Flashback: Ohio State vs. Indiana (1978)

By Vico on August 31, 2017 at 2:15 pm
Ric Volley had nine carries for 50 yards against Indiana in 1978.
Kurt Mutchler-The Lantern

Ohio State escaped Bloomington in 1978 with a 21-18 victory in Woody Hayes' last win in his illustrious career.

Tonight's tilt in Bloomington is the start of a new chapter for Ohio State football. Your weekly flashback this week stands in contrast to this new beginning for the Buckeyes. We'll revisit the 1978 Ohio State-Indiana game in Bloomington. The Buckeyes won, 21-18, but this game served as a more dignified end to the Woody Hayes era. It was his last win as a coach.

Ohio State entered this contest at 6-2-1 and within striking distance for the Rose Bowl. However, the team was awful by its 1970s standards. Woody Hayes controversially fulfilled his recruiting pledge to Art Schlichter and his father by moving Rod Gerald to split end in the season-opener against Penn State. Schlichter's debut was disastrous. He threw five interceptions and Penn State shut out the Buckeyes, 19-0.

The Buckeyes won the next two games at Minnesota and against Baylor before tying SMU and losing at Purdue. Thereafter, the Buckeyes were unranked until four-straight wins catapulted the Buckeyes to No. 19 before its trip to Bloomington.

On the other sideline, Lee Corso was in his sixth season of an uneventful, if prolonged, ten-year tenure for the Hoosiers. The Hoosiers were 4-5 but trying to finish the season above .500 for the first time in Corso's career at Indiana. He at least had a nice upset win over No. 15 Washington, the defending Rose Bowl champions, to his credit.

Indiana, which had last beat the Buckeyes to that point in Woody Hayes' first year (1951), showed no reservation playing a more talented Ohio State team. Indiana conceded the game's opening score on a peculiar drive in the first quarter. Indiana held Ohio State in the red zone, forcing the Buckeyes to settle for a 4th-and-6 field goal attempt. Indiana blocked the kick, but was flagged for being clearly offsides prior to the snap. Ohio State elected to go for it on 4th-and-1 after the penalty was assessed and converted. Paul Campbell eventually scored on a three-yard run off tackle.

The momentum of the game flipped on Ohio State's next drive when the Buckeyes elected to go for it again on 4th-and-short. This conversion failed when Joe Norman met Paul Campbell in the backfield. 

Indiana ran wild on the ensuing drive, tying the game on a Mike Harkrader dive over the right guard. The Buckeyes failed on their next several drives, allowing Indiana to take a 10-7 lead to halftime.

The Buckeyes started the second half strong. Its second drive of the second half began on the two-yard line but resulted in a 20-play, 98-yard drive for a go-ahead touchdown run from Art Schlichter. That drive included four-straight third-down conversions and even a 4th-and-2 conversion to cap the longest drive of the 1978 season.

Ricky Johnson scores against Indiana, 1978
Woody Hayes was convinced Ricky Johnson's 46-yard touchdown run would've crushed Indiana's will to compete. (Kurt Mutchler-The Lantern)

Indiana punted after five plays of its ensuing drive. Eight plays into the Buckeyes' ensuing possession, third-string tailback Ricky Johnson broke a 46-yard run to put the Buckeyes up 21-10. Johnson's presence in this game was made possible by injuries to Ron Springs and Calvin Murray ahead of him on the depth chart.

Hayes confessed afterward that he expected Johnson's touchdown run would've broken Indiana's spirit. However, Corso's Hoosiers locked in two possessions later and cut the Buckeyes' lead to three with a touchdown and two-point conversion. 

An Ohio State punt on its next possession even set up the Hoosiers with a chance to tie or win the game with 2:15 remaining. However, that drive ended with an interception at the Ohio State 25-yard line. The Buckeyes ran out the clock to escape Bloomington with a 21-18 win.

The game itself was far from the most exciting in the history of the series, perhaps even during Woody Hayes' tenure. However, the legacy of this game is what happened afterward. The Buckeyes lost at home to Michigan, costing the Buckeyes a longshot chance at the Rose Bowl and a share of what would have been a seventh-straight Big Ten championship.

If this season had happened three or four years earlier, there would have been no bowl game. Thus, no opportunity for Woody Hayes to punch an opposing player for intercepting a pass. Hayes would've made it to 1979 with a coaching staff that included the father of zone-blocking and a roster that ultimately made it undefeated to the Rose Bowl.

As it was, the 1978 win at Indiana serves as the last win of an illustrious career for Woody Hayes in contrast to how this trip to Bloomington tonight ushers in a new era of Buckeye football.


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