100 Teams in 100 Days: Woody Hayes Passes Away and Earle Bruce is Fired in 1987

By Matt Gutridge on August 5, 2016 at 11:40 am
The 1987 Ohio State football team.
Ohio State University Archives

Prior to the 1987 season, Earle Bruce nearly left Ohio State to take the head coaching position at Arizona.

29 days and counting.

The Wildcats offered Bruce a five-year deal that paid more than what he made in Columbus. Ohio State Director of Athletics Rick Bay met with Bruce and convinced him not to leave for Tucson.

Had Bruce known that Ohio State would have a different message for him in late November, he probably would have accepted the Arizona job.

The 1987 Buckeyes
Record 6–4–1
B1G Record 4–4, 5th
Coach Earle Bruce (9th year, 81–26–1)
CaptainS Eric Kumerow, Chris Spielman,
Tom Tupa, William White

Games of Note

September 12th • West Virginia • Ohio Stadium
On a 75 degree Saturday that had on and off rain, Tom Tupa made his first start at quarterback for Ohio State. Tupa completed 12-of-25 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown in a 24-3 win over West Virginia. The Buckeyes started hot by scoring 17 points in the first quarter.

The early lead came as a result of West Virginia turnovers. The Mountaineers continued their miscues throughout the game and eventually finished with six interceptions and two lost fumbles.

William White snagged three interceptions to tie Ohio State's single-game record. Chris Spielman finished with a game-high 19 tackles and two interceptions in the defense's dominating performance. 

This was the first Ohio State game since former head coach Woody Hayes passed away in March. The stadium held a moment of silence before kickoff and the team spoke about the legendary coach in the locker room before kickoff. The speeches and honor motivated the Buckeyes' defense.

Reflecting on the events, Spielman said, "Each of our coaches stood up and said something, and when they talked about Woody, they had tears in their eyes. That's a motivator."

Oregon visited Columbus in Week 2 and Ohio State defeated the Ducks 24-14. The Buckeyes only led 3-0 at the half, but Vince Workman and Tupa came alive in the final two quarters.

Workman finished with 162 yards rushing and a touchdown. Tupa completed 20-of-32 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns. Spielman recorded a game-high 15 tackles. 

1987 Schedule
      6–4–1, 224–181

September 26th • #4 LSU • Tiger Stadium
No. 7 Ohio State and No. 4 LSU played a hard fought game in Baton Rouge. With the Buckeyes down 10-6 early in the fourth quarter, Mickey McCray intercepted Mickey Guidry's pass at the LSU 36-yard line. The interception led to Tupa's 8-yard touchdown pass to Jay Koch that put Ohio State out front for the first time 13-10.

The Tigers tied the game with a 40-yard field goal on their next possession and set the stage for a phenomenal four minutes from Greg Rogan. Per the Chicago Tribune:

Quarterback Tom Hodson thought he had Wendell Davis, his favorite receiver, open at the 2-yard line, but it was only an illusion. Rogan stepped in front of Davis and picked off the ball, returning it to his 35.

After Ohio State punted and pinned LSU at the 2-yard line, the Tigers decided to throw deep. Greg Rogan grabbed his second interception and returned it to LSU's 37-yard line with 27 seconds left.

The Buckeyes moved the ball to the 30 before setting up Frantz's chance to win the game:

"I felt it was the best of any kick I had today," said Frantz, "and when I looked up it was floating like a duck. I knew it was blocked."


Sophomore end Karl Dunbar got a hand on the ball, ending the bruising, emotion-packed struggle.

Spielman – who finished with a game-high 11 tackles – slammed his helmet on the bench when he saw the field goal attempt get blocked. 

This was the first time the iconic schools met on the gridiron. (Full video of the game)

After the first tie of Bruce's college career, Ohio State traveled to Champaign and defeated the Illini 10-6. 

October 10th • Indiana • Ohio Stadium
The last time Ohio State lost to Indiana came in 1951. The No. 9 Buckeyes owned a 23-game winning streak against the Hoosiers (3–1). 

Bill Mallory's team put the 90,032 fans in Ohio Stadium on notice when his team led 10-0 early in the second quarter. A Jim Bryant 8-yard touchdown run and Matt Frantz's field goal – as time in first half expired – tied the game at 10.

