A Look Back at the 1993 Citrus Bowl, Ohio State’s Only Previous Matchup with Georgia

By Matt Gutridge on December 10, 2022 at 10:10 am
Kirk Herbstreit
RVR Photos

In 132 seasons of Ohio State football before this year, the Buckeyes have only played the Georgia Bulldogs once. That matchup came in the 1993 Citrus Bowl.

As Ohio State prepares to play Georgia for the second time in this year’s Peach Bowl, nearly 30 years to the day of the first meeting between the Buckeyes and Bulldogs, we take a look back at the first-ever meeting between the two storied programs and how it played out.

The background

John Cooper's 15th-ranked team finally broke a well-tread pattern of losing the regular season finale to Michigan, by finishing the 1992 version of The Game with a 13-13 tie in Ohio Stadium. How big was the tie? A former president of the university exclaimed, “This tie is one of our greatest wins ever!” 

Following the “great win,” Coop's teams were 0–7–1 against Michigan and bowl opponents. Fans were holding out hope that the 1993 Citrus Bowl would bring that elusive first bowl game victory of the Cooper era.

The players 

There were legitimate reasons for the small group of the fan base to be optimistic about the Orlando bowl game. The Buckeyes’ offense had a talented backfield with Robert Smith, Butler By'not'e, Raymont Harris and a stud freshman named Eddie George. The offensive line was anchored by Korey Stringer and Kirk Herbstreit had Joey Galloway, Chris Sanders and Brian Stablein to throw the ball to. 

On the other side of the ball, Bill Young's defense had six future NFL players including 1994’s No. 1 overall draft pick, Dan “Big Daddy” Wilkinson. Steve Tovar and Craig Powell were the big names at linebacker and the secondary was patrolled by Roger Harper, Chico Nelson, Tito Paul and Tim Walton. 

The opponent

Ray Goff was in his fourth year as Georgia's head coach and his Bulldogs came to Orlando with a 9–2 record. They were ranked eighth in the AP Poll and had won 13 of their last 16 games. Georgia came in second place in the SEC after losing two games by a combined five points. No. 20 Tennessee nipped Georgia in Athens, 34-31, and No. 20 Florida won 26-24 in Jacksonville.

All-American running back Garrison Hearst was the big name for the Bulldogs. The third overall pick of the 1993 NFL Draft was the Doak Walker Award winner and the SEC Player of the year in 1992. Sophomore quarterback Eric Zeier was a capable option runner and passer giving the Bulldogs a balanced offense that finished the regular season averaging a then-program-record 450 yards per game.

What they were saying

The Buckeyes on Garrison Hearst

Chico Nelson: We feel that one guy can't beat us. Everybody is talking about Garrison. Garrison this, Garrison that. He's a good running back, but he's just one guy.

Tim Walton: We're going to have control the running game, which they like to do, and make them throw the ball to (Andre) Hastings, because we don't feel they'll beat us through the air.

Steve Tovar: Their bread and butter has been their running game. Getting 200 yards a game, getting at least two touchdowns out of Hearst and a couple of other yards out of the other backs. We think if we try and attack that, shut that down as much as possible and force them to throw, we think we can get a couple of guys running and get a few licks on Hastings, and other receivers, and just keep hammering. Hopefully if we force them to pass, they'll drop more than they catch, and we'll just play the percentages.

The Bulldogs on Ohio State's defense

Eric Zeier: You look at their defense and there's really not a bad game they've played. I've only seen a few drives that their opponents have put together. Other than that, they've gone out and dominated. They are very capable of bringing guys on blitzes, but other than that they are very sound and very physical.

The Buckeyes on Georgia's defense

Kirk Herbstreit: What stands out about them is their speed. They fly to the ball. Their linebackers are extremely quick, about like Syracuse. Their secondary has great athletes back there, and the defensive line is pretty agile.

Georgia's speed

John Cooper: I don't think it's going to be a matchup of speed; in other words, I don't think Georgia is a lot quicker than we are. The last time we heard that kind of bull crap was when we went up to play Syracuse, ‘How slow Ohio State was, the Big Ten didn't have any speed’ ... I don't think there are three linebackers in all of college football that run any better than Ohio State University's linebackers.

Game recap

First quarter

Ohio State Citrus Bowl Leaders
Rusher Robert Smith, 112 yards
Passer Kirk Herbstreit, 110 yards
Receiver Robert Smith, 49 yards
Tackler Chico Nelson, 9 tackles
Steve Tovar, 9 tackles

Georgia won the toss and elected to defer to the second half. Robert Smith returned the opening kick from the Buckeyes' goal line and was stopped after a gain of 16 yards. Ohio State's opening drive looked promising as the team gained 27 yards on the first two plays, but the momentum stalled when Herbstreit was sacked on 3rd-and-4 from midfield. 

