100 Teams in 100 Days: Ohio State Defeats Notre Dame and Wins the Rose Bowl in 1996

By Matt Gutridge on August 14, 2016 at 11:40 am
The 1996 Ohio State University football team.
Ohio State University Archives

Many teams would be devastated after losing a Heisman Trophy winner, three-year starting quarterback and first-round wide receiver.

20 days and counting.

Not Ohio State. The offense had new faces in those positions, but the 1996 Buckeyes did not miss a beat. Stanley Jackson and Joe Germaine split time at quarterback, and Pepe Pearson and Joe Montgomery filled the gaping hole left behind by Eddie George. Terry Glenn left, but Dimitrius Stanley, Buster Tillman and freshman David Boston gave the quarterback multiple receivers to target.

Fred Pagac's defense remained fast and aggressive. The formidable defensive line had Luke Fickell, Matt Finkes and Mike Vrabel returning to stop the run and harass quarterbacks. Freshman phenom Andy Katzenmoyer joined veterans Ryan Miller and Jerry Rudzinski at linebacker and Shawn Springs anchored a talented secondary.

The 1996 Buckeyes
Record 11–1
B1G Record 7–1, 1st
Coach John Cooper (9th year, 76–29–4)
CaptainS Greg Bellisari, Juan Porter

Games of Note

September 21st • Pittsburgh • Ohio Stadium 
Pittsburgh came to Columbus for a Week 2 matchup with the Buckeyes, who blew out Rice in Week 1.

The seventh-ranked Buckeyes were on a three-game winning streak against Johnny Majors and his Panthers. The three wins were not close as Ohio State outscored Pitt 144-45.

The Buckeyes piled up 602 yards and 72 points on this sunny and 72-degree fall day. Ohio State's offense scored on each of its first 10 possessions. The Buckeyes led 52-0 at halftime tacked on three more touchdowns in the second half for a 72-0 victory. 

Joe Montgomery (109) and Pepe Pearson (103) both cracked the century mark and the team totaled 369 rushing yards. Pearson recorded all three of his touchdowns in the first half.

The duo of Jackson and Germaine combined for 14 completed passes, 233 yards and three touchdowns. Germaine completed all eight of his passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns. 

"In all my coaching career, I don't believe I've seen a team with more huge linemen on offense," said Pittsburgh coach Johnny Majors. "They have great balance, power, strength, speed and ability at every position I could see out there."

Ohio State gained over 600 yards in consecutive games for the first time in program history. The team also tied a school record with 142 points in back-to-back games. The last time the only other time the Buckeyes accomplished this feat was in 1892.  

This was the worst defeat in Pittsburgh history and the Panthers have not played Ohio State since.

1996 Schedule
SEP. 28 NO. 5 ND NOTRE DAME W, 29–16
      11–1, 455–131

September 28th • No. 5 Notre Dame • Notre Dame Stadium
Notre Dame entered this matchup fresh off a 27-24 victory at Texas. The Irish kicked a field goal as time expired to secure the win and had plenty of confidence as they hosted the fourth-ranked Buckeyes.

From the opening kick, the Irish realized they were in for a difficult day. Dimitrious Stanley received the ball at his own 2-yard line, then raced 85 yards to the Notre Dame 13. After two Pearson runs, Jackson scrambled on 3rd-and-7 from the 10 and picked up an important first down. Pearson punched it in from the 3-yard line on the next play, but Brent Bartholomew was unable to handle the high snap on the extra point. Ohio State led 6-0 not even two minutes in.

After each team had stalled drives, Bartholomew set up to punt near midfield. Bert Berry of the Irish was able to get through and blocked the kick, Allen Rossum recovered and Notre Dame had the ball at the Buckeyes' 49. The Irish did not take advantage and were forced to punt after three plays. Hunter Smith booted a beauty and had it downed at the Ohio State 3-yard line.

On 3rd-and-3, Jackson felt nearby pressure as he rolled left. His attempted pass was deflected by Lamont Bryant and Kinnon Tatum came down with the interception at the Buckeyes' 15. Four plays later, Marc Edwards scored on pitch to the left and Notre Dame led 7-6 at the midpoint of the first quarter.

