With 15 of 22 starters returning from its 1976 season, many tabbed Ohio State as the favorite to win its sixth straight Big Ten title.
Woody Hayes' entire starting backfield returned with Rod Gerald, Ron Springs, Jimmy Harrell and Jeff Logan back in the fold. With the experienced offense and solid defense, expectations were high in 1977.
|The 1977 Buckeyes|
|B1G Record||7–1, 1st|
|Coach||Woody Hayes (27th year, 198–57–9)|
Aaron Brown, Ray Griffin,
Jeff Logan, Chris Ward
Games of Note
September 10th • Miami, FL • Ohio Stadium
For the first time since 1970, Ohio State started the season against a non-conference opponent. Lou Saban led Miami, who last faced Hayes and the Buckeyes in 1955 as the head coach at Northwestern.
The Hurricanes received the opening kickoff on this 78-degree day, but the game remained scoreless until the second quarter. Vlade Janakievski put Ohio State up 3-0 with a 31-yard field goal. The Buckeyes scored again on their next possession when Springs ran in from 21 yards out off an option pitch from Gerald. The point after made it 10-0.
Neither team scored in the second half and Ohio State started the season 1–0. Springs rushed for a game-high 115 yards and the only touchdown. Logan tallied 32 yards on 10 carries before suffering an injury. It wasn't for another 22 years that the Buckeyes met Miami again.
Ohio State plastered Cal Stoll's Minnesota team the following week in the Big Ten opener, 38-7, Hayes' sixth consecutive victory against the Golden Gophers.
|SEP. 10||MIAMI, FL||OHIO STADIUM||W, 10–0|
|SEP. 17||MINNESOTA||OHIO STADIUM||W, 38–7|
|SEP. 24||NO. 3 OKLAHOMA||OHIO STADIUM||L, 28–29|
|OCT. 1||SMU||COTTON BOWL||W, 35–7|
|OCT. 8||PURDUE||OHIO STADIUM||W, 46–0|
|OCT. 15||IOWA||KINNICK STADIUM||W, 27–6|
|OCT. 22||NORTHWESTERN||OHIO STADIUM||W, 35–15|
|OCT. 29||WISCONSIN||OHIO STADIUM||W, 42–0|
|NOV. 5||ILLINOIS||MEMORIAL STADIUM||W, 35–0|
|NOV. 12||INDIANA||OHIO STADIUM||W, 35–7|
|NOV. 19||NO. 5 MICHIGAN||MICHIGAN STADIUM||L, 6–35|
|JAN. 2||NO. 3 ALABAMA||SUGAR BOWL||L, 6–35|
September 24th • #3 Oklahoma • Ohio Stadium
No. 4 Ohio State hosted No. 3 Oklahoma in the inaugural matchup between the two powerhouse programs.
The Buckeyes' defense dominated their first two opponents, Barry Switzer's Oklahoma team was a different animal. The Sooners used their wishbone offense to score the game's first 20 points in a little more than a quarter, aided by a Gerald fumble and a shoulder injury to Tom Cousineau. Oklahoma also scored a touchdown when quarterback Tommy Lott fumbled Elvis Peacock recovered and raced 33 yards for the score.
Following Uwe von Schamann's second field goal, Gerald and the Buckeyes began their comeback. In 2:23, Ohio State drove 80 yards and scored when Springs took an option pitch off the left end for 33 yards.
The Sooners then caught a case of the fumbles. First Peacock put the ball on the turf on the second play after Springs' touchdown. Dave Adkins' recovery gave the Buckeyes the ball on the Oklahoma 19. Gerald took the snap and kept the ball on a 19-yard touchdown run. Ohio State's scored two touchdowns in a little more than three minutes to make it 20-14.
On the Sooners' next drive, Jimerson took the option to the left, but his pitch landed behind his intended target. Len Mills jumped on the loose ball and gave the Buckeyes the ball on Oklahoma's 20.
Four plays later, Ohio State had 4th-and-2 at the 12 and Hayes decided to go for the first down. Oklahoma stopped Joel Payton a yard short and the half ended with the Sooners ahead 20-14.
A light rain began at the start of the second half and Jimerson fumbled on the first snap. Ohio State took over at the 23, but could not take advantage as Gerald got sacked for a 14-yard loss. Janakievski tried a 54-yard field goal, but it fell short.
