Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Remembering The 'Ten Year War' - 1977 Edition

The 1977 game did not carry as much importance as some of its predecessors like the 1969 and 1976 games, but it still had some important qualities that shaped this rivalry long-term.  It still featured two teams ranked in the top 5 (something that had almost become commonplace in this rivalry) and was decided by just one score, but it definitely did little to change the tide of the rivalry and change its legacy long-term.  This is one of those games that just added to what was already a great series.  One interesting thing to note about this game was that it was the last game to be held in Ann Arbor between Bo and Woody.  

Michigan's 1977 team, much like Ohio State's 1976 squad had the challenge of replacing one of its best offensive players.  Rob Lytle had graduated and Michigan had to find somebody else to run the ball.  They still had Rick Leach and Glenn Davis, but losing Lytle was a major obstacle.  Roosevelt Smith and Harlan Huckleby did a nice job at replacing Lytle.  This is one of the major things that allowed the 1977 Wolverines to be so successful.

The Wolverines started their 1977 run much like their 1976 run.  They dominated early, winning their first 6 games by a combined score of 193-42.  That's pretty impressive considering that those games included two ranked teams, two road games, and a rivalry game against MSU.  Michigan did fall the next week in a road game against Minnesota, but followed it up with three dominant wins against Purdue, Northwestern, and Iowa.  Michigan spent 4 weeks during the season ranked #1 and entered the OSU game ranked #5.  This would be the 8th consecutive time Michigan entered the OSU game ranked #5 or higher.

The Buckeyes, despite losing to Michigan during the previous season, had a solid 1976 season and entered 1977 with a decent amount of momentum following an Orange Bowl victory over Colorado.  The Buckeyes entered the season ranked #5 and despite losing against #3 Oklahoma by 1 point, won every game.  On top of this, Ohio State had been playing some of their best football of the year entering the Michigan game.  They had won 7 games in a row and won their last 3 by a combined score of 112-7.

The Buckeye team was deep with talent.  Quarterback Rod Gerald led the explosive offense with Ron Springs as running back and Jeff Logan back again to assist in running the ball.  All three of these players could break a big play at anytime.  The offensive line assisted with this running attack.  Led by All-American Chris Ward, the line would create big areas for OSU's great runners to use.  This also allowed the team to make opponents pay with the play action pass since defenses had to overload the box to keep up with these great blockers and runners.

The game started with what had become a ritual for the Buckeyes, attempting to take down the "Go Blue" banner at midfield as they did in 1973.  However, this time, the Michigan students stopped them and a small fight ensued.  Once the chaos had been contained, the Buckeyes received the opening kick and the game began.  Gerald started making the Wolverines pay early with some nice runs and passes.  Michigan had trouble keeping Gerald from the outside because of his elusive speed.  OSU slowed as the reached the redzone and Dale Keitz was able to stop the Buckeyes on a key 3rd down to force them to take a field goal and an early 3-0 lead.

Michigan got the ball following the field goal, but were quickly forced to punt.  Gerald followed the punt for OSU by immediately running the ball for some big Buckeye gains.  Once again OSU could do little in the redzone.  The Michigan defense stepped up and Keitz sacked Gerald for a loss.  Two more solid Wolverine plays forced OSU to attempt a 42-yard field goal.  They missed.  OSU should have been up 14-0, but because of Michigan's goal-line defense, they only led 3-0.

Rick Leach got the offense moving, but after a missed field goal and a few punts, the Wolverines had the ball back closing out the 2nd half.  Michigan had a key 3rd down situation where they had to get 11 yards to avoid punting.  OSU thought they would go deep and played well for the deep pass.  However, Michigan threw a short pass to Smith for a big gain.  Davis followed with some big runs and Smith got Michigan in the endzone for a 7-3 lead.  OSU did get into field goal position before the half, but once again missed the field goal to keep the score 7-3 before halftime.

Michigan's offense did nothing to start the 2nd half, but after Ron Simpkins recovered the Springs fumble on the resulting position, they were already in great position.  A few runs had Michigan nearing the goal-line.  Leach had a fake handoff and ran the ball to the left. Tom Cousinear hit Leach in an attempt to stop him, but the Wolverine quarterback was able to extend the ball for the touchdown.  Michigan was up 14-3 even after OSU had dominated just about every statistical category.

The Buckeyes were able to get into the redzone again, but the Wolverine defense prevented them from scoring a touchdown.  They were forced to kick a field goal (that they made this time) to cut the lead down to 14-6.  Wolverine running back Smith fumbled when Michigan got the ball back, giving OSU an opportunity to tie the game nearing the end of the 3rd quarter.  Despite having great field position once again, they were stuffed after some great defensive play.  OSU would miss the following field goal.  OSU would return to the redzone two more times, but they would come away with 0 points after a failed 4th down and a fumble.  Michigan would win 14-6.

The 1977 game was one of the fiercest match-ups between the two schools and one of the best displays of goal-line defense in Michigan in history.  OSU had numerous opportunities to win the game, but couldn't get a touchdown that would have put them in position to tie or win.  For Buckeye fans and Woody Hayes, this was beyond frustrating.  If someone had looked at the stats following this game, there is no doubt they would have believed OSU would have won and probably in convincing fashion.  It's a classic example of why stats can only tell so much about a game.

Hayes followed the game by attempting to punch a Michigan cameraman.  This would be his last game in Ann Arbor as a coach and there's no doubt he went out in exciting fashion.  After starting the Ten Year War in such disappointing fashion in Ann Arbor, Woody would finish his trek in Ann Arbor in the same manner.  This also can be seen as a sign of things to come, as a punch would ultimately cost Hayes his job and end the Ten Year War.

On the opposite side, Bo continued his success in "The Game" and would again go to the Rose Bowl.  Michigan would be upset in Pasadena, but would still bring the momentum of a second straight victory over the Buckeyes into the 1978 season and the final edition of the Ten Year War.  Nobody knew the end of this great rivalry series was approaching, but the final games in Ann Arbor and Columbus did and would not disappoint.

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