Welcome to “That Happened” where we dig deep into the who, why, and how of outliers in Ohio State athletics history.
For most fans, Ohio State's 1975 season is remembered for Archie Griffin's historic season in which the senior tailback from Columbus won his second career Heisman Trophy. One of the most underappreciated players in Buckeye history, however, was right beside him the whole time.
Pete Johnson was Ohio State's starting fullback for three years from 1974 to 1976. Despite only averaging 4.7 yards per carry in his best season, Johnson was a terrific ballcarrier who knew what he was good at and had a nose for the end zone.
With Griffin acting as a workhorse for nearly every game, "Big Pete" was a short-yardage specialist, earning hard yards on third downs (he converted 34 of 44 third-down rushes for first-downs) and near the goal line. His effectiveness in these spots ultimately led to one of the greatest scoring seasons Columbus has ever seen.
During his junior year, he rushing for over 1,000 yards and 25 touchdowns with one receiving touchdown. The fullback's 25 rushing touchdowns is a school record, with no one else from the 1970s or earlier coming anywhere close to his mark. Only Eddie George (24 rushing touchdowns) and Ezekiel Elliott (23 rushing touchdowns) have come close.
The fullback's 26 total touchdowns, like his 25 rushing touchdowns, is a school record. Additionally, Johnson led the nation in scoring in 1975 and his 156 points during his junior year is a school record, smashing Harold Henson's 1972 mark of 120 points.
During the year, Johnson set the record for the most rushing and all-purpose touchdowns in a single game with five trips to the end zone against North Carolina. His 30 points scored that day is also a school record.
Continuing, with Griffin and Johnson each rushing for over 1,000 yards, the backfield duo became the first pairing to each hit the four-digit mark in Ohio State history. This accomplishment has never been repeated.
As for his career, Johnson scored 58 total touchdowns, another school record, demolishing Champ Henson's 1974 record of 30 touchdowns. Keith Byars's 50 trips to the end zone are now the next closest mark.
In the same breath, his 348 career points are the second-most in Ohio State history. Johnson initially broke the career points record after his junior season, just 12 months after it was set. His record stood until 2004 when Mike Nugent surpassed him. The kicker has 356 career points.
Johnson's career has aged well, as he was selected to Ohio State's All-Century team and was inducted into the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2007.
While Pete Johnson's entire career is impressive, making his 1975 season not all that different from his career numbers, Johnson's numbers with one of the greatest running backs in college football history sharing the backfield next to him are ridiculous. Rushing for over 1,000 yards with Griffin next to him, scoring 25 touchdowns on the ground, and converting at a high rate helped Johnson find a role for himself next to one of the greatest to ever do it.
Pete Johnson was a great player, and we have never seen a player as dominant as him play second-fiddle. WIth Archie Griffin as his running mate, he put together a record-breaking season on his own while complementing the two-time Heisman winner perfectly.