Ohio State responded with a 7-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Jackson went 4-for-4 for 57 yards and connected with Matt Calhoun to give the Buckeyes a 12-7 lead. A key play came when Jackson hit John Lumpkin for 25 yards on 2nd-and-11 that put the ball on the Irish's 2-yard line.

Early in the second quarter, Rob Kelly forced Randy Kinder to fumble and Mike Vrabel recovered at the Notre Dame 35. Germaine came in at quarterback, but he could only move the ball four yards in three plays. Ohio State's special team gaffes continued when Benny Guilbeaux blocked Dan Stultz's 49-yard field goal attempt.

Ron Powlus went to work and in six plays had the Irish on OSU's 28-yard line. On 3rd-and-5 he dropped back and threw into heavy traffic, Fickell picked it off and the Buckeyes dodged a bullet. 

Germaine remained in the game and directed an 11-play, 68-yard drive that Jackson finished with a 24-yard field goal. The Buckeyes now led 15-7 with 3:52 left in the first half.  The defense held the Irish to another three-and-out to give Jackson a shot at extending the lead. Springs had a 27-yard punt return, but it was called back for an illegal block. Instead of starting at the 46, Jackson and the offense started on their own 16.

A 24-yard Pearson run, a 31-yard pass to Michael Wiley and a 26-yard pass to Pearson put Ohio State on the Notre Dame 1-yard line. With 54 seconds on the clock, Pearson plowed in and the Buckeyes took a 22-7 lead into the locker room.  

The Irish took the second half kickoff and made a field goal to pull within 12. Jackson answered with a 13-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Jones and Ohio State took a commanding 29-10 lead. Notre Dame would score again, but it wouldn't be enough as the Buckeyes won for the first time in South Bend.

Pearson finished with two touchdowns and rushed for a career-high 173 yards. Jackson completed 9-of-15 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns and Greg Bellisari had a game-high 14 tackles.

Powlus had a few words after the loss: "The national championship's done. The season's over. Please don't take that out of context. The season is not over. (But) our national championship is over. You (might) say anything can happen, but Notre Dame will never win a national championship with one loss because we are Notre Dame."

Ohio State was now 2–2 against Notre Dame.

October 5th • No. 4 Penn State • Ohio Stadium 
After playing in Beaver Stadium for consecutive years, No. 3 Ohio State hosted No. 4 Penn State. The 12th game in the series was dominated by the Buckeyes' defense on a sunny 63 degree early October Saturday. 

The Nittany Lions entered this game averaging 230 rushing yards per game. The Scarlet and Gray held Joe Paterno's team to 211 total yards. The defense recorded four sacks and nine tackles for loss as they did not allow Penn State to cross the 50-yard line until halfway through the third quarter. Damon Moore led the team with 11 tackles, with eight being solo.

Ohio State's offense wasn't shabby either. Pepe Pearson rushed for 141 of the squad's 350 rushing yards. Stanley caught five passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns and Jackson threw for 169 yards, two touchdowns and was 11 of 22 passing.

The Buckeyes scored in every quarter and were 3:43 away from shutting Penn State out in the 38-7 victory. This was Joe Paterno's fifth worst loss in 30 years and he was now 3–5 against Ohio State.

October 12th • Wisconsin • Ohio Stadium 
The Buckeyes were now No. 2 in the polls after destroying its first four opponents. The 94,215 in Ohio Stadium for this 3:35 kickoff were treated to clear skies and temperatures in the 60s. They were also hoping to watch Ohio State get its fifth straight blowout victory. The fans would not get their wish.

The Badgers led 7-3 at halftime after they ended the first half with a 10-play, 56-yard touchdown drive that ended with a Cecil Martin 1-yard touchdown run with only 44 seconds left in the second quarter.

The second half did not start well for the home team. On the first play from scrimmage, Stanley caught an 18-yard slant from Jackson, but Wisconsin's Jason Suttle forced a fumble and the Badgers recovered at the Ohio State 38.

The Badgers moved 15 yards but had to settle for a 40-yard field goal attempt. The snap and hold were good, but John Hall's kick was blocked. The play sparked the offense and Pearson capped the 77-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown to give the Buckeyes a 10-7 lead.

