Thursday, July 12, 2012

Remembering The 'Ten Year War' - 1972 Edition

The 1971 game may not have had as much hype as the 1969 and 1970 games in the Ten Year War, but the 1972 game brought the rivalry back to the forefront of the nation.  Tensions were stirred pretty high and although there was some pressure rising on Woody Hayes after a 6-4 season and a 1-2 record against Bo leading into 1972, both coaches had their programs in top shape and vying for the Big Ten title, a Rose Bowl berth, and a shot at the national title in Pasadena during this time.

This was a monumental year for college football in several ways.  First, the "no repeat" Rose Bowl rule was abolished, meaning that a team could go to the Rose Bowl in consecutive seasons from the Big Ten, which would be applicable to Michigan in the 1972 season since they made the Rose Bowl in 1971.  Along with this, the NCAA allowed freshmen to play on the varsity team.  This would be quite significant because it allowed Ohio State's famed running back Archie Griffin to be able to play during the 1972 season.

Both teams, in unsurprising fashion, started the 1972 season red hot.  Michigan began the season ranked in the top 10 and never allowed an opponent to score 10 points in a game going into Columbus.  They had a 10-0 record before the Ohio State game and were ranked #3 in the nation, which was the same ranking as Michigan's 1971 team had when they entered "The Game."  Wolverine fans were hoping for a similar result on the field in 1972.

Despite Ohio State's rough 1971 season, they were back on top in the Big Ten in 1972.  They had run over most of their opponents before the Michigan game, vaulting the Buckeyes to a 8-1 record before the regular season finale.  Outside of their one road loss to Michigan State, Ohio State had put together a pretty remarkable year.  They had been ranked every week and entered the Michigan contest #9 in the nation.

What was probably even more exciting than their team, however, was their star running back, Archie Griffin. In his first career game, Griffin debuted with a single-game rushing record for Ohio State with 239 yards in one game.  Simply amazing for a freshman, especially at that time.  What probably haunted Michigan fans most in the 1972 season was thinking that just one year earlier, Griffin would not have even been eligible to play.  Yet, in 1972 he compiled 1500 yards and was the nation's leading scorer with 19 touchdowns before the match-up with Michigan.

Michigan began the game with the ball and had a promisiing drive until a costly penalty.  It would prove costly in a game that was such a defensive struggle, especially because Ed Shuttlesworth, Michigan's fullback, wasn't playing at full strength.  The Michigan defense would stop Ohio State on the resulting drive, but Michigan's next drive would again fail to be able to put any points up after a missed 44-yard field goal.

Defense continued to rule the day and it was only after a costly OSU penalty that Michigan got in scoring position.  Chuck Heater took the ball and was able to break it for 19 yards, which got Michigan in position to make a field goal and take a 3-0 lead. The Buckeyes had a great next position, but Michigan was able to stop them on a fourth down.  However, Michigan got it on their own 5 yard line.  Michigan's offense was able to do nothing, giving OSU the ball on the Michigan 46 yard line.

After some great runs by Griffin and some costly Michigan penalties, OSU was able to get fullback Champ Henson into the endzone to take a 7-3 lead.  Michigan had just a few minutes in the first half to try and regain the lead.  They moved the ball well with a great sweep and a pass from Dennis Franklin to Paul Seal.  Eventually, they got down to the OSU 1 yard line.  Michigan would surely score.  However, Michigan's offense could do absolutely nothing with the oportunity.  At one point, Michigan called a timeout with :11 left.  The question was whether to attempt a field goal or go for the touchdown.  Michigan went for it on fourth down, but failed to get into the endzone.  This would completely change the game.

Michigan had dominated the game, but were somehow losing at halftime.  The Wolverines were clearly frustrated and OSU took it out on them in the opening drive.  Griffin was able to score and put the Buckeyes up 14-3 over Michigan.  The Wolverines were looking at a 10-7 lead right before half, but were now trailing 14-3, certainly not a good feeling.  Michigan was able to score soon after with a Shuttlesworth run and got the 2-point conversion, but they still trailed 14-11 in the final minutes.  Michigan's defense would step up and got the ball back, but after another failed goal-line stand, the Wolverines fell to the Buckeyes 14-11.

This was a perfect illustration of "The Game" and how the results can so easily depend on just a few specific plays.  Michigan was ranked #3, was undefeated, and dominated Ohio State in just about every major statistical category in 1972.  However, they lost the game.  Somewhat because of personal mistakes, but also because of the great play by the Buckeyes and their defense.  Stopping Michigan twice in key goal-line stands was probably the key reason OSU won this game.

Michigan went from being in position to take over the game to being down big in a rival atmosphere.  To me, the goal-line stop before halftime was the thing that won the game for Ohio State.  It not only held Michigan from getting 7 points, but also gave the team and home crowd a tremendous amount of momentum and energy, which several players on both sides have cited as one of the contributing factors.  The crowd on that day was insanely loud, especially during and after the goal-line stands.  Holding any opponent in those situations is tough, but holding an undefeated Michigan team from scoring at the 1-yard line is simply astounding and the Buckeyes deserve a lot of credit for doing this.

This game probably didn't have as many long-term contributions as some of its earlier versions, but it did offer some major developments in the Ten Year War.  It was the first game involving 2-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin and was the game that shifted all the momentum toward the Buckeyes.  Before the 1972 season, Michigan certainly had the momentum both as a team and as a program.  Beating the Buckeyes two of the last three years, going to the Rose Bowl two times, and having the better team in 1971, there was no doubt of Michigan's advantage.  However, this one game shifted everything back to Ohio State.  Sure, Woody and Bo were still split 2-2 and each won their home games, but Michigan would not taste victory again until 1976, a very long streak for two teams that were so even.

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