Losing Orlando Pace, two other All-Americans, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and eight Big Ten honorees the question for the 1997 team focused on whether or not it would rebuild or reload.
With the exits of Shawn Springs and Ty Howard, the secondary needed players to step up. Enter Antoine Winfield. The diminutive defender burst on the scene ready to showcase his skill and powerful tackling technique. Gary Berry and Ahmed Plummer also added needed depth.
Offensively, nobody could replace Pace, but the unit returned the majority of its starters. The 1997 team leaned on the experience of quarterbacks Stanley Jackson and Joe Germaine in addition to receivers Dee Miller and David Boston.
|The 1997 Buckeyes|
|B1G Record||6–2, 2nd|
|Coach||John Cooper (10th year, 86–32–4)|
|CaptainS||Winfield Garnett, Stanley Jackson|
Games of Note
September 27th • Missouri • Faurot Field
Ohio State opened the season with a 24-10 win against Wyoming in the Eddie Robinson Classic. In only the third true night game in Ohio Stadium history, Michael Wiley came off of the bench and ran for 121 yards.
In Week 2, the ninth-ranked Buckeyes beat Bowling Green 44-13 in the second game ever between the two programs. The victory represented John Cooper's 78th at Ohio State and tied him with John Wilce for third on the all-time wins list.
Arizona was Ohio State's third opponent and the Wildcats made the fourth quarter wild. Andy Katzenmoyer's 20-yard pick-six aided the Buckeyes to a 28-0 lead heading into the final period, but Arizona scored 20 unanswered. With 2:31 left, the Wildcats attempted an onside kick that Kevin Griffin recovered to secure the win for Ohio State. Cooper now stood alone in third place on the all-time wins list, but made headlines by calling support from the fans "pathetic."
The next week at Missouri, quarterback Corby Jones gave the visiting Buckeyes fits with both his passing and running ability. The talented quarterback had his team ahead 10-7 early in the second quarter. The Tigers seemed poised to pull the upset. Big Kat had other plans.
Near the midpoint of the second quarter, Jones scrambled toward the first down marker on 3rd-and-10. Katzenmoyer tracked him down and delivered a bone-rattling hit. The tackle changed the momentum of the game and slowed down the elusive Jones.
On the day, Boston caught five passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns. Pearson rushed for 101 yards, a touchdown and averaged 5.6 yards per carry.
Winfield had a game-high 13 tackles and Percy King, Rolland Steele and Berry all recorded interceptions in the 31-10 victory. Ohio State now stood at 4–0.
|AUG. 28||WYOMING||OHIO STADIUM||W, 24–10|
|SEP. 13||BOWLING GREEN||OHIO STADIUM||W, 44–13|
|SEP. 20||ARIZONA||OHIO STADIUM||W, 28–20|
|SEP. 27||MISSOURI||FAUROT FIELD||W, 31–10|
|OCT. 4||NO. 11 IOWA||OHIO STADIUM||W, 23–7|
|OCT. 11||NO. 2 PENN STATE||BEAVER STADIUM||L, 27–31|
|OCT. 18||INDIANA||OHIO STADIUM||W, 31–0|
|OCT. 25||NORTHWESTERN||OHIO STADIUM||W, 49–6|
|NOV. 1||NO. 21 MICH. ST.||SPARTAN STADIUM||W, 37–13|
|NOV. 8||MINNESOTA||METRODOME||W, 31–3|
|NOV. 15||ILLINOIS||OHIO STADIUM||W, 41-6|
|NOV. 22||NO. 1 MICHIGAN||MICH. STADIUM||L, 14–20|
|JAN. 1||NO. 4 FLORIDA ST.||SUGAR BOWL||L, 14–31|
October 4th • #11 Iowa • Ohio Stadium
Ohio State's Big Ten opener came against undefeated Iowa and Tavian Banks, the nation's leading rusher. Banks entered the game averaging 209 yards per game and scored an NCAA-best 13 touchdowns in his team's first four outings. Katzenmoyer and the Buckeyes' defense him down, though. The sophomore linebacker compiled 11 tackles – nine solo – in the effort that held Banks to 84 yards on 22 carries and out of the end zone.