Early in the fourth quarter, Barry Alvarez's defense shocked the stadium when Suttle forced Tillman to fumble at the Buckeyes' 36. The loose ball was picked up by Kevin Huntley who returned it for the scoop and score. Ohio State trailed by four for the second time in the game.

Later in the fourth, Boston returned a punt 34 yards to give the ball to the offense near midfield. Cooper called on Germaine for the first time in the game. On the fifth play of the drive Stanley caught a hitch from Germaine and raced 48 yards for the winning score. It was Germaine's only completion of the game. 

Stanley finished with 10 receptions for 199 yards and the game-winning touchdown. Moore set a school record for defensive backs with 19 tackles, and the defense held Ron Dayne to 65 rushing yards in the 17-14 victory.

"A lot of teams would have found a way to lose that game," Cooper said. "I guess sometimes you have to win ugly. Quite honestly, I think we dodged a bullet."

RICE W2 2–0
WISCONSIN W3 48–13–5
PURDUE W6 31–10–2
IOWA W3 37–13–3
ILLINOIS W2 54–27–4
INDIANA W6 57–12–5
MICHIGAN L2 34–53–6

November 23rd • No. 21 Michigan • Ohio Stadium 
No. 2 Ohio State dominated the first two quarters of play, but only had a 9-0 lead to show for the effort. On two possessions the Buckeyes were inside the Michigan 5-yard line, and twice Ohio State had to settle for short field goals. 

Jackson's field goals of 21, 36 and 21 yards were let downs for the majority of the 94,676 in Ohio Stadium. The sentiment at halftime was the Buckeyes should have led 17-0 or at the very least, 13-0. The faithful were hoping that the points left on the field would not come back and hurt their team.

On the second half's second play from scrimmage, Brian Griese hit Tai Streets on a quick strike pass that went 69 yards for a touchdown. Streets scored untouched because All-American Shawn Springs slipped on the play. Ohio State still led 9-7, but the tone of the game had changed and everyone was waiting for the other shoe to drop. 

The shoe belonged to Wolverines' kicker, Remy Hamilton, and he used it to kick two field goals. His first came at the end of the third quarter and the second with 1:19 remaining in the game.

The Scarlet and Gray had one last chance as Stanley returned the ensuing kickoff 19 yards to the 21-yard line. Germaine's first two passes fell incomplete and the Buckeyes were called for pass interference on third down. The penalty pushed the ball back to the 10 yard-line where the team faced 3rd-and-21.

Stanley caught a 25-yard pass over the middle and Ohio State had a first down on its own 35. Germaine looked to Stanley again, this time for a gain of 18 and OSU was on the Michigan 47. Following an incomplete pass to Boston, Germaine was called for intentional grounding. On 3rd-and-23, an attempt to Stanley was not completed. 

On 4th-and-23 from his own 40, Germaine dropped back with little time on the clock and threw deep, Marcus Ray came down with the ball at the Wolverines' 15 and Ohio State lost, 13-9.

The loss devastated the Buckeyes. "It's a disappointment and almost a failure," Bellisari said of the season. "Ask me in a week and I might feel differently. But that's how I feel now."

Cooper was not happy with his offense: "We absolutely did nothing offensively in the second half. I'm tremendously disappointed in our offense. We had the ball on their 45 three or four times in the fourth quarter, where a field goal could have won the ballgame, and we didn't do anything."

At the end of the game, Ohio native Charles Woodson said: "It was a great victory, to be able to look those people in the eye and say, `This is why I didn't go to Ohio State. I wanted to win at Michigan.' "

The Buckeyes were still headed to the Rose Bowl, but Cooper was now 1–7–1 in The Game and the national championship was gone.

January 1st • No. 2 Arizona State • Rose Bowl 
On a night that No. 4 Ohio State could have been playing for its share of the national title, the Buckeyes played the role of spoiler against No. 2 Arizona State.

In a game featuring two dynamic defenses, it was Ohio State's offense that made the signature drive of one of the best Rose Bowls of all-time. A recap of the game from the 2015 Ohio State Team Guide:

The Buckeyes snapped a four-game losing streak in the grandaddy of all bowl games with a dramatic, come-from-behind win. The win over previously unbeaten Arizona State propelled the fourth-ranked Buckeyes to an 11-1 record and
the No. 2 spot in both major polls.

