On Tuesday I discussed the rich history of the Ohio State-Notre Dame series. Despite only meeting five previous times, the two schools share a history of exciting games, with the Buckeyes holding a slim 3-2 edge. This is the story of how Ohio State broke the tie.
The Buckeyes and Fighting Irish met on Jan. 2, 2006 in what was then the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl in Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, AZ. (The game is now played in Glendale at University of Phoenix Stadium.)
Jim Tressel’s No. 4 Buckeyes were 9-2 after a regular season that could have been a special one. Ohio State lost a heartbreaker at home to No. 2 Texas in Week 2, 25-22, thanks in part to the buttery fingers of tight end Ryan Hamby. The Buckeyes also fell by a touchdown in Happy Valley in their fifth game, 17-10, to No. 16 Penn State in one of their “white-out” night games. Ohio State was ranked sixth at the time, despite the Texas loss, but a fatal interception by Troy Smith put the Buckeyes behind the eight-ball in that game and they never fully recovered.
However, they did run the table from there, including wins over ranked Michigan State and Northwestern teams and a 25-21 victory over Michigan in Ann Arbor
Charlie Wies’ No. 6 Fighting Irish were also 9-2, following a season in which they spent much of the year in the nation’s top 10. The Irish lost an overtime thriller, 44-41, to Michigan State at home on Sept. 17. The only other loss was also by a field goal, 34-31 to No. 1 USC on Oct. 15. Notre Dame beat ranked Michigan and Purdue (!) teams on the road, and entered the Fiesta Bowl on a roll, having won five straight.
It was a beautiful day for football, with temperatures in the high 70s as Brent Musburger and Gary Danielson — before he became the SEC’s mouthpiece with CBS — had the call in the desert. Starting linebacker Bobby Carpenter was in uniform, but had sustained a broken ankle in the win over the Wolverines and was replaced by freshman James Laurinaitis. Little Animal and his defensive mates were tasked with shutting down the high-powered Irish offense led by quarterback Brady Quinn. Notre Dame had scored 30 or more points in 10 of its 11 games.
Quinn, a Dublin, OH, native, entered the game with 3,633 passing yards and 32 touchdowns against only seven interceptions, completing 64.9% of his throws. He was widely considered the best quarterback in college football. His offense had set a Notre Dame record by scoring 427 points in 2005.
Smith and Quinn was an attractive quarterback match-up. Aside from Tamba Hali and the Penn State defense, no one the rest of the season were able to keep the Buckeyes under 30 points except Michigan, which allowed 25.
Perhaps the tone of the game was set on the first play from scrimmage, when Quinn faked a handoff and receiver Jeff Samardzija got behind OSU corner Ashton Youboty. Quinn delivered the ball that was just a touch long but Zamardzija could have (and should have) caught it for a huge gain. But the Irish recovered from the drop and drove the ball down the field, mostly running the ball, with tailback Darius Walker doing the bulk of the work and scoring a 21-yard touchdown to cap the first drive and make it 7-0.
The Buckeyes converted back-to-back third downs on their first drive to push the ball out near midfield, then struck on an explosion play with Smith hitting a wide open Ted Ginn Jr. from 56 yards out. Ginn destroyed the Irish defense with pure speed down the field and was 10 yards behind the Notre Dame secondary. The first quarter ended with the teams knotted at 7-7.
Early in the second quarter, Ginn struck with another explosion play. This time, the Glenville product took the pitch on a reverse and went 68 yards down the left sideline to put Ohio State ahead for the first time.
With a 14-7 lead, the Buckeyes took over late in the first half at their own 2-yard line with less than five minutes to play. After Smith converted another third down with his legs, he found Santonio Holmes on an 85-yard bomb for a touchdown with less than two and a half minutes remaining. Holmes got a celebration penalty on the play, but heck, it was worth it. The Buckeyes led 21-7.
Ohio State’s defense forced a three-and-out on Notre Dame’s next possession and Troy drove the Buckeyes down the field, but Josh Huston’s short field goal attempt was blocked on the first half’s final play. The Buckeyes took their two-touchdown lead to the locker room at the break.
Notre Dame finally cut into that lead late in the third. Walker scored on a draw play with just over four minutes to play in the period, but the Irish missed the point after and Ohio State’s lead stood at 21-13. That touchdown woke up the OSU offense. Ginn caught a short pass, sidestepped a defender and exploded down the left sideline to put the Buckeyes in scoring position on the ensuing drive.
Notre Dame thought they got even closer when Tom Zbikowski scooped up what he thought was an Anthony Gonzalez fumble and ran the length of the field for a touchdown. Replay showed the pass was incomplete and Huston — who had missed two field goals already in the game — connected with a short field goal to make it 24-13 at the end of three quarters.
Huston added a field goal early in the fourth to push the lead to 27-13. Ohio State fans were feeling pretty good at this point, as the defense had held Quinn and Notre Dame in check most of the game. Walker scored his third rushing touchdown of the game — he was ruled short on third down but replay gave him the score — to cut the lead to a touchdown, 27-20, but the Buckeyes made them drive down the field slowly and the score came with just 5:31 left to play.
Smith kept Ohio State’s next drive alive on 3rd-and-11 by spinning out of a would-be sack and finding Gonzalez for a first down. Antonio Pittman scored on a 60-yard run to put the game away. Mike Kudla put the finishing touches on the 34-20 win by sacking Quinn.
The two-touchdown victory never felt that close after halftime. Missed field goals and three OSU turnovers (all on fumbles) kept Notre Dame nominally in the game, but the A.J. Hawk-led defense held Quinn to 29/45 passing (64.4%) for 286 yards and no touchdowns.
Ohio State gave Quinn the short stuff and took away the deep plays, frustrating the Irish offense by making it rely on patience. It worked like a charm, as Quinn managed only 6.4 yards per pass. Walker ran for 90 yards on 16 carries (5.6 YPA) but Weis was not patient enough to stick with his tailback and the Buckeyes were usually able to stop Walker in short yardage situations. The Irish gained only 348 yards, which was well below their season average.
The Buckeyes rolled up 617 total yards and went 8/12 on third downs, owing most of that to the legs and arm of Smith, who finished 19/28 (67.9%) for 342 yards and two touchdowns, without an interception. He also ran 13 times for 66 yards (5.1 YPA). Pittman carried 21 times for 136 yards (6.5 YPA) and a score. Ginn caught eight passes for 167 yards and a touchdown, and carried twice for 73 yards and another score.
Ohio State finished 10-2 and No. 4 in both the AP and Coaches polls. This always struck me as curious, since the Buckeyes entered the game at No. 4 and won handily, but whatever. It was probably as good as any place to finish a two-loss season. Ohio State used the seven-game winning streak to end 2005 as a springboard into the 2006 season, winning 12 more consecutive games to reach the national championship game against Florida. Smith also won a Heisman Trophy that year after announcing his arrival in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl.
If you want to treat yourself to the full game, go here. If the highlights are enough for you, enjoy them below.