"I think he probably won the Butkus Award today,'' Banks said. "He was all over the field. He was in the backfield more often than I was today. He came in from the back side and he came in from the front side. He has great quickness. We expected that. We just couldn't do anything about it."
The Westerville native also had a diving interception late in the game with Ohio State up 16-7.
To go along with his stellar defensive play, Katzenmoyer stirred the memories of long-time Buckeye fans when Cooper inserted him at fullback in a goal line situation late in the second quarter. For the first time since 1975, a No. 45 graced the Ohio State backfield. Katzenmoyer led the way as Wiley ran in from a yard out.
Another big play in the game came from King who blocked an Iowa field goal attempt that could have tied the game in the second quarter.
Pearson had a game-high 106 rushing yards and Wiley added two scores in the 23-7 victory.
After receiving heat for his comments about the fans at the Arizona game, Cooper had this to say about the support against Iowa: "I thought the fans really, really, really, really, really helped us win the game."
October 11th • #2 Penn State • Beaver Stadium
For the third time in four years, No. 7 Ohio State visited Beaver Stadium to play Penn State. A record crowd of 97,282 showed up for the 3:35 kickoff under clear and sunny skies and 60-plus degree temperatures.
The second-ranked Nittany Lions received the opening kick and went 81 yards in 14 plays to score first. Aaron Harris ran in from a yard out to give Penn State a 7-0 lead 4:22 into the game.
On the Buckeyes' second play from scrimmage, Pearson fumbled at the 22 and Shawn Lee recovered to give Joe Paterno's team great field position. Quarterback Mike McQueary took his team to the five, but could not connect with Joe Jurevicius on a third down pass. Not even seven minutes into the game, Ohio State had the ball for two snaps and trailed 10-0 after Travis Forney's field goal.
Wiley returned the ensuing kickoff 32 yards and eight plays later Dan Stultz booted a 27-yard field goal to make the deficit 10-3. The next several drives ended with both teams exchanging punts.
At the start of the second quarter, Joe Germaine took over at quarterback and promptly led the Buckeyes on a 9-play, 70-yard scoring drive. The score came when Miller caught a 35-yard deep out for a touchdown to tie the score at 10.
Penn State immediately answered with a 72-yard drive that ended with Joe Nastasi on the receiving end of a 6-yard touchdown slant. On their next possession, the Buckeyes bounced back and had 3rd-and-1 on the Nittany Lions' 8-yard line. Cooper called for a handoff to Wiley, but Penn State stopped him for no gain as he tried to go over the left end. Cooper did not gamble and Stultz's 25-yard field goal made the halftime score 17-13 in favor of the Nittany Lions.
Near the end of the third quarter, Ohio State took its first lead of the game when Germaine hit Boston on a 1-yard touchdown pass. Key plays in the 50-yard drive were Miller's 19-yard reverse and Wiley's 30-yard sideline pass to Steve Wisniewski that put the ball on the 1.
Ohio State continued to build momentum after its defense forced Penn State to punt and Germaine led the offense on another scoring drive. The Buckeyes kept the possession alive with two huge third down plays.
Ken-Yon Rambo's 30-yard catch on 3rd-and-5 from the Buckeyes' 25 came first. Then Pearson's 16-yard slant on 3rd-and-15 on the PSU 24 got Ohio State in the red zone. On the next play, Pearson took the ball up the middle for an 8-yard touchdown to extend Ohio State's lead to 27-17 late in the third quarter.
Ohio State looked to be in control, but the Nittany Lions roared back and touchdown runs by Harris and Curtis Enis ruined the Buckeyes upset bid.
"They either have the two toughest running backs in the nation to tackle," said Cooper about Enis' 211 and Harris' 96 rushing yards. "Or we didn't do a very good job of tackling."
Ohio State set several new school marks in the 31-27 loss. The offense finished with a school-record 459 passing yards and Boston set the single-game receptions record with 14. The previous passing yards record was 458 yards set against Florida State in 1981. Gary Williams (1981) and Boston (1996) held the old record of 13 receptions in a game.