Quarterback Joe Germaine came off the bench to lead the Buckeyes to the victory and was named as the game’s Most Outstanding Player.

OSU took a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter on a 9-yard pass from Stanley Jackson to David Boston. ASU scored early in the second period on a 25-yard pass from Jake Plummer to Ricky Boyer and the two teams were deadlocked at halftime.

The Sun Devils jumped out to a 10-7 lead on their first possession of the second half on a 37-yard field goal by Robert Nycz. The Buckeyes recaptured the lead moments later when Germaine and senior flanker Dimitrious Stanley hooked up on a 72-yard score, the longest TD pass in OSU bowl annals.

Plummer, on a third-and-11, somehow snaked his way into the end zone to give ASU a 17-14 lead with 1:40 to play. Earlier, Plummer had kept the drive alive with a 29-yard completion on fourth down.

Germaine responded by calmly marching the Buckeyes 65 yards in 12 plays, hitting Boston from 5 yards out with the game winner.

Ohio State fans in the stands – and in their living rooms – shouted and jumped in the air when Boston caught the ball and strutted in the end zone. The Buckeyes won their first Rose Bowl in 23 years

1996 Recap

  • Andy Katzenmoyer became the first true freshman to start at linebacker for Ohio State and the Buckeyes destroyed Rice 70-7 in the season opener. 
  • Ohio State scored on its first 10 possessions and defeated Pittsburgh 72-0 in the Panthers' worst defeat. OSU matched a program record by scoring 142 points in consecutive games.
  • Returning to South Bend for the first time since 1936, the fourth-ranked Buckeyes beat No. 5 Notre Dame 29-16 in the last regular season game between the schools.
  • No. 3 Ohio State led 24-0 at the half on its way to a 38-7 victory over fourth-ranked Penn State. The Buckeyes became the first team in college football since 1980 to defeat top five teams in consecutive games.
  • Demetrius Stanley had 199 receiving yards and the game-winning touchdown in the 17-14 win over Wisconsin. 
  • Purdue led 14-0 in West Lafayette, but the Buckeyes scored the game's last 42 points. Katzenmoyer had eight solo tackles, three tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception in the 42-14 victory.
  • Ohio State's defense intercepted four passes, blocked a punt for a touchdown and recovered a loose kickoff in the 38-26 defeat of No. 19 Iowa. Joe Montgomery rushed for a career-high 160 yards on 15 carries.
  • The 45-0 shutout of Minnesota was the second for the Buckeyes' defense in 1996. The Gophers' Big Ten-leading passing attack was held to 57 yards.
  • Illinois was blanked by Ohio State 48-0 the following week in Champaign. It marked the first time since 1979 that the Buckeyes had shutouts in consecutive games.
  • No. 2 Ohio State clinched a Rose Bowl berth with a 27-17 victory over Indiana in Bloomington. Katzenmoyer forced a fumble that was returned by Matt Finkes 45 yards for the game-clinching touchdown.
  • The Buckeyes were inside Michigan's 5-yard line on two possessions, but settle for field goals. The 9-0 halftime lead was not enough as the Wolverines scored 13 points in the second half to win.
  • Joe Germaine led No. 4 Ohio State on a last-minute touchdown drive to defeat No. 2 Arizona State 20-17. It marked the Buckeyes' first Rose Bowl victory since the 1973 season.
  • Orlando Pace, Shawn Springs and Mike Vrabel were named All-Americans. This was the second honor for both Pace and Vrabel.
  • Orlando Pace, Shawn Springs, Rob Kelly, Ty Howard, Mike Vrabel, Nicky Sualua and Matt Finkes were selected in the NFL Draft. Pace was the No. 1 overall pick.
  • Ohio State started the season ranked 10th and finished second.

For the second straight season the Buckeyes were 11–0 and No. 2 in the country before losing to Michigan. The 20-17 Rose Bowl victory eased the pain but had many wondering if Ohio State would have won the national title had the team beat the Wolverines. Orlando Pace became the first player to win the Lombardi Award twice and was the first player selected in the 1997 NFL Draft.  

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