Monday, July 23, 2012

Remembering The 'Ten Year War' - 1975 Edition

By 1975, not only were both teams battling hard in their regular season finale in "The Game", but they were also competing heavily on a national level year after year. The Wolverines had visited the Rose Bowl twice, and the Buckeyes had won the 1973 Rose Bowl against USC.

Michigan jumped into the 1975 season with a big, 23-6 victory against the Wisconsin Badgers, but they were unable to carry over the early momentum to the next two weeks, tying with both Stanford and Baylor. Although the Wolverines hadn't lost a game yet, having only one win through the first three weeks was already setting them back enough. It was vitally important to pick it up and not look back, which is exactly what they did.

The Wolverines pounced out through the rest of the season. Under Bo, Michigan was winning with relative ease, including an astonishing 69-0 victory over Northwestern. The next week was followed up with a 55-7 blow-out win over Indiana. That's 126 points in two weeks of football for the Wolverines, and things didn't cool down after that. Michigan marched on to win their final three games of the season, heading into "The Game" with a record of 8-0-2.

Ohio State experienced a little bit more success throughout the course of the regular season. The Buckeyes, just as Michigan, managed to not lose a game, but they also did not finish in any ties, putting their record at 10-0-0 heading into their November 22 match up against Michigan.

The closest game for the Buckeys was an 8-point victory against Penn State in the second week of their season. As Michigan put up incredible numbers in back-to-back weeks, so did OSU. The Buckeyes outscored Wisconsin and Purdue a combined 105-0. There were absolutely no signs of struggle throughout the regular season.

OSU got off to a great start in the game, taking advantage of a short Michigan punt and the resulting field position. Coach Woody Hayes went for it on 4th down twice on the series, sending Pete Johnson plowing through the line for 1st downs on both occasions. On 3rd down from the 7-yard line, Hayes surprised UM by calling a pass to the fullback and Johnson crashed through for the touchdown. But after that, the Ohio State offense struggled against Michigan's veteran defense. Plagued by interceptions and a Griffin fumble, the Buckeyes would go more than 2 quarters without even getting a first down.

However, Michigan was also having trouble finding offensive success of their own. Rick Leach was not known as a passer all season, and nothing changed in this game. He was having a very hard time moving the ball through the air, so the Wolverines relied heavily on their running game, which was hit and miss with the Buckeye defense. Killing Michigan was two fumbles on the ground. The Wolverines offense finally did break through right before halftime on a halfback pass option from RB Bell to WR Jim Smith. Michigan scored again in the middle of the fourth quarter, and the crowd was starting to feel the end of the Buckeyes perfect record in the hostile environment of the Big House. But, in the Lee Corso voice, not so fast my friend.

With seven minutes left in the game, on 3rd and 10, Greene hit Baschnagel down the right sideline for 17 yards and a first down, their first since early in the 2nd quarter. On the next play, Green fired a pass to a diving Lenny Willis for another first down at the Michigan 49. Greene then threw again for Willis and connected for another first down at the UM 31. On the next play, Woody crossed up the Wolverine defense by running Griffin, and he carried it 11 yards down to the Michigan 20. On the next play, Greene carried on a keeper for 12 more yards to the 8. Three Johnson carries got the ball to the 1, but it was now 4th down. For the third time in the game, Hayes went for it and sent Johnson plowing through the Wolverine line for the TD. The game was tied and there were only 3 minutes left on the clock.

Bo Schembechler decided to turn his young QB loose with the Championship on the line, but Leach was intercepted twice in the final minutes of the game, the first resulting in a long return, then a go-ahead Buckeye touchdown with only a couple minutes remaining in the game. OSU beat Michigan 21-14.

This was one of the finest games played out between these two storied programs, and Michigan was so close to ending up on the winning side. Most people will naturally point towards a young quarterback in Rick Leach as the sole reason the Wolverines lost this game. While I can't argue that he was part of it, credit has to be given to the Buckeyes for being able to finally pull their offense together in the late stages of the game.

On their TD drive late in the game to tie it up, they converted their first third down attempt since early in the 2nd quarter. They executed when it mattered and then took advantage of a young, inexperienced quarterback.

Other fingers will be pointed towards Bo because of his willingness to be so aggressive in those late, crucial moments of the game. But winning "The Game" is all that matters. He made the calls he had to in order to put his team in a position to win, but the Wolverines fell short. This game will forever be marked down as one of the most exciting in the history of these two schools facing off in the regular season finale.

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