That Happened: Ohio State's Pass-Happy 1952 Season Was Ahead of Its Time

By Jake Anderson on April 21, 2020 at 1:05 pm
1952 Buckeyes
Ohio State University Archives

Welcome to “That Happened” where we dig deep into the who, why, and how of outliers in Ohio State athletics history.

When fans think of Woody Hayes, "three yards and a cloud of dust" is one of the first quotes that come to mind. With legendary running backs such as Archie Griffen, Howard Cassady, and Bob Ferguson, Hayes' legacy is tied to the ground game. 

In his second year in Columbus, however, Hayes' offensive philosophy was an anomaly. The 1952 Buckeyes were considered a pass-happy team, as quarterback John Borton threw for 1,555 yards, smashing the program record. Borton also threw for 15 touchdowns, leading the nation that year. His yardage record stood for the entirety of Hayes' time at Ohio State, with Art Schichtler eventually breaking Borton's record in 1979 with 1,816 passing yards. 

During Borton's record-breaking season, his game against Washington State has stood the test of time. Against the Cougars, the sophomore quarterback threw for Ohio State's first-ever 300-yard game on 15/17 passing. He also tossed five touchdowns, another school record that was not broken until 2013, with four of those going to tight end Robert Grimes. 

Grimes recorded a nine-catch, 187-yard, four-touchdown performance against Washington State, breaking the program records for receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns in one afternoon. Three weeks later, the tight end broke his own receptions record, catching 12 passes against Pittsburgh. 

As the Buckeyes threw more than ever, Robert Grimes, a senior from Middletown, was the main beneficiary. After catching just 11 passes for 221 yards in his first three years at Ohio State, the tight end caught 39 passes for 534 yards in 1952, both of which were school records at the time.

Grimes' records are still near the top of the leaderboards today. His 534 yards and 39 receptions on the season were program-bests until Billy Anders' 1966 campaign. Grimes' 12-receptions in a single game stands as the best mark by a tight end and is tied for the second-best performance by a receiver in program history. It was matched by Anders and eventually broken by Gary Williams in 1981.

His 187-yards against Washington State is the best mark by a tight end in Ohio State history and his four touchdown receptions in the same game still stand as the program record. It has since been tied by Noah Brown, Dane Sanzenbacher, and David Boston. 

Although the numbers pale in comparison to today's aerial offenses, Borton and Grimes' records are astounding. Hayes' trust in the passing game seemed to come for just one year, as the Buckeyes turned back to their ground-heavy game for the rest of his tenure, breaking the four-digit mark just five more times during his 28-year career. Hayes nearly eliminated the forward pass altogether just three years later as Ohio State's leading passer threw for just 60 yards in 1955 and 88 yards in 1956. 

The Buckeyes ended the 1952 season third in the conference and with a 6-3 record, but beat Michigan for the first time in eight years, 27-7, and upset No. 1 Wisconsin. John Borton returned in 1953 and 1954, winning a National Championship his senior year. 

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