The 1969 and 1970 games in the Ten Year War were great, but the 1971 game was close fought and was a nail-biter all the way until the end. This game didn't have as many extra factors as its predecessors, but the actual play was exceptional. There had never been good feelings between Michigan and Ohio State, but the 1971 game showcased just how much this game meant to both teams, both during and after. Without the 1969 and 1970 games, the way this game unfolded probably wouldn't have happened, but this game was extremely important in the Ten Year War
After Bo's undefeated season had been ruined by Woody's team in Columbus in 1970, the preparation had begun quite early for 1971, in fact, right after Michigan got back to Ann Arbor. Michigan had used this preparation to build on the team's impressive play during the majority of the previous season. The 1971 Wolverines were simply dominant. They were 10-0 entering the Ohio State game and had held 8 of their opponents to one score or less. The only team that even finished within a touchdown was Purdue the week before "The Game".
Michigan's defense was undeniably the strongest part of the 1971 squad and was the reason that Michigan dominated many of its opponents. The offense was no slouch either, scoring 30 points or more on 7 occassions during the 1971 season. The offensive and defensive balance for Michigan can be seen in the four All-Americans on this team. Two were on offense, William Taylor and Reggie McKenzie, and two were on defense, Mike Taylor and Thom Darden. The Wolverines had great playmakers on both sides of the ball, which really made them so dominant.
Ohio State's team was not so dominant in 1971. The team appeared to be much weaker than its predecessors, being forced to win close games, losing 3 total games, and bringing a 2 game skid to Ann Arbor. The 1971 OSU squad would actually be the only team in the Ten Year War that wasn't ranked, something that shows the quality of the teams involved. Despite this, OSU came in with great desire and fight for the Michigan game.
OSU also had to suffer through a plethora of injuries during the 1971 season. In fact, so many occured that not one offensive started from the 1970 season was on the field. That's incredible for a program as well established as Ohio State. Part of this was blamed on the brand new artificial turf in the Horseshoe, but most just think it was bad luck. In fact, right before "The Game", OSU lost a key defensive starter right before the biggest game of the season. It was almost a perfect sign of what the 1971 season had become for the Buckeyes.
The game started pretty slowly for Michigan. They were forced into a 3-and-out to start the game and OSU had a major return, but blew the opportunity when Greg Ellis recovered a fumble from the Buckeyes. Michigan followed with a decent drive, but a penalty ultimately killed it before the Wolverines got any points. The next few drives showed some promise, but didn't result in any points for either team. So far, the game had been a defensive struggle.
As the 2nd quarter started, Michigan was able to bring back its starting quarterback, Tom Slade, who left early in the 1st quarter with injury. With Slade back and some solid running by William Taylor and Ed Shuttlesworth, Michigan began moving the ball. OSU finally slowed down Michigan, but the Wolverines were able to get a field goal and take a 3-0 lead. This would be the way the teams went into halftime.
The 2nd half began much like the 1st half, with a flurry of defense and punts. However, after a few punts back and forth, OSU's Tom Campana had another monster return, but this time, he returned it for a touchdown to give OSU a 7-3 lead. The Buckeyes had done virtually nothing on offense the entire afternoon, had blown opportunities left and right, but somehow held the lead.
The defensive struggled continued, but with 7:08 left, Michigan had the ball and began a march in an attempt to win the game. With a few big runs and some critical first downs, Michigan ended up in OSU territory. At one point, Michigan seemed lined up for a touchdown, but Cipa, who had returned for Slade, slightly overthrew Paul Seymour, who was behind the secondary. Michigan had 2:45 remaining and were in the redzone. As they ran the ball closer, Taylor finally was able to use his speed to get into the endzone. Michigan took a 10-7 lead and the Buckeyes were not able to do anything else the rest of the game. Michigan ended up sealing the victory on a controversial interception that would end up being the story of the game.
This game was not as influential in the Ten Year War as the 1969 or 1970 games, but the intensity really increased for this game. The fact that an unranked Ohio State team could slow down one of the nation's best teams shows how much this game meant to both teams. Along with this, this was truly the third straight game in the series that had a great finish. Despite the intensity and close finish, this really didn't end up being the story of the 1971 game.
After the late interception by Thom Darden, Woody Hayes erupted in one of his insane outbursts on the sideline. This included a full tantrum against the refs and the destruction of a first down marker. The incredible play by the underdog Buckeyes had shown what this game meant, but I don't know if anything showed it more than Hayes' outburst. Hayes was famous for outbursts, but I don't think he would have done anything like this for any game except the Michigan game.
This outburst also helped build the rivalry for the coming years. If Hayes had not had this outburst, look at the scenario. Hayes had a 1-2 record against Bo and his team went from national champion in 1968 to an unranked season with 4 losses in 1971. In the same time period, Michigan had went from a non-factor in the Big Ten to a powerhouse that had a 2-1 record against Hayes and had been in the Rose Bowl 2 out of the last 3 years. Hayes' tantrum made the story about him, not about how Michigan had beaten him for the second time in three years. It really was a genius move.
If Hayes hadn't made this tantrum, I really do wonder if he would have been able to keep pace with Bo. Michigan had all the momentum and I wonder if OSU would have been able to stay in the spotlight enough to stay with the Wolverines. Hayes was a great coach, but there is no doubt that some of his tantrums like this helped him against Michigan. Here's an example. Think about OSU after the 2011 game against Michigan. If they hadn't hired Urban Meyer, they would have had to endure a horrible offseason where all the talk revolved around the loss to Michigan. Instead, by hiring a new and flashy coach, OSU changed the topic of conversation and made the offseason not about their botched 6-7 season where they lost to Michigan, but about how Urban Meyer would be able to transition the Buckeyes. This is what Woody Hayes did and it worked perfectly. This tantrum may be one of the key reasons the Ten Year War's intensity lasted so long.