Unknown at the start of the 1978 season, Woody Hayes' 28th year at the head of Ohio State's football program would be his last.
Quarterback represented the most pressing issue ahead of training camp for the Buckeyes. Hayes had to pick between senior Rod Gerald and hotshot freshman Art Schlichter. The longest-tenured coach in Ohio State history did not reveal his decision until the season opener.
|The 1978 Buckeyes
|Woody Hayes (28th year, 205–61–10)
Byron Cato, Tom Cousineau,
Ron Springs, Tim Vogler
Games of Note
September 16th • #5 Penn State • Ohio Stadium
Joe Paterno's fifth-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions entered Ohio Stadium with a 2–0 record. Penn State defeated Temple and Rutgers to open its season before No. 6 Ohio State even played a game.
The quarterback battle served as fodder leading up to the matchup. Hayes did not tip his hand and did not reveal his decision until the Buckeyes took the opening kick. With both Gerald and Schlichter standing beside him on the sideline, Hayes sent them both in to start the game. As the team broke the huddle, Schlichter went to quarterback and Gerald lined up at split end.
Schichter opened the drive with a 6-yard pass to Doug Donley. The 88,203 in attendance on this overcast 80-degree day cheered in agreement to the call and personnel. The drive continued with a mix of runs and passes before Ohio State faced 3rd-and-8 at Penn State's 39-yard line. Schlichter threw deep to Donley down the right sideline, but P. Harris intercepted it at the 21 and returned it 33 yards to the Buckeyes' 46.
Penn State turned the interception into three points when Matt Bahr kicked a 33-yard field goal. Schlichter's five interceptions led to the Bahr's four successful field goals in Penn State's 19-0 victory. The Nittany Lions became the first team to defeat Ohio State in the season opener since Arizona accomplished the feat in 1967.
The following week, Hayes and the Buckeyes traveled to Minneapolis to take on the Gophers in Memorial Stadium. Ohio State returned to basics and rushed 73 times for 300 yards in a 27-10 victory. This marked the 11th straight time the Buckeyes beat Minnesota. Cal Stoll retired from coaching at the end of the season and finished his career 0–7 against Ohio State.
|NO. 5 PENN STATE
|NO. 6 MICHIGAN
|NO. 6 CLEMSON
October 7th • SMU • Ohio Stadium
The week before hosting SMU, Baylor visited Ohio State. The Bears picked off Schlichter twice in the first quarter and turned the turnovers into 14 quick points. With the early passing troubles, Hayes returned to what he knew best and the offense rushed 81 times for 373 yards. Ohio State won 34-28, Hayes's 200th career victory.
SMU (2–1) arrived in Columbus after giving up 14 fourth quarter points to Penn State in a 26-21 loss at Beaver Stadium. The Mustangs gained a little confidence from the defeat knowing that the Nittany Lions blanked the Buckeyes earlier in the season. The right arm of sophomore quarterback Mike Ford led the way for SMU.
Ford completed 36-of-57 passes for 341 yards and a touchdown against Ohio State's secondary. The Mustangs had a nice offensive balance and rushed for 160 yards. They finished with 107 plays and 501 yards of total offense.
SMU led 21-14 at the half, but the Buckeyes scored 21 points in the third quarter to take a 35-21 lead into the fourth. Hayes began to substitute liberally, confident his team had the game in hand. The strategy backfired, however, and the Mustangs scored twice and tied the game at 35-35. No one scored again.
Schlichter had a difficult day passing as he completed 3-of-16 passes for 50 yards and threw four interceptions. On the last play of the game, he severely bruised his right shoulder.
With an injured quarterback and a defense that allowed 63 points to Baylor and SMU, Hayes' group readied to face Purdue and its effective passing attack.
October 14th • Purdue • Ross-Ade Stadium
Most fans dislike hearing a coach say the key to winning a football game is to not have turnovers and make silly mistakes. A cliched way of thinking, but held true in Ohio State's Week 5 matchup with Purdue.
Ohio State outgained the Boilermakers 507-328 in total yards but lost 27-16. Why? Because the Buckeyes fumbled four times, threw an interception and committed nine penalties for 116 yards.
This marked Purdue's first victory against Ohio State since 1967.
Following the loss, the Buckeyes ripped off five straight victories against Iowa, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.
November 25th • #6 Michigan • Ohio Stadium
The winner between No. 16 Ohio State and the No. 6 Michigan yet again determined the Big Ten champion. A Michigan win would send Schembechler's team to the Rose Bowl. The Buckeyes were playing for their seventh straight conference championship. A win would also end Ohio State's two-game losing streak to the Wolverines and four-straight losses on national television.
On this overcast and 42-degree Saturday, the Buckeyes scored the first points of the game when freshman Bob Atha split the uprights on a 29-yard field goal. From there, Michigan's Rick Leach took over.
Ohio State's defense did a great job of stopping the Wolverines' rushing game, but that enabled Leach to pick the secondary apart. The senior signal caller threw a 30-yard touchdown pass at the end of the first quarter and an 11-yard scoring toss near the end of the third. That was all Michigan needed to defeat Ohio State, 14-3.