After the Sooners quick kicked on third down, Ohio State had the ball on the Oklahoma 48. This time Gerald and company went the distance and Payton scored his second touchdown with a 1-yard plunge on third down. Janakievski's point after made it 21-20 Buckeyes.
Surprisingly, Oklahoma still had some turnovers left in the tank. Their passing quarterback, Dean Blevins, threw the ball to Ohio State's Kelton Dansler who returned it to the Sooners' 33.
Greg Castignola replaced Gerald (head injury) and connected with tight end Jimmy Moore for a 16-yard touchdown pass. With just over a quarter to play, Ohio State led 28-20.
Past the midway point of the final stanza, the Buckeyes had the ball and still had an eight-point lead. On third down from Oklahoma's 46, Castignola fumbled and Reggie Kinlaw recovered for the Sooners.
Blevins directed a 13-play, 57-yard march that ended in a touchdown when Peacock took an option in from a yard out on 4th-and-goal. Switzer elected to run the same play on the two-point conversion, but Peacock did not make it. With 1:21 left, Ohio State led 28-26.
Everyone in the stadium knew von Schamann planned to try an onside kick. The ball bounced off the Buckeyes, however, and Oklahoma recovered at midfield. The Sooners eventually faced 4th-and-1 from the 23 with six seconds on the clock. Hayes called a timeout to ice von Shamann, but it did not work. The German soccer player made the 41-yard field goal and the Sooners won 29-28.
After the game Switzer said: "Football games are 60 minutes, aren't they? This game had more tension, more drama, than any game I have been associated with. That last field goal was one of the greatest plays I have ever seen in intercollegiate football ... but we were still lucky."
Seven days later, Ohio State rebounded with a 35-7 victory over SMU. After the win against the Mustangs, the Buckeyes defeated Purdue, Iowa and Northwestern by a combined score of 108-21.
October 29th • Wisconsin • Ohio Stadium
Wisconsin (5–2) came to Columbus on a two-game losing streak. John Jardine's squad also had a 17-game losing streak against Ohio State and looked to end it on this sunny and 62-degree day.
From The Columbus Dispatch:
Some things never change.
When Rod Gerald hooked up with Jimmy Harrell on a 79-yard touchdown aerial on the second play of the game – after also passing on first down – it appeared that Ohio State might at least mutilate Wisconsin with a different form of attack Saturday. It didn't.
The third-ranked Buckeyes went back to their familiar ground game and mashed the supposedly-improved Badgers for the 18th straight time, 42-0, before 87,837 homecoming fans in Ohio Stadium.
Wisconsin only had one scoring opportunity, but the first quarter, 46-yard field goal attempt was blocked. The Badgers lost the rest of their games down the stretch of the 1977 season and Jardine lost his job.
Illinois and Indiana were next up, and neither gave one-loss Ohio State a fight. The Scarlet and Gray defeated Illinois 35-0 in Champaign and Indiana 35-7 in Ohio Stadium.
November 19th • #5 Michigan • Michigan Stadium
For the ninth time in 10 meetings, The Game determined the Big Ten champion. No. 4 Ohio State only needed a tie or win to clinch the title and Rose Bowl berth. No. 5 Michigan needed a victory to claim a share of the title and trip to the Rose Bowl.
The Buckeyes won the toss and took the ball. Gerald directed a 15-play, 65-yard drive that ended with a 29-yard Janakievski field goal. The three-point lead lasted until the waning moments of the second quarter.
Michigan's Smith ran in from the 1-yard line with 1:20 remaining in the half to give the Wolverines a 7-3 lead. They extended the lead to 14-3 after Leach ran in from the 2. The drive started because of a Ron Springs on Ohio State's 20-yard line.
Gerald and the Buckeyes responded on the next drive and had the offense at Michigan's 11-yard line. However, the next three plays resulted in losses and pushed the ball back to the 27-yard line. On 4th-and-26, Janakievski booted a 44-yard field goal to pull Ohio State within eight points.
At the start of the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes drove to Michigan territory. At the Wolverines' 10-yard line, Ohio State faced a 4th-and-1. Hayes had to make a decision of going for the first or kicking another field goal. He opted for going for the first and gave the ball to Campbell missed the conversion by inches. The score stayed 14-6 with the majority of the final quarter to play.
The Buckeyes got another shot at scoring later in the quarter. From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
John Anderson, the Michigan outside linebacker, altered the outcome of an entire season when he stalked into the Ohio State backfield and applied his meaty hands to quarterback Rod Gerald on Saturday.
