25 Years Ago, John Cooper's Buckeyes Finally Took Down Michigan

By Chris Lauderback on July 11, 2019 at 11:05 am
The 1994 Ohio State Football Buckeyes
Ohio State University Archives

Six years into the John Cooper era, the "outsider" from Tennessee hadn't earned much benefit of the doubt from Ohio State fans as his program endured five losses to Michigan and one tie even if his 1993 squad went 10-1-1 on the way to No. 11 ranking in the final AP Poll. 

Heading into the 1994 season, fans were rightfully extremely skeptical of Cooper's ability to win The Game – or any big game for that matter – especially as the preseason AP Poll had the Wolverines slotted No. 5 while the Buckeyes checked in at No. 20. 

Cooper's '94 squad boasted a legit amount of talent, something the overwhelming majority of his previous teams couldn't honestly say, headlined on offense by Bobby Hoying's return as a second-year starting quarterback, Joey Galloway and Chris Sanders at wide receiver, first-year starter Eddie George at tailback, Korey Stringer at right tackle and true freshman Orlando Pace at left tackle. 

On the defensive side of the ball, Mike Vrabel, Luke Fickell and Matt Finkes anchored the line, Lorenzo Styles and Craig Powell gave the Buckeyes an upper-tier tandem at linebacker and sophomore Shawn Springs would flash signs of greatness to come. 

Despite the slow but sure stockpiling of talent, Cooper's outfit still managed to lose three of its 11 games heading into the showdown against Michigan. 

The Buckeyes dropped a 25-16 decision in Seattle to the No. 25 Washington Huskies in game two and gave unranked Illinois a 24-10 victory in the Shoe before the season's biggest gut punch three weeks later in Beaver Stadium. 

Taking on the nation's top-ranked team in Penn State, the Buckeyes were annihilated 63-14 behind Columbus product Ki-Jana Carter's four touchdowns, dropping Ohio State to 6-3 on the season and out of both major polls. 

To Ohio State's credit, it would rally for back-to-back wins over Wisconsin and Indiana heading into The Game. 

Meanwhile, Michigan failed to live it up to its preseason billing. The Wolverines beat No. 3 Notre Dame 26-24 in week two but fell the following week in spectacular fashion to No. 7 Colorado, in Ann Arbor, as the Buffaloes' Kordell Stewart connected with Michael Westbrook for a a 64-yard touchdown in the final minutes of a 27-26 win. 

Three weeks later, the Wolverines would lose another heartbreaker, this time at the hands of then-No. 3 Penn State. The following week saw the maize and blue squeak out a 19-14 win over unranked Illinois before falling to unranked Wisconsin, 31-19, in the Big House. 

Just like Ohio State, the Wolverines would steady the ship a bit winning two straight heading into The Game, bringing their record to 7-3. 

With both teams sitting at 5-2 in Big Ten play, Ohio State entered the regular season finale ranked No. 22 in the land while Michigan slotted at No. 15. 

Sensing the best chance to beat Michigan since Cooper's arrival, Ohio State's athletic department rallied the fan base and over 300 former players formed an extended tunnel as the Buckeyes entered the field. 

Cooper's squad fed off the emotion taking an early 9-0 lead. Punter Scott Terna got things started as he boomed a 53-yard punt to the Michigan 1-yard line. On Michigan's ensuing possession, quarterback Todd Collins tripped on a drop back giving the Buckeyes a safety and a 2-0 lead. 

On the free kick, Springs received and raced up field 21 yards giving Ohio State's offense excellent field position at the Michigan 40. George would convert a 4th-and-1 to keep the possession alive and Hoying cashed in via a 4-yard touchdown run off a nifty bootleg giving the Buckeyes a 9-0 lead. 

The second quarter gave way to a Josh Jackson field goal pushing the lead to 12-0 before Michigan's Remy Hamilton connected on a kick of his own making it 12-3 Buckeyes at intermission. 

The 1994 Game is still probably best known for what happened at halftime moreso than the events before or after as John Cooper went wild in the locker room – unleashing a spirited speech followed by a haymaker to a defenseless chalkboard – giving his team the juice needed to hang on in the second half.  

"That got a real spark under us," offensive tackle Korey Stringer said. "Coach Cooper came in, and he was as excited as I've ever seen him. He was so fired up, the next thing you know, he hauled off and knocked the blackboard out. He put a good dent in it, too."

"That really showed us how much he wanted to pull out the victory," OSU tailback Eddie George said. "He's usually laid back and calm. He's not usually into emotional speeches, but that definitely pumped us up."

Despite the pep talk, Ohio State failed to tally any points in the third quarter but defense surrendered only a field goal making it 12-6 heading into the final 15 minutes. 

The Wolverines were in position to cut the lead to 12-9 but another field goal try from Hamilton, this time from 32 yards out, was blocked by Marlon Kerner coming off the right edge before Vrabel pounced on the football at the Michigan 47. 

The offense failed to reach the end zone but another field goal from Jackson, this one from 36 yards, gave the Buckeyes a 15-6 cushion with just over 11 minutes left in regulation. 

On Michigan's ensuing possession, Collins attempted a short pass over the middle but Fickell tipped the throw at the line of scrimmage before cradling it at the Wolverines 16-yard line for a seismic interception. 

Cooper's offense would finally cash in on tremendous field position as George carried it five straight times capped by a 2-yard touchdown run pushing Ohio State to a 22-6 advantage with eight minutes left. 

The victory not only gave Cooper his first win over Michigan in seven tries, it marked the first victory over the Wolverines in the Shoe since 1984. 

Ohio State's defense stood tall as Michigan made four trips inside the Buckeyes 25-yard line but had just six points to show for it as the Wolverines failed to score a touchdown for the first time in 112 games. 

Cooper would go on to lose the next three in a row to the Wolverines and five of six to finish at Ohio State with a 2-10-1 record against Michigan. 

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