100 Teams in 100 Days: The 1984 Buckeyes Smell Roses and Keith Byars Makes a Heisman Trophy Run

By Matt Gutridge on August 2, 2016 at 11:40 am
The 1984 Ohio State University football team.
Ohio State University Archives

The 1984 team had a new look. A total of 14 of 22 lost lettermen started a year earlier. Talent returned, but lacked inexperience.

32 days and counting.

With so many holes needing filled on defense, Earle Bruce made defensive package changes to help things in his sixth season. The offense also lost players, but with Mike Tomczak and Keith Byars back was in capable hands.

Speaking of hands, Cris Carter also made his debut at wide receiver. However, there a cloud of doubt hung over the offense because Tomczak broke his leg in the Spring Game. That left his status for the start of the season questionable.

The 1984 Buckeyes
Record 9–3
B1G Record 7–2, 1st
Coach Earle Bruce (6th year, 56–16)
CaptainS Thomas Jefferson, Mark Krerowicz,
Kirk Lowdermilk, Mike Tomczak

Games of Note

September 8th • Oregon State • Ohio Stadium
The Buckeyes started the season ranked sixth in the AP Poll. Joe Avezzano's Oregon State team entered as a huge underdog for its second all-time meeting with Ohio State.

Jim Karsatos made his first career start because Tomczak had not fully healed. The redshirt sophomore and the team struggled early.

The first possession of the season ended with a Tom Tupa punt, but it didn't go as planned. Tupa fumbled the snap and the Beavers' defense dropped him at the Ohio State 25-yard line. Six plays later, Oregon State put six on the board with a quarterback draw. 

Following a Rich Spangler 20-yard field goal, Ricky Greene led the Beavers on a 15-play, 82-yard touchdown drive. Avezzano gambled on 4th-and-goal from the 1 and it paid off with a pitch to the right. Oregon State took a 14-3 lead to the locker room.

The Buckeyes' defense stepped up its play in the second half. After Karsatos threw his second interception, the Beavers entered Ohio State territory looking to add to their lead. Greene rolled left and threw for the sideline, but Sonny Gordon stepped in front and returned the interception 25 yards to the Oregon State 48.

Three plays later Byars made a nice cut to the right and scored from 13 yards out. The point after was missed and Ohio State trailed 14-9. The defense forced the Beavers to punt on their next possession and the offense responded with another touchdown. A two-point conversion attempt failed, but the Buckeyes still led for the first time 15-14.

Early in the fourth quarter, Ohio State's defense set the table again. This time, Spielman stopped a promising Oregon State drive when he forced Greene to fumble and Larry Kolic recovered. The turnover led to the final points of the game.  

Halfway through the fourth quarter, Byars leaped into the end zone from a yard out. He finished the game with a career-high 182 yards on 34 carries. The Buckeyes also needed his two touchdowns in the 22-14 comeback victory.

Karsatos finished his first start with 102 passing yards and a pair interceptions. 

After the game, Bruce said: "We have talented football players, but they've just got to get some experience. Our defense played well in the second half and the blitzing really helped. They're young, but they'll get better."

1984 Schedule
JAN. 1 NO. 18 USC ROSE BOWL L, 17–20
      9–3, 391–200

September 22nd • #14 Iowa • Ohio Stadium
The week before this monumental matchup, the Buckeyes played Washington State. Karsatos started for the second time, but Tomczak took over on the fourth possession. He led the offense to touchdowns on three consecutive drives in the 44-0 blowout of Mark Rypien and the Cougars.

In 1983, Iowa snapped its 16-game losing streak to Ohio State and prevented the Buckeyes from going to the Rose Bowl. Bruce and company did not forget the loss and looked for payback. 

Chuck Long threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns, but he also had two interceptions and a fumble. His first interception came in the second quarter when Kolic grabbed it with one hand and raced 25 yards for a pick-six.  

On next drive, Long fumbled the snap and Pepper Johnson recovered. Ohio State pitched it to Byars on its first play, and the running back stopped and threw to a wide open Mike Lanese for a 35-yard touchdown to put the Buckeyes up 31-10.

Iowa cut the lead to 31-20 by halftime and pulled within five with 4:49 remaining in the third. Tomczak responded by feeding Byars four times as the offense went 49 yards in nine plays. Byars ended the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run to push the lead to 38-26 near the end of the quarter.