For the third straight year, the Wolverines kept the Buckeyes out of the end zone. Schlichter finished 4-of-9 passing for 43 yards and an interception. In the fourth quarter, Hayes switched to Gerald, but he did not produce points on either of his two drives.
Ohio State lost three consecutive games to Michigan for the first time since 1945-48. The win gave Schembechler a 5–4–1 record against Hayes.
December 29th • #6 Clemson • Gator Bowl
No. 6 Clemson (9–1) entered the Gator Bowl on a nine-game winning streak. The Tigers only loss of the season came in Athens against Georgia 12-0.
No. 20 Ohio State drove the ball into Clemson territory twice in the first quarter but failed to score.
On the Buckeyes' first possession of the game, they drove to Clemson's 1-yard line. On 4th-and-goal from the 1, Hayes decided to go for the touchdown. Fullback Ricardo Volley took the handoff and the Tigers dropped him for a 1-yard loss.
Later in the first, Ohio State faced 4th-and-1 from the Tigers' 22. Hayes again eschewed the field goal attempt and gave the ball to fullback Paul Campbell. The strong fullback ran up the middle but was stopped for no gain.
These missed opportunities proved costly as the game unfolded.
Atha scored the first points of the game on a 27-yard field goal early in the second quarter. Clemson immediately answered with an 80-yard touchdown drive and led 7-3 with 5:03 left in the first half.
The scoring barrage continued on Ohio State's next possession. Schlichter completed three consecutive passes to get the ball to the Tigers' 9-yard line. He finished the drive by rushing in from four yards out for the score. Clemson blocked Vlade Janakievski's so the Buckeyes led 9-7 with 1:15 remaining.
Clemson proceeded to march down the field to Ohio State's 35-yard line. With five seconds on the clock, Obed Ariri made a 47-yard field goal to give the Tigers a 10-9 lead at halftime.
Clemson used a 19-play, 84-yard drive late in the third quarter to take a 17-9 lead. The Tigers used a mix of running and passing to keep Ohio State's defense off balance. Tailback Cliff Austin finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown plunge.
Ohio State's comeback from The Columbus Dispatch:
Things looked bleak for the Bucks with a 17-9 deficit, but they got back into contention with an 88-yard march, climaxed by Schlichter's TD on a keeper play.
A try for a two-point conversion failed when Schlichter was stopped on the option keep.
Middle Guard Tim Sawicki gave Ohio State an unexpected life with a recovery of a (Steve) Fuller fumble on the Clemson 24.
But, on third and five at the Clemson 24, (Charlie) Bauman stepped into the path of Shlichter's pass and an outstanding football game wound up in a slugging incident – and Ohio State's fourth loss in 12 1978 starts.
The "slugging incident" overshadowed the result of the game. Hayes took his frustration out on Bauman and his actions cost him his job.
After the game, fans called the Columbus Citizen-Journal to voice their displeasure:
Irate Buck fans tired of Woody
One call came from Houston. Another came from San Francisco. Most of the callers who swamped the Citizen-Journal telephone lines termed the situation "disgusting."
Responding to Woody Hayes' nationally televised swing at Clemson middle guard Charlie Bauman after Bauman intercepted an Art Schlichter pass in OSU's 17-15 Gator Bowl loss to Clemson Friday Night, every caller disagreed with Hayes' actions, some vehemently.
"How long must we put up with this? one man asked.
"Woody Hayes is a disgrace to Ohio State University and the citizens of Columbus," a woman fumed. "He should be fired."
One young man, asking to remain anonymous, said "Look, I'm a former Ohio State player. I love the guy, but I'm sick of it. I don't know how much longer he should be allowed to go on with this."
The morning after the Gator Bowl loss, Hayes resigned.
- No. 5 Penn State defeated No. 6 Ohio State 19-0.
- The Buckeyes' defense allowed 501 yards in the 35-35 tie to SMU.
- Purdue took advantage of five OSU turnovers to win 27-16 in West Lafayette.
- The Scarlet and Gray outscored Iowa, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana 209-66 to be in a position to claim a Big Ten title.
- Rick Leach's passing served as the difference in the 14-3 loss to Michigan. Hayes ended his career with a 16–11–1 record in The Game.
- At the end of the 17-15 loss to Clemson in the Gator Bowl, Hayes punched Charlie Bauman and resigned the next day.
- Ohio State started the season as the No. 6 team in the nation but finished 1978 unranked in the AP Poll.
- Tom Cousineau was named All-American for the second time.
- Tom Cousineau, Ron Springs, Jimmy Moore and Joe Robinson were selected in the NFL Draft.
Woody Hayes ended his career as the face of Ohio State football. He finished with the most victories (205), Big Ten titles (13) and national championships (5) in school history.
More important than the records was Hayes' impact on the young men he coached. He instilled his values and taught his players life skills that lasted long beyond their playing days.
For the first time in 28 years, Ohio State opened a search for a head football coach.