The second half belonged to the Hoosiers, who scored 21 consecutive points. Indiana used a balanced attack against Ohio State's defense which only allowed 9.0 points per game entering the contest. Anthony Thompson rushed for 126 yards and a touchdown and Dave Schnell threw for 200 more and two touchdowns.   

"You just saw an Ohio State football team in the second half get the devil knocked out of them," Bruce said after the loss. "Indiana dominated the second half of this football game."

Spielman added: "We shouldn't have won the football game. We know we got beat – soundly." The All-American ended the day with a game-high 16 tackles. 

LSU T1 0–0–1
ILLINOIS W2 51–21–4
INDIANA L1 50–11–4
PURDUE W3 25–9–2
WISCONSIN L1 41–12–4
IOWA L1 32–12–2
MICHIGAN W1 33–46–5

October 31st • Michigan State • Ohio Stadium 
After the thumping from Indiana, Ohio State squeaked by Purdue. The Buckeyes led 17-0 at halftime but had to rely on a Frantz 50-yard field goal with 3:10 remaining in the game to earn a 20-17 victory. 

In Week 7, Ohio State's defense held Minnesota's Big Ten-leading offense to nine points and 269 yards. Carlos Snow rushed for 85 yards and four touchdowns in the 42-9 win.

The following week against Michigan State, the Buckeyes scored on their opening play of the game. Tupa connected with Everett Ross for a 79-yard touchdown to give No. 15 Ohio State a 7-0 lead 15 seconds in. What the 89,915 on hand didn't know was that the Buckeyes would not score again. 

No. 20 Michigan State (5–2–1) held Ohio State to two yards rushing and went on to win 13-7. The last time the Buckeyes managed that futile of a ground attack came in 1965, also against the Spartans. Ohio State rushed for a -22 yards in a 32-7 loss.

The score should have been worse, but Michigan State's kicker missed from 33 and 43 yards out. The Buckeyes fell to 9–3 on Halloween and suffered their first loss on the holiday since 1942.  

November 7th • Wisconsin • Camp Randall 
Ohio State built a 24-13 lead at halftime against Wisconsin but could not secure the victory. An odd statistic from the game was the defense held the Badgers to 46 total yards in the second half. But four interceptions and two lost fumbles by the offense in the final two quarters sealed the loss for the Scarlet and Gray.

Wisconsin kicker Todd Gregoire tied a program single-game record with four field goals. He made the game-winning kick with 10:49 left in the fourth quarter. 

Despite the miscues, Ohio State had a fantastic opportunity to win the game. However, Frantz missed a 22-yard field goal late in the fourth.

November 14th • Iowa • Ohio Stadium 
In the home finale, the Buckeyes lost their third consecutive game in heartbreaking fashion to Iowa. Snow's 14-yard touchdown run with 2:45 left in the game gave Ohio State a 27-22 lead. Bruce made the wise decision to go for two, but the try failed.

With six seconds on the clock, Iowa faced 4th-and-23 on the Buckeyes' 28-yard line. Chuck Hartlieb threw short of the end zone and completed his pass to Marv Cook on the 9. The tight end immediately turned and cut left for the end zone. Ohio State's defense failed to stop him and Iowa won 29-27.

That marked the first time the Hawkeyes won in Ohio Stadium since 1959.

"Praise the Lord. He was smiling on us today," Iowa coach Hayden Fry said after the game. "In my 36 years of coaching, I've never had a more meaningful victory."

He also addressed the criticism Bruce faced.

"Coach Bruce is a personal friend, and he's a great gentleman as well as a class coach," Fry said. "I told him before the game I was really disturbed with all the pressure and other things he has been receiving. All he has done is the best job in the Big Ten since I've been here."

This marked the Buckeyes' fourth Big Ten loss of the season, its most in a season since 1966. 

November 21st • Michigan • Michigan Stadium 
To show support for Earle Bruce – who Ohio State fired the Monday before The Game – players wore headbands with Earle written on them.

The emotion of the week caught up with the Buckeyes as Michigan (8–3) scored the game's first 13 points. The Wolverines held the Scarlet and Gray to 30 yards of offense through the first 25 minutes of the game. That's when Tupa directed a 61-yard drive that culminated with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Everett Ross. 

The half ended with the Buckeyes only having 91 yards of total offense and trailing 13-7.

After the defense held Michigan to a three-and-out, Ohio State had the ball on its own 30. On the Buckeyes' first play of the second half, Tupa threw short to Snow but the running back turned it into a 70-yard score. The freshman back split two defenders, picked up a key block and avoided a would-be tackler at the Wolverine's 20 before he found the end zone. Ohio State now led 14-13.

