing about it is winning the d*** thing" - Urban Meyer on The Game The War

+1 HS
TURD_BUCKET's picture

Nugent was automatic. A very bright spot for a so-so year. But we were feeling pretty good about the 2005 team, after the Alamo Bowl, right?!

“Being average means you are as close to the bottom as you are to the top.” John Wooden

+1 HS
ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

2004 was a really weird year.  Honestly, if Troy Smith played QB all year, OSU probably goes 9-2 or 10-1 and likely a BCS bowl.

Class of 2010.

BuckeyeChief's picture

Ahhh, 2004...This is what stood out most for me that season:

1. The Marshall game: I had just bought a house, and was in the midst of tearing up what may or may not have been asbestos laden floor tiling (the kitchen was sealed off from the rest of the house)...When Zwick threw another pick, I threw whatever tool I was using so hard, I thought I shattered actually bounced off the wall and hit a light...I busted through the liner I put up to seal the kitchen off and the wife was PISSED.

2. I had some buddies over for the Iowa game; one was bad luck (he was over at the 03 TTUN game) and he came over after the Buckeyes had the lead...after the game he just looked at me and said "I'm never allowed over again am I" (NOPE!)

3. For "The Game" Cox cable f'ed up the signal and we already had a 14-0 lead by the time it came on...I get pretty intense for the game and the wives of my friends were in pack up and get outta here mode before the game came on and I calmed was pretty anti-climatic.

4. Playing NCAA '05 with the Buckeyes, I kept telling my buddies, "Man the backup QB is pretty damn good, I can't play with Justin Zwick"...they all thought I was an idiot. I reminded them of that in 2006...all season.

5. The Ok State game...I have NEVER felt bad for another team/ player, but holy hell I felt bad for their QB that day...the kid got mauled all day.

"2014 National with it!!!"

tOSUperiour's picture

My favorite moment of the 2004 season:

Ahhh, refreshing.

We don't give a Da*n for the whole state of *ichigan cause we're from OHIO!

+1 HS
keeponbraxtonmebabe's picture

Went to 2 games that season, the UC game where Santonio Holmes bailed Justin Zwick out on about every pass he threw.

The other was what I consider the coming out party for the Great Teddy Ginn. We went to the Mich. St. game in E. Lansing and saw Ginn score 3 TD's, 3 different ways. A run on a reverse, a punt return and a reception on a pass from Troy Smith. The guy sitting behind me  (MSU fan) was trashed and and early in the 2nd quarter was removed from the game by an usher and his wife/ girlfriend sat there and cried the rest of the half and left at halftime.

Let's hope Sparty fans are crying this year once we get finished with them. 

2004 will not be remembered as a great season but the Buckeyes outscored the 2 Mich. teams 69-40.