Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Remembering The 'Ten Year War' - 1978 Edition

The final edition of the Ten Year War.  Thinking about what unfolded over the previous 9 games, that statement should mean something.  The great upset of 1969, Woody's revenge in 1970, the epic tie and the drama that followed in 1973, and the return of Michigan in 1976.  The tide had switched multiple times over the series and before the 1978 game, Michigan had almost all the momentum.  The Ten Year War wouldn't finish in quite the same way as the first match-up, but the Victors would be the same.

Michigan returned much from its 1977 squad.  Not only the momentum from its 2nd consecutive Big Ten championship, but also from its 2nd consecutive Rose Bowl berth and 2nd consecutive win over the Buckeyes.  Things had been going well for Michigan since their loss to Ohio State in 1975.  Not only had Michigan been rolling, but they returned some great players for 1978.  Michigan returned quarterback Rick Leach and had a solid running back group containing Harlan Huckleby, Roosevelt Smith, Butch Woolfolk, and Stanley Edwards.

The defense, as usual, was fantastic.  Not only did the defense shutout 4 opponents before the Ohio State game, but it only allowed 20 points or more in one contest.  Simply astounding considering that Michigan played some challenging road games at Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and Iowa.  Michigan did fall to MSU in their 5th game, but they followed that game with 5 consecutive victories leading into the Ohio State game with a combined score of 201-30.  Another interesting thing to note is that the 1978 loss to Michigan State was only the 2nd time Bo had lost to the Spartans since becoming coach at Michigan.  There's no doubt that the matchup with the Buckeyes was Michigan's #1 rivalry, but this is just another thing displaying Michigan's full dedication to beating OSU.

Ohio State had a few offseason changes that presented a challenge for the 1978 team.  Not only did they have to replace some players from last season, but they also had a new quarterback to develop.  Rod Gerald was returning and had played quite well in 1976 and 1977, but Woody Hayes had promised the job to Art Schlichter, one of the most heralded recruits in the 1978 class.  He would have to learn as the season progressed and Hayes hoped he had enough to win games and ultimately, beat Michigan.

The Buckeyes struggled early, which shouldn't be surprising considering that they were starting a freshman quarterback.  They had a difficult opening slate, but they won just 2 games after Week 5, had been shutout against Penn State, and had allowed 20 points or more on three occasions.  As the team settled and got production from senior running back Ron Springs and All-American Tom Cousineau, the Buckeyes started having success.  They won 5 consecutive games following their rough opening stretch and were only tested by #19 Indiana during this time.  There was no doubt that the Buckeyes were improving when they got Michigan at home in the final game of the season.

Michigan received the football to start the game and Leach and Woolfolk had great success moving the ball on the first drive.  Eventually, the Wolverines had to punt because of a sack by Kelton Dansler.  OSU moved the ball well on the resulting drive off some great plays by Schlichter and Springs.  However, the Buckeyes were finally stopped and forced to attempt a field goal, which they missed.  Michigan could do nothing on the next drive.  There was no doubt that OSU had the momentum early in the game.

OSU got the ball back and quickly began moving it downfield after great runs by Ric Volley and Ron Springs.  Michigan's defense slowed them down, but this time the Buckeyes made the field goal to open up a 3-0 lead.  After the field goal, Leach took to the air.  After all the running by Michigan, OSU's defense had left some openings downfield.  Rick Leach was able to connect on three straight passes including a 26 yard pass to Doug Marsh.  Finally, Leach threw a bullet to Rodney Feaster to give the Wolverines a 7-3 lead.

The teams then traded a few punts, but both Woolfolk and Leach were injured on the resulting drive.  Woolfolk had to leave the game and although Leach was injured, he continued playing.  Later on in the quarter, Buckeye quarterback Schlichter was attempting a pass, but got drilled by Jerry Meter, allowing the Wolverines to recover a fumble, which stopped a hopeful Buckeye drive.  Michigan got all the way to the goal-line, but a fumbled catch by Gene Johnson ended the drive and hope to extend the lead.

OSU's offense would be completely shut down in the 2nd half.  After getting stopped to begin the 2nd half, Michigan got the ball and moved into OSU territory.  A Leach pass to Smith allowed Michigan to score the game's final touchdown and take a 14-3 lead.  The interesting thing was that after the touchdown, Woody Hayes was on the sideline punching himself in the head.  It would be the last "Woody" moment of the Ten Year War and a fitting end to the 1978 game.  Michigan won with a final score of 14-3.

This game certainly didn't feature the best story lines, the biggest upset, the highest ranked teams, or the most exciting finish, but its significance lies in the fact that it was the final game between these great coaches.  Nobody involved knew that it would be the last game in this series, but everything about the game in hindsight had a conclusive feeling.  Michigan had won the first game as a massive underdog and had also won the final game ranked higher than OSU.  This is not something that would have been expected before the 1969 game.

Michigan and Bo Schembechler would go on to win 5 more Big Ten Championships after the 1978 season, appear in 5 more Rose Bowl games, achieve a 98-33-2 overall record, and a 74-16-2 record in Big Ten play.  Bo and Michigan had a few letdown years after the Ten Year War, but for the most part, the Wolverines were very good both during and after the Ten Year War.  Along with this, Bo followed his "victory" in the Ten Year War by going 6-5 against the Buckeyes after Woody Hayes left, giving Schembechler a 11-9-1 overall record against some of the best Buckeye teams in history.

Woody Hayes would go on to coach only 1 more game for the Buckeyes.  He lost against Clemson in a bowl game and was fired after he punched a player during the game.  People figured one of his outbursts would eventually come back to bite him and this one certainly did.  He helped build the legacy of great OSU coaches that did not leave on good terms with the university.  His successor, Earle Bruce would prove to be a worthy replacement, winning 4 Big Ten titles, going to the Rose Bowl twice, and compiling a 81-26-1 record while in Columbus.  He would actually finish with a 5-4 record against Michigan and Bo Schembechler, but was fired before his final game against Michigan.  After the game Bo responded, "I always mind losing to Ohio State, but I didn't mind so much today."

The Ten Year War would become iconic for Michigan, Ohio State, and Big Ten fans in the following years and has become a common point of reference for those describing what the greatness of college football and its rivalries can display.  On numerous occasions there have been discussions of the repetition of a Ten Year War, especially with the hiring of Urban Meyer in November 2011, but there has never been anything so intense in the rivalry since Bo and Woody faced one another.  Perhaps it will happen again at some point, but until then, fans can only reminisce about the greatness of the Ten Year War.

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