November 1st • #21 Michigan State • Spartan Stadium
Rain and darkness greeted No. 9 Ohio State in East Lansing for this 3:30 kickoff against the 21st ranked Spartans. Berry illuminated the dark and gloomy backdrop with his sparkling play. The cornerback had two touchdowns within 2:07 to propel the Buckeyes to a 37-13 victory.
With the game tied 3-3 in the first quarter, Berry intercepted Todd Schultz's pass and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown. Ohio State held Michigan State to a three-and-out on its next possession and Marcel Willis blocked the punt. Berry scooped up the loose ball at the 1-yard line and put Ohio State up 17-3.
The Buckeyes never looked back as the offense rushed for 202 yards and passed for 203 more. Fullback Matt Keller led the team with 50 yards rushing. It marked the first time a fullback led the team in rushing since Jeff Cothran did it against Lousville in 1991.
Boston ended the day with eight catches for 119 yards and a touchdown.
November 22nd • #1 Michigan • Michigan Stadium
Boston's mouth, Jackson's arm and Charles Woodson's play doomed No. 4 Ohio State yet again in The Game on a cold Saturday with light snow and rain falling.
Boston willingly offered these gems before heading to Ann Arbor: "If we play our game, we should win by two or three touchdowns." The confident receiver then added, "I play against better defensive backs than (Woodson) in practice every day."
The words inspired Michigan's talented defensive back and the entire Wolverine defense. Michigan held Boston to 68 yards and a touchdown on three catches and Germaine only completed 5-of-17 passes for 84 yards. But it was Jackson's two interceptions and lost fumble that destroyed Ohio State's chances at a victory.
Late in the first quarter, the Buckeyes had 1st-and-10 at the Michigan 33 in a scoreless game. Jackson failed to get the ball to Pearson on a reverse and the Wolverines recovered on their own 42. That marked Ohio State's 17th fumble lost on the season and also killed a scoring opportunity.
Jackson's first interception came on the opening drive of the second quarter. The Buckeyes trailed 13-0 but had 2nd-and-goal from the Michigan 7-yard line. Jackson took a five-step drop, threw for Miller in double coverage over the middle and right it into Woodson's hands. Another scoring opportunity wasted.
The senior quarterback's final interception gave the Wolverines their final points of the game. Following the Woodson interception, the Ohio State defense forced a 3-and-out and the offense had the ball at its own 44. On the first play, Jackson took a deep drop, scrambled away from pressure, then dumped the ball directly into the hands of Andre Weathers. The Michigan defender returned the ball 43 yards to extend the lead to 20-0. On consecutive offensive snaps, Jackson threw interceptions. One kept the Buckeyes from scoring, the other gave the Wolverines seven points.
The Buckeyes mounted a comeback kick-started by Germaine's 56-yard touchdown pass to Boston near the end of the third quarter. Early in the fourth period, Berry screamed through the line and forced Brian Griese to fumble, Rudzinski recovered and returned the ball to the Michigan 2. One play later, Pearson raced to the left corner of the end zone to make the score 20-14 with 13:08 on the clock.
The Buckeyes had three more possessions but failed to cross midfield on any of them.
Woodson made a key 37-yard catch on 3rd-and-12 in the first quarter that set the table for the Michigan's first score. He returned a punt 78 yards and intercepted a Jackson pass in the end zone. For his efforts, Woodson eventually won the 1997 Heisman Trophy and was instrumental in beating the Buckeyes.
Cooper's record in The Game now stood at 1–8–1.
January 1st • #4 Florida State • Sugar Bowl
The Sugar Bowl represented just the third meeting between No. 9 Ohio State and No. 4 Florida State. Cooper used both Jackson and Germaine at quarterback all season. He usually gave each quarterback several series and went with the hot hand. For the Sugar Bowl, Cooper decided to switch quarterbacks mid-series. Jackson finished 6-of-10 for 34 yards and Germaine only completed 10 of his 26 passes.