The clock showed four minutes to play, Ohio State had first down on the Michigan 8-yard line after driving from the Buckeyes' own 10.
If you wanted drama, there it was. With Michigan leading, 14-6, Ohio State needed the touchdown and the two-point conversion to tie, which would have been enough to preserve the Big Ten championship.
The Michigan defense, which had been pushed around by Ohio State everywhere but inside the scoring zone, once again was backed up.
Ohio State quarterback Rod Gerald, who had flowed through and around the Michigan defense like wisps of smoke through a keyhole, took the center snap and began his magic. Immediately, a season hinged on a confrontation between Gerald and Anderson.
"It was a guessing game," explained Anderson. "On some plays my job is to take the fullback, on other plays my assignment is the quarterback. There were other plays when I should have had him, almost had him, but he got away. This was the right situation and circumstance.
"He reads me," Anderson continued. "If I tackle the fullback, he keeps the ball and either runs with it or pitches out. If I don't play the fullback, he gives the ball to him.
"I faked Gerald out," Anderson said. "I went for the fullback. He pulled the ball out of the fullback's stomach and was going to pitch it out. I caught him in the transition. Everybody wants to make the big play, but I don't think I beat Ohio State single-handedly."
Anderson smashed Gerald and knocked the ball loose, with cornerback Derek Howard recovering on the 18-yard line. The Buckeyes were turned back, forced to share the Big Ten crown with once-beaten Michigan, and deprived of the Rose Bowl.
Turnovers proved costly in this game that the Buckeyes dominated statistically. Ohio State led in rushing yards, passing yards, total yards, first downs and unfortunately, turnovers.
After the game Hayes said: "We lost because we didn't cash in when we had the chances." Asked if it was the most exciting game he had been apart of, Hayes responded, "I would rather have it dull and win."
The series between Schembechler and Hayes was now tied at 4–4–1.
January 2nd • #3 Alabama • Sugar Bowl
No. 9 Ohio State (9–2) took on Bear Bryant and No. 3 Alabama (11–1) in the 1978 Sugar Bowl. The Crimson Tide's lone loss of the season came in a 31-24 setback against Nebraska in Week 2.
From the 2015 Ohio State Team Guide:
In the first meeting between coaching legends Woody Hayes and Paul “Bear” Bryant of Alabama, the Crimson Tide made a pitch for the national championship with a convincing performance. It also marked OSU’s first appearance in the Sugar Bowl.
Alabama’s Jeff Rutledge was the game’s most valuable player. Rutledge
was good on eight of 11 passing attempts for 109 yards, including scoring
strikes of 27 yards to Bruce Bolton and a 3-yarder to Rick Neal to stake
the Tide to a 21-0 lead in the third quarter.
Alabama rolled up 389 yards in total offense, 286 on the ground.
Ohio State was limited to 263 yards, and gave up the ball three times
on interceptions. The lone Buckeye score was a 38-yard Rod Gerald
to Jim Harrell pass which capped an 85-yard drive.
The Buckeyes’ defense did cause 10 Crimson Tide fumbles on the
day, but Alabama lost only two of the miscues.
This was the second bowl game other than the Rose Bowl for Ohio State to play in. The Buckeyes fell to 6–6 in postseason contests.
- Ohio State beat Miami 10-0 in the inaugural game between the schools.
- The Buckeyes defeated Minnesota 38-7 to start Big Ten play.
- No. 4 Ohio State lost to No. 3 Oklahoma on a last-second field goal.
- Woody Hayes defeated John Jardine for the final time and beat Wisconsin for the 18th consecutive game.
- In a game that the Buckeyes dominated the stat sheet, Michigan escaped with a 14-6 victory in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines took a 28–41–5 series lead.
- Ohio State started the season as the No. 5 team in the nation but finished 1977 ranked 11th in the AP Poll.
- Aaron Brown, Tom Cousineau, Ray Griffin and Chris Ward were named All-Americans.
- Chris Ward, Ray Griffin, Herman Jones, Jeff Logan, David Adkins and Aaron Brown were selected in the NFL Draft.
The Buckeyes won their sixth-straight Big Ten title, but only managed 12 points in the final two games to put a damper on the season. Little did we know, Woody Hayes entered his final offseason as Ohio State's head coach.