Five Swings: Most Memorable Comebacks in Buckeye Football History

By Chris Lauderback on June 29, 2017 at 11:05 am
Zeke Elliott's 85 Yards Through the Heart of the South served as the exclamation point in Ohio State's comeback win over Alabama in the 2015 Sugar Bowl.

With nearly 900 wins in the bank, Ohio State stands among the select few true college football blue-blood programs. 

When you rack up that many victories many will be of the pedestrian variety while others will become the stuff of legend. 

The easy picks for legendary wins are typically those clinching conference championships or better yet, national championships, with others coming via the epic upset. 

Another chunk of unforgettable triumphs fit into the amazing comebacks category. 

As noted the past few weeks, with the offseason inching us all closer to the edge, I'm filling my Thursday slot bastardizing my postgame Five Things article with offshoots looking at various aspects of Buckeye football history. 

To date, I've explored the most ridiculous streaks of individual greatnessacrobatic receptionscrushing defeats, one-hit wonders, and the baddest dudes to ever suit up for the scarlet and gray. 

Today, the band marches on looking at Five Swings, aka the most memorable comeback victories in OSU lore. 


Taking on an Alabama juggernaut in a College Football Playoff semifinal staged at the Sugar Bowl, Urban Meyer's squad found itself in a 21-6 hole with eight minutes left in the first half. 

Being down 15 to Bama is never good no matter how much time remains but there was still a bit of optimism among OSU fans considering the hole was largely the result of two Buckeye turnovers (Elliott fumble, Jones pick) which the Tide promptly turned into short-field touchdowns. 

The Buckeyes settled down from there however rattling off an absurd 28 straight points to take a 34-21 lead late in the 3rd quarter. 

Big plays sparked the rally. Following a short Zeke run cutting the deficit to 21-13, Michael Thomas pulled off an acrobatic touchdown reception off a toss from fellow wideout Evan Spencer cutting Bama's lead to 21-20 at the half. 

Ohio State picked up where it left off the start the second half as Cardale Jones found Devin Smith on a 41-yard strike up the right sideline putting the Bucks in front 27-21 before Steve Miller picked off Blake Sims and flew like an eagle 41 yards to swing town putting the good guys in front 34-21.

Bama would cut the Buckeye lead to six just two minutes later but with 3:24 left in the game, Zeke Elliott raced 85 Yards Through the Heart of the South. Game, blouses. 

The 15-point comeback served as Ohio State's largest since 1989 which brings us to..


The 1989 edition of Ohio State football was generally a flaming turd as it logged an 8-4 mark in John Cooper's second season in Columbus featuring an 0-4 mark against ranked teams. 

Sitting at 4-2 heading in the Metrodome including an 0-2 tally against ranked foes while being outscored 76-17 in those two tilts (No. 12 USC and No. 18 Illinois), it was hard to expect much. 

Minnesota built a 31-0 lead with a little over four minutes left in the first half as Ohio State lost three fumbles – one returned 85 yards for a touchdown – before a late Carlos Snow 1-yard plunge and Greg Frey to Jeff Graham conversion cut the lead to 31-8 at intermission. 

Despite the late touchdown it was hard to fathom Ohio State would make it a close game – let alone pull off the largest comeback in school history – after the Buckeyes tallied exactly two completions, six first downs and 74 total yards in the opening 30 minutes. 

But then, the earth again started rotating on its axis and order was restored as the Buckeyes got a field goal and a 98-yard touchdown drive capped by a 15-yard run from Snow trimming the lead to 31-18. 

Greg Frey-daddy did work in the miraculous 1989 comeback at Minnesota.

The Gophers kicked a field goal early in the 4th quarter but Snow again responded, this time with a 27-yard gallop putting the Buckeyes within a score at 34-26. 

Another Minny field goal pushed the score to 37-26 with just 5:15 left but the Greg Frey magic train (it was really just a caboose with knockoff spinner hubcaps) was just getting started. 

Staring down an 11 point deficit, Frey engineered a 68-yard drive in a little over two minutes, capping it with a 1-yard run, before finding Graham for another 2-point conversion pulling the Buckeyes to within three at 37-34. 

From there the Buckeye defense forced a 3-and-out putting the offense in business at its own 27 yard line with 1:52 left. 

Once again, Frey went to work hitting Snow for 18 yards, Brian Stablein for 19 and finally Jim Palmer for 34 before hooking up with, who else, Graham for a 15-yard touchdown strike with 52 ticks left. 

The Gophers would advance to the ball to the OSU 22 yard line before the horn finally sounded on a rally for the ages. 


While the 1989 Buckeyes weren't anything to write home about, the 1988 version, John Cooper's first in Columbus, was even worse.

The slew of slow white guys would produce a 4-6-1 campaign but one of those four wins was an absolute stunner as Ohio State overcame a 13-point deficit with two touchdowns in the final 1:56 to shock No. 7 LSU in a dank but raucous Ohio Stadium. 