The Bulldogs responded with a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that was capped off by a Garrison Hearst one-yard score. The All-American running back had eight carries for 43 yards on the opening drive. Stopping the run was proving to be easy to talk about and difficult to execute.

Following an Ohio State three-and-out, Georgia was inside the Buckeyes' 30-yard line facing 3rd-and-5. As Eric Zeier scrambled to his left, Jason Simmons was able to trip up the Bulldogs' quarterback for a 10-yard loss. The sack pushed the Bulldogs out of field goal range and Goff opted to punt.

At the end of the first quarter, the Buckeyes had the ball at their own 11-yard line and trailed, 7-0.

Second quarter

The teams started the quarter with three consecutive punts until the streak was broken when Zeier mishandled the ball when attempting to hand it off to Hearst. Ohio State defensive lineman Randall Brown recovered and the Buckeyes took over on their own 46-yard line. Smith capped off an 11-play drive with a one-yard touchdown run to tie the game up, 7-7. Of the 11 plays, Smith had his number called seven times.

Half Time Stats
PLAYS 37 35
1ST DOWNS 14 10
RUSH YDS 80 83
PASS YDS 148 51
TOTAL YDS 228 134

Following Tim Williams' kickoff, Georgia used eight plays to move the ball just past midfield, but time was running out. Zeier used the last play before halftime to throw the ball toward the end zone. Hastings caught the ball but was tackled at the eight-yard line. The score was knotted 7-7 at the half.

Third quarter

Georgia received the second-half kick and Hastings sprinted through a massive hole for 49 yards. Had the fast receiver not been forced out of bounds by Williams at Ohio State’s 45-yard line, he had a chance to return it for a touchdown. In the end, it didn’t matter as the Bulldogs used a 34-yard Hearst run to set up his five-yard spinning touchdown.

With 1:33 off the clock in the third quarter, the Buckeyes were trailing by seven for the second time in the game. The promising start to a high-scoring second half came to an end as the teams combined for four straight punts. 

Ohio State used the punts from Joel Kessel to flip the field and following a 17-yard punt return from Walter Taylor, Herbstreit and company started their third drive of the second half at Georgia's 33-yard line. Of the drive’s eight snaps, Cooper called on Harris and Smith seven times and the Buckeyes tied the game, 14-14, when Smith scored untouched from five yards out. 

After Zeier and the Bulldogs were able to pick up two first downs, the Buckeyes’ defense was able to hold court and force a punt to keep the game tied entering the fourth quarter.

Fourth quarter

A turning point in the game occurred within the first five minutes of the final quarter. Georgia was on the move and had a first down on the Buckeyes' 28-yard line. The momentum had shifted in favor of the Bulldogs and Ohio State was in need of a stop.

Young called for a linebacker blitz and Steve Tovar planted Zeier as he set up to make a pass. The blind-sided crushing hit jarred the ball out of Zeier's hand and Wilkinson pounced on the loose pigskin.

With new life, Cooper went conservative with two straight runs. Facing 3rd-and-6, Herbstreit rolled left after a play-action fake to Smith. The quarterback from Centerville gave a quick pump to the left sideline, then turned back to the right and found an open Smith on a screen. The track star zigged and zagged his way for 45 yards to the Bulldogs' 15-yard line.

Following a By'not'e run that lost a yard and an overthrow to Greg Beatty in the endzone, the Buckeyes faced 3rd-and-11 from the Georgia 16-yard line. The Bulldogs showed blitz and it appeared Herbstreit made an audible at the line. As he took the snap, he turned and collided with Jeff Cothran. The unexpected collision caused a fumble that was recovered by UGA.

It was later revealed that Herbstreit had checked to “red,” but Cothran heard “right.” The mix-up caused the costly turnover that led to Georgia's 11 play, 80-yard game-winning touchdown drive, capped off by a 1-yard touchdown run by Frank Harvey.

Final Stats
SCORE 21 14
PLAYS 80 71
1ST DOWNS 26 18
RUSH YDS 202 179
PASS YDS 242 110
TOTAL YDS 444 289

The aftermath

Cooper was now 0–8–1 against Michigan and in bowl games as Ohio State's head coach. The fans in Columbus were restless as their team had not defeated Michigan since 1987 and the last bowl victory was against Texas A&M at the end of the 1986 season. Cooper's first bowl win was a year away (against BYU) and a victory over the Wolverines was two years out.

Ohio State finished the 1992 season with a 8–3–1 record, having also lost to Wisconsin and Illinois during the regular season. With the loss to Georgia, Ohio State would fall to 0–3 in bowl games against the SEC – a streak that would continue for six more games until it finally ended with the Buckeyes’ win over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl to conclude the 2010 season. 

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