Johnson made the second interception against Long and Ohio State took over at the Hawkeyes' 9. Three plays later, Lanese took a reverse and scored from 6 yards out. The Buckeyes won 45-26.

Iowa linebacker Mike Stoops was honest and direct after the game: "Ohio State made too many big plays for us ... Byars is a great back. And I'll probably never face another one like him the rest of my football career. What can you say about a defense that gives up 46 points? We just didn't play too well."

Byars finished the game with 120 rushing yards and two touchdowns. He also had 55 yards receiving and a touchdown to with his 35-yard touchdown pass. No wonder Stoops was so in awe of No. 41.

IOWA W1 30–11–2
PURDUE L1 22–9–2
ILLINOIS W1 49–20–4
WISCONSIN L1 40–10–4
INDIANA W21 48–10–4
MICHIGAN W1 32–44–5
USC L3 9–9–1

October 13th • Illinois • Ohio Stadium
Following the victory against Iowa, Ohio State rose to No. 3 before defeating Minnesota 35-22 in its first visit to the Metrodome. The game kicked off at night and Lou Holtz led the Gophers.

In Week 5, Purdue upset No. 2 Ohio State 28-23 in West Lafayette. Jim Everett threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns as his team overcame a 17-7 deficit in the third quarter. Byars rushed 164 yards and two touchdowns against Minnesota and another 191 yards and two more scores against Purdue.

Now No. 8 in the AP Poll, Ohio State faced Illinois in Ohio Stadium. Like Iowa, the Illini ended a long losing streak to the Buckeyes in 1983. Mike White's Fighting Illini club started hot and jumped out to a 24-0 lead in the second quarter. 

With 4:13 left before halftime, Byars scored from 16 yards out. Officials ejected Illinois' Craig Swoop after the touchdown for a flagrant foul. With the 15-yard penalty assessed on the kickoff and trailing by 17, Bruce elected to go for the onside and his gamble paid off. Joe Jenkins recovered at the Illini 31.

Two plays after the onside, Tomczak and Carter hooked up for a 30-yard touchdown. In 50 seconds the Buckeyes went from trailing by 24 to just 10. The scoring before halftime, though, wasn't over.

Trudeau had Illinois near midfield, but Gordon intercepted his first down pass at the Ohio State 34-yard line and returned to the 38. Tomczak threw eight times and Byars rushed twice as the Buckeyes traveled 62 yards in 10 plays and 1:40. Byars scored from four yards out with 23 seconds left. The half ended with Illinois clinging to a 24-21 lead.

Trouble continued for the Illini when their return man fumbled the second half kickoff and Scott Leach recovered for Ohio State at the 26. Tomczak handed to Byars four consecutive times and the Buckeyes took their first lead of the game, 28-24.

Illinois immediately responded with a field goal, and then a play for the ages happened. Byars ran 67 yards for a touchdown, but he did it without his left shoe for the final 40. Most people remember this great run, but what is forgotten is that the team trailed 24-0 and still had to fight off the Illini. This great run gave Ohio State a 35-27 lead, but Illinois wasn't finished.

Late in the third, Trudeau threw a 9-yard touchdown and the successful 2-point conversion tied the game 35-35. The teams exchanged field goals to set the table for a dramatic ending.

Tomczak led the Buckeyes on an 80-yard drive that culminated with Byars rushing left for his fifth touchdown of the game. The score came with just 36 remaining, and Gordon broke up Illinois' last-second Hail Mary attempt to give Ohio State a thrilling 45-38 victory.

Byars' 274 rushing yards broke Archie Griffin's single-game school record of 246. His five touchdowns tied Pete Johnson for the most ever in a game.

A trip to East Lansing was next up on the docket. Michigan State had a chance to tie the game with six seconds left, but Ralf Mojsiejenko 43-yard field goal attempt fell low and right. Ohio State escaped with a 23-20 victory. 

In Week 8, Wisconsin took an early lead and did not relinquish it. To add insult to injury in the 16-14 loss, Ohio State center Kirk Lowdermilk broke his leg early in the game.