Near the midway point of the third quarter, David Brown intercepted Michigan quarterback Demetrius Brown at the Wolverines' 27 and returned it to the 19-yard line. Three plays later Tupa scored on a 1-yard keeper. Though he made his previous 52 extra point attempts, Frantz missed this try to leave the score at 20-13.

Near the end of the third quarter, Michigan tied the game after Leroy Hoard ran in from 10 yards out. That allowed Frantz another shot at achieving his dream of defeating the Wolverines with a game-winning field goal. From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

The Bucks, sporting headbands in support of their coach, sealed the victory with a 26-yard fourth-quarter field goal by Frantz.

That capped a 15-play, 77-yard drive that stopped at the Michigan 12. The Bucks could have gone for a first down on fourth-and-one, but Frantz was standing right beside Bruce when the decision had to be made.

"He looked at me and I said, 'Let's kick it.' He said, 'OK, kick it in,'" Frantz said.

It was sweet revenge for Frantz, who missed a 45-yarder that could have won the 83rd meeting of this rivalry last season.

Michigan had a chance to tie, or win, but Hoard fumbled and Kumerow recovered at the 47 with 4:15 left on the clock. Tupa and the offense proceeded to drive to the Michigan 1-yard line where it turned the ball over on downs with 9 seconds remaining. 

This marked Spielman's final game as a Buckeye. He finished the victory with a game-high 16 tackles – 14 of which were solo – and a sack.  

After the game, an emotional Bruce said: "There is no sweeter victory in the world than a win over Michigan in your last game at Ohio State. But the real thrill was coming back when you're down, 13-0, after the week we had.

"This is one for the Buckeyes; God bless them. I love them."

Bruce finished his career 5–4 against Michigan and Bo Schembechler.

1987 Recap

  • William White intercepted three passes in No. 5 Ohio State's 24-3 victory over West Virginia.
  • The Bucks beat the Ducks 24-14 and improved to 7–0 against Oregon.
  • Pat O'Morrow kicked a field goal with 25 seconds left in the game to beat Colorado 13-10.
  • Greg Rogan made two late interceptions to give Ohio State a chance to beat No. 4 LSU. Frantz had a potential game-winning field goal blocked and the game ended in a 13-13 tie.
  • The Scarlet and Gray earned victory number 51 in its series against Illinois. 
  • Indiana defeated the Buckeyes for the first time since 1951 and ended a 23-game losing streak to Ohio State.
  • Frantz redeemed himself with a game-winning 50-yard field goal against Purdue. 
  • Carlos Snow scored for touchdowns in the 42-9 victory over Minnesota.
  • No. 20 Michigan State held the Buckeyes to two yards rushing in the 13-7 loss.
  • Frantz missed a 22-yard field goal that would have won the game against Wisconsin.
  • Iowa scored a touchdown on 4th-and-23 from the 28 with six seconds remaining in the game to defeat Ohio State for the first time since 1959.
  • On Monday, Nov. 16, 1987, Rick Bay informed Earle Bruce he would not return next season.
  • The Buckeyes scored 16 second-half points and Frantz kicked the eventual game-winning 26-yard field goal against Michigan.
  • The team turned down an invitation to play in the Sun Bowl.
  • Ohio State started the season ranked fifth, but finished the season unranked for the first time since 1978. 
  • Chris Spielman and Tom Tupa earned All-American honors. 
  • Eric Kumerow, Chris Spielman, Alex Higdon, Tom Tupa, William White, George Cooper, Ray Jackson and Henry Brown were selected in the NFL Draft.

Earle Bruce finished his Ohio State career with an 81–26–1 record. Many fans still remember watching the local news and seeing Bruce at his house, with tears in his eyes, the night he lost his job. The school's 21st coach brought a new era to Buckeye football.

Chris Spielman finished his playing days as the program's leader in solo tackles (283) and was third in total and assisted tackles.

Tom Tupa ended his Ohio State career with a school record 44.7 punting average.

Vince Workman led the team with 470 rushing yards. That was the lowest total since Bo Rein rushed for 456 yards in 1966. Workman finished his career ranked 14th on the career rushing list and 16th on the career receiving list.

Urban Meyer completed his last year as a graduate assistant in 1987.

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