Saturday, July 21, 2012

Remembering The 'Ten Year War' - 1974 Edition

By 1974, the Ten Year War was in full swing.  Since Bo's victory in 1969, the rivalry had taken a new life with both teams splitting sharing victories over one another.  Despite what some considered a "win" for Michigan in 1973, the Buckeyes had went to the Rose Bowl and gotten all the glory for the previous season.  The controversy that surrounded the two teams hung heavy over both programs throughout the 1974 season and especially in the weeks and days preceding "The Game".

Michigan may not have went to a bowl game in 1973 despite having an undefeated record, but the Wolverines came out swinging in 1974.  They dominated the first opponents on their schedule, allowing 1 touchdown in their first 3 games and winning by a combined score of 107-7 against some decent opponents, including Iowa and Colorado.  Michigan's defense weakened a bit over the following weeks, but the Wolverines were not seriously threatened until they faced Wisconsin in Camp Randall.

Michigan was still able to beat the Badgers and headed into the Ohio State game undefeated once again.  This would mark the 5th straight year that Michigan would be undefeated before the Ohio State game.  This would also be the 5th consecutive year that Michigan was ranked in the top 5 entering the game with the Buckeyes.  This is extremely impressive.  Let's compare this with Alabama, who is widely considered the most successful team in the nation the last few years.  They play Auburn in the regular season finale, much like Michigan plays Ohio State to end the year.  Over the last five years, Alabama didn't even match what Michigan did leading into the 1970-1974 Ohio State games.  There were times over the last five years when Alabama had lost a game or was ranked outside the top 5 entering the Auburn game, which Michigan did every year from 1970-1974.

The Buckeyes, coming off an undefeated season and Rose Bowl victory, brought a ton of momentum into 1974.  They were ranked #4 to start the year and with dominating victories over all of the early teams, were able to move into the #1 spot.  They were only challenged once before the Michigan game, but it was in a tough road environment and they dropped a late season game to MSU.  This would be the only loss for either team entering "The Game".

Of course, if one player should be highlighted in the Ten Year War for 1974, it's Archie Griffin.  By this time he was a team captain and would rush for 1,695 yards during the year.  Along with this, he would reach the endzone 12 times.  Going purely off stats, this would be Griffin's best season, although he had just 118 yards fewer in 1973.  This would be the first and only player in the Ten Year War that would win the Heisman trophy.  There's no doubt that the drama and excitement surrounding the Ten Year War helped Griffin's case for the Heisman.  This would be the first of two Heisman awards for Griffin, making him a college football legend.

Ohio State's offense began the game, but Michigan's tough defense was able to stop them and get great field position for Michigan's powerful offense.  Michigan's Dennis Franklin, Chuck Heater, and Gil Chapman moved the ball well for Michigan.  Then, Chapman caught a pass at the 25 yard line and raced to the endzone.  Michigan seemed to be playing very well early and it showed in their 7-0 lead.

OSU returned with a good drive, but fumbled the ball and gave Michigan an early opportunity.  It was a huge break for Michigan.  The running game for Michigan again did some major damage and moved the ball well for the Wolverines.  However, the passing game couldn't match and the drive stalled, leading to a Michigan field goal.  Michigan was in the driver's seat at this point, up 10-0 in hostile territory and having great success on both sides of the ball.

Following this, OSU was able to get into field goal range and kicker Tom Klaban nailed a 47-yard field goal to close the gap to 10-3.  Michigan followed this up by throwing an interception and giving the Buckeyes great field position.  The tide had certainly turned.  The game appeared to be a over earlier, but the Buckeyes took all the momentum and appeared to be in position to tie the game.  OSU was able to get another field goal to close the score to 10-6.

Klaban would nail another kick before halftime to leave Michigan clinging to a 10-9 lead.  OSU had done little for most of the game, but were in great position because of their special teams.  The 2nd half began in the same way, as the Buckeyes nailed another field goal.  What upset Wolverine fans even more was that their own kicker had missed a field goal in the 1st half.  Michigan's Mike Lantry got the chance to attempt two more kicks, but missed both nearing the end of the game, including a 33 yard kick.  The Buckeyes won the game without scoring a single touchdown.

This game certainly didn't have the impact as some of its predecessors, but it does show the diversity of the games in the Ten Year War.  Without a doubt, this game was decided by special teams.  That's something that's pretty rare, even in the 1970s.  Field position and kicking are always important, but this game is an obvious example of what weak special teams can cost a team.  If Michigan had been able to make one more field goal, they would have won this game, especially considering they had three opportunities to do so.

However, Lantry missed the kicks.  Michigan fans may have pointed toward Lantry, but OSU still deserves a lot of credit.  Making 4 field goals, including some very long kicks is pretty difficult.  Even in today's game, there aren't a lot of kickers in college that could have done what Klaban did in this game.  Of these kicks, several came from beyond 40 yards and were in pressure situations.  Making one of these kicsk is hard enough, but making four in one game is incredible.

Michigan's special teams may have "cost" them the game, but OSU's incredible special teams performance were the primary reason for the win.  The Buckeye defense did a great job at holding a powerful Michigan offense to 10 points, but the credit has to go to the special teams for the 1974 victory.  In a series between great teams in close contests, have a game so decisively decided by special teams shows just how interesting the Ten Year War was in history.

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