Leading 14-3 early in the 2nd quarter, Ohio State went dormant for the next roughly 40 minutes of game action surrendering a 30-6 Tiger blitz to trail 33-20 with 4:29 left in regulation. 

LSU quarterback Tommy Hodson churned out 296 yards with two touchdowns to that point but once again, Greg Frey revved up the magic train. 

Down 13 and taking possession at his own 41 yard line, Frey commandeered a 10-play, 59-yard touchdown drive connecting on 5 of 8 throws for 45 yards before Snow capped it off with 5-yard jaunt to paydirt cutting the deficit to 33-27. 

After the OSU defense came up with a huge 3-and-out, LSU opted to take a safety upon snapping the ball from their own 13 yard line trimming the score to 33-29. 

On the ensuing free kick, Rene Bourgeois got off a 48-yarder but return man (and wideout.. foreshadowing) Bobby Olive got loose for a 30-yard return to the Tiger 38. 

From there, it was time for more Frey daddy as he hit Graham for 15 yards then Snow for three more before an incompletion set up 3rd and 7 from the LSU 20 with 44 seconds left in regulation. 

Cool as a fan, Frey dropped back and found Olive on a post for a 20-yard scoring strike with 38 seconds left to cap the miraculous comeback and give OSU the 36-33 win. 


This particular comeback wasn't so spectacular for the amount of points overcome as Ohio State erased a modest 21-12 deficit to win 25-21. 

Instead this one makes the cut because of the various factors at play. 

First, the Buckeye struggled to get out of their own way committing a host of errors including a missed extra point, a missed field goal in the 4th quarter, an 18-yard punt and four fumbles, two of which were lost. 

Second, the game was played in the Big House, a place the Buckeyes had won just once in their previous eight trips. 

Trailing by nine with just under eight minutes to play following a Garrett Rivas field goal, Buckeye signal-caller Troy Smith decided it was time to further his legend in The Game. 

In 2005, Troy Smith went off for 337 total yards and two touchdowns in OSU's 25-21 win in the Big House

Looking to move to 2-0 against the Wolverines, Smith led the Buckeyes on an 5-play, 67-yard march hitting Anthony Gonzalez for 27 yards before scampering 14 yards to set up a 26-yard touchdown toss to Santonio Holmes, trimming the Michigan lead to 21-19. The drive chewed up a mere 1:09 of clock leaving 6:41 in regulation. 

It looked like Michigan might still salt it away after Holmes received an unsportsmanlike flag forcing OSU to kick off from its own 20 and Will Paul returned it to the Wolverine 48 yard line. 

Opting to pass on four of five plays, Michigan advanced to the OSU 34 yard line before Lloyd Carr decided to punt instead of trying a 51-yard field goal giving Ohio State possession at its own 12 with 4:18 left in regulation. 

If you're in to 12-play, 88-yard game-winning touchdown drives then you'll probably like the rest of this. 

Smith was an absolute boss with the game on the line connecting on 7 of 8 passes for 77 yards including an incredible 26-yard toss to Gonzalez setting up 1st and Goal from the Michigan 4 yard line. 

After a 1-yard run from Smith, Antonio Pittman capped the comeback with a 3-yard jaunt around left tackle giving the Buckeyes a 25-21 win that tasted OH so sweet. 


Sitting at 4-1 and ranked No. 8 in the country, Earle Bruce's Buckeyes welcomed quarterback Jack Trudeau and Illinois to the Shoe for a battle between the two best teams in the B1G. 

Scoring on its first four possessions, Illinois raced out to a 24-0 lead with not even a minute gone in the 2nd quarter on the strength of three touchdown tosses from Trudeau. 

At that point it looked like it might be a long day in the Shoe but a 16-yard touchdown run from Keith Byars not only trimmed the deficit to 24-7 but set off a flurry of five straight touchdowns giving the Buckeyes a 35-27 lead midway through the 3rd quarter. 

The five possession blitzkrieg saw Byars tally four touchdown runs, one the famous 67-yard zig-zag with one shoe, with a 30-yard touchdown catch from Cris Carter sandwiched in between the Byars Show. 

Another Trudeau touchdown pass and subsequent two-point conversion would nod the score at 35 with 1:09 left in the 3rd quarter. The 4th quarter saw the teams trade field goals over the first 12 minutes bringing the score to 38 all before Byars once again found the end zone on a 3-yard plunge capping an 11-play, 80-yard drive putting Ohio State in the driver's seat at 45-38 with 32 seconds to play. 

Four straight Trudeau incompletions would ice the game with Byars the hero thanks to 39 carries for 274 yards with five touchdowns. 

Honorable mentions include Kenny Guiton rescuing Ohio State from a Purdue Harbor redux in 2012, Braxton Miller flinging the rock 40 yards to Devin Smith with 20 seconds left to sink Wisconsin in an otherwise forgettable 2011 season, and the 2016 tilt against Bowling Green when the Buckeyes fell in an early 7-0 hole but somehow managed to turn things around in a 77-10 stunner.

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