A quick summary of the game from the 2015 Ohio State Team Guide:
The Ohio State Buckeyes made their fourth-consecutive trip to a New Year’s Day bowl game, but their party was spoiled by a 31-14 loss to Florida State.
FSU jumped out to a 21-3 halftime lead on three consecutive touchdowns. The Seminoles got two rushing touchdowns within four minutes of halftime to pull away.
The Buckeyes finished the game with 118 yards on the ground and 207 total yards. Pepe Pearson led Ohio State with 60 yards rushing and Joe Germaine threw for 173 yards.
The Seminoles defense – specifically its defensive line – disrupted Ohio State's offense all game. Florida State rotated players on its defensive line frequently and the fresh bodies proved to be too much for the Buckeyes to handle.
FSU's quarterback Thad Busby threw for 334 yards and receiver E.G. Green hauled in 176 of those yards.
Ohio State was now 3–15–1 against Michigan and bowl opponents with Cooper as head coach.
- No. 9 Ohio State defeated Dana Dimel's Wyoming Cowboys 24-10 in the Eddie Robinson Classic. Dimel is a graduate of Upper Arlington High School.
- Michael Wiley returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown as the Buckeyes defeated Bowling Green 44-13. This was the first Ohio State game not televised since 1994.
- No. 8 Ohio State defeated Arizona 28-20 and John Cooper moved into third place on OSU's career win list.
- Andy Katzenmoyer put a hit for the ages on Missouri's Corby Jones in a 31-10 victory.
- No. 7 Ohio State defeated No. 8 Iowa 23-7. Percy King blocked a field goal and the defense shut down Tavian Banks.
- No. 2 Penn State scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to give the Buckeyes their first defeat, 31-27.
- Indiana was the only team to get shutout by the Scarlet and Gray in 1997. Wiley threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Steve Wisnewski.
- The ninth-ranked Buckeyes unleashed 49 points on Northwestern and easily won 49-6. It was the first time the schools played since 1994. The Wildcats won the Big Ten title without playing Ohio State in 1995.
- Gary Berry had a pick-six and scoop and score off of a blocked punt in a time span of 2:07 as OSU beat Michigan State 37-13.
- Joe Germaine threw for 211 yards and three touchdowns in the 31-3 defeat of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
- No. 4 Ohio State earned the program's 700th win after downing Illinois 41-6. Katzenmoyer blocked a kick and the Illini lost their 16th straight game.
- Charles Woodson caught a key pass, returned a punt for a touchdown and intercepted a Stanley Jackson pass in the end zone as No. 2 Michigan beat the fourth-ranked Buckeyes 20-14.
- Bobby Bowden's fourth-ranked Seminoles dominated No. 9 Ohio State in the Nokia Sugar Bowl. The 31-14 loss dropped the Buckeyes to 13-17 in bowl games.
- David Boston, Damon Moore and Rob Murphy were named All-Americans.
- For the first time, a Buckeye player was not selected in the NFL Draft.
- Ohio State started the season ranked 9th, climbed to No. 4, but finished 12th.
To this point, every season that John Cooper coached ended with a loss to Michigan, a loss to the bowl opponent or losses to both. The 1997 team became the fifth Cooper team to lose its the final two games of the year. With the graduation of Stanley Jackson, the platooning of quarterbacks ended ahead of the 1998 season.
Andy Katzenmoyer became the first sophomore to win the Butkus Award.
Pepe Pearson led the team with 949 rushing yards, the first year since 1992 tat Ohio State did not have a 1,000-yard rusher. Joe Germaine threw for 1,847 yards and 16 touchdowns, and Dee Miller led the team with 981 receiving yards.
David Boston set a single-season record with 73 receptions and 14 touchdowns. He also finished with 970 receiving yards. His 14 receptions against Penn State was a single-game record.
Antoine Winfield led the team with 100 tackles and Andy Katzenmoyer had a team-high 13 tackles for loss. Gary Berry had five interceptions and set a single-season record with 166 interception return yards.