November 17th • Michigan • Ohio Stadium
The Buckeyes rebounded after the loss to the Badgers by defeating Indiana and Northwestern by a combined score of 102-10. It marked the 21st straight win over the Hoosiers and 11th over the Wildcats.

On this sunny 38-degree day, No. 11 Ohio State had a chance to win the Big Ten title outright with a victory over Michigan (6–4). Byars also eyed Griffin's Big Ten single-season record of 1,695 rushing yards, entering only 142 yards shy.

A tight, low-scoring affair through three quarters ensued. Byars scored a 1-yard touchdown in the first quarter to make the score 7-0. The Wolverines kicked a field goal at the end of the first half and one in the third to make the score 7-6. Bo Schembechler was not pleased with the field goal in the third quarter as went on a tirade over an illegal procedure penalty that stalled the drive and forced the kick. 

The game's turning point came when Bruce abandoned his traditional three wide receiver set and went back to power football. Byars scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to secure Ohio State's 21-6 victory. He finished the game with 113 yards and three touchdowns, falling 29 yards short of Griffin's record.

After the game, Schembechler said: "I thought we had a great shot to win, and we should have won it. Ohio State is a good football team, but I concede nothing to them. We tossed away too many good opportunities and the officials did not help. But you can expect that in this league."  

Michigan finished the regular season 6–5. That marked Schembechler's worst record with the school in 16 years. The Wolverines lost to BYU in the Holiday Bowl to finish 6–6 overall.

The Buckeyes improved to 32–44–5 against the Wolverines.

January 1st • #18 USC • Rose Bowl
No. 6 Ohio State (9–2) faced No. 18 USC (8–3) in the Rose Bowl for the seventh time. The two programs split their first six meetings when playing in Pasadena.

From the 2015 Ohio State Team Guide:

Ohio State outgained USC, 403-261, but the Trojan defense steadfastly
refused to let the Buckeyes cross the goal line.

USC led 17-6 at the half on a pair of TD passes by Tim Green. OSU’s Rich Spangler made it 17-9 with a Rose Bowl record 52-yard field goal, but USC offset that score with Steve Jordan’s second field goal of the day.

Ohio State finally scored a TD with 7:34 to play on a Mike Tomczak to Cris Carter pass. Tomczak’s run on the PAT made it 20-17. 

OSU had one final possession and moved to the USC 43. But the next four plays resulted in a sack and three incompletions, and the Buckeyes’ three-game bowl winning streak was ended.

Carter, the freshman split end, caught nine passes for 172 yards to shatter Don Hutson’s Rose Bowl record.

Ohio State lost its fourth straight Rose Bowl, this time by a score of 20-17.

1984 Recap

  • No. 6 Ohio State defeated Oregon State 22-14, the second and final time the programs played one another.
  • The Buckeyes beat Mark Rypien and Washington State 44-0.
  • Chuck Long's three interceptions helped Ohio State defeat No. 14 Iowa 45-26.
  • The Buckeyes played Lou Holtz and Minnesota in the Metrodome for the first time.  
  • Purdue shocked No. 2 Ohio State with a 28-23 victory.
  • Keith Byars set an Ohio State single-game record with 274 rushing yards in the 45-38 win over Illinois. He tied a school record with five rushing touchdowns.
  • The Buckeyes defeated Indiana for the 21st straight time.
  • Byars scored three touchdowns in a 21-6 victory against Michigan. Bruce improved to 4–2 against the Wolverines.
  • The Buckeyes lost to USC to lose their fourth straight Rose Bowl.
  • Ohio State started the season ranked sixth and climbed as high as No. 2. However, the Buckeyes finished the season No. 13. 
  • Keith Byars and Jim Lachey earned All-American honors.
  • Jim Lachey, Kirk Lowdermilk and Mark Krerowicz were selected in the NFL Draft.

Experienced offensive and defensive lines led the 1984 Buckeyes to their first Rose Bowl in five seasons. Highlights from the season were the outright Big Ten title and wins over Michigan, No. 14 Iowa and Illinois.

Keith Byars finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting. Doug Flutie's timely Hail Mary against Miami served as the influential play in the final tally. Byars finished 1984 as the nation's leading rusher, scorer, led the country in all-purpose yards and received Big Ten Player of the Year honors. 

Ohio State's 1985 offense looked promising with Byars, Carter and Lanese returning. 

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