OHIO STATE’S GREATEST DRIVE #9
When it was announced that Penn State would be joining the Big Ten beginning with the 1993 football season, Buckeye Nation had already figured that regardless of records, the yearly battle with the Nittany Lions would usually rank second only to the Michigan game. In fact, to this day Penn State and TBGUN remain Ohio State’s two ‘protected’ Big Ten games, meaning that those matchups won’t rotate off the Buckeye schedule. Joe Paterno had won a pair of national championships and had three other undefeated teams (1968, 1969 and 1973) while building Penn State into the most successful independent program next to Notre Dame. Now with eastern football on a decades-long decline, the Blue and White had made the move into the Big Ten Conference, and what a welcoming present they got!
When the league schedules were released, no one outside of Happy Valley could believe their eyes. For 1993 and 1994, Penn State would have bye weeks before playing Michigan AND Ohio State. Their games with Iowa and Minnesota had been scheduled two weeks apart in September, so while everyone else in the Big Ten was into non-league play, Penn State would be dipping in and out of conference action like they were bobbing in a pool. Even more gas was thrown on this fire when the next two-year cycle of Big Ten games was revealed, once again giving Penn State bye weeks before playing Michigan in ‘95 and ‘96, while Ohio State had to make consecutive trips to Beaver Stadium in ‘94 and ‘95.
Joe Paterno and the Big Ten office could deny it all they wanted, but the conference had rolled out the red carpet for the new kid in town. In 1993, it hadn’t seemed to matter as Michigan handed Paterno his first league defeat 21-13, while the Buckeyes hammered PSU 24-6 on a snowy Halloween afternoon in Columbus. Penn State regrouped and ran off 5 wins in a row to finish ‘93 at 10-2, then in 1994 unleashed one of the finest offenses the Big Ten has ever seen, led by quarterback Kerry Collins, tailback KiJana Carter (from Westerville South High School outside Columbus), tight end Kyle Brady and wideout Bobby Engram. The Lions averaged 48 points a game enroute to an undisputed Big Ten championship, a Rose Bowl win over Oregon and a #2 final ranking in the nation. The following April, Carter, the ‘94 Heisman runner-up to Colorado’s Rashaan Salaam, would be the first overall selection in the NFL Draft, while Collins and Brady also went within the first nine picks. Penn State had actually maintained the #1 ranking for a good chunk of the season, but they gave up a pair of late touchdowns in their 35-31 win over Illinois on November 12th and got leapfrogged in the polls by Nebraska. By season’s end, Paterno, for the fourth time, had coached a team to an undefeated season and been left out in the cold for the national championship, this time falling victim to the media and coaches’ sympathy vote for Nebraska coach Tom Osborne, who hadn’t won a national title yet.
When the Buckeyes ventured up to Happy Valley in 1994, their hosts were in no kind of welcoming mood. In Columbus the previous year, not only had the Buckeye players verbally taunted their new Big Ten brethren, but Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee had gone through the press box after the game telling the media, ‘John Cooper out-coached Joe Paterno, and I want to see it in print!’ It got printed all right, and Penn State used the quote for motivation as the teams prepared to square off in ‘94. The Buckeyes had already lost twice (to Washington and Illinois) and couldn’t afford a second conference loss. They headed to Beaver Stadium confident- Eddie George had rushed for over 100 yards in six straight games, including a pair of 200-yard efforts against Northwestern and then Michigan State on October 15th. On October 22nd, the Bucks had bombed Purdue 48-14 on Homecoming as quarterback Bobby Hoying went 20 of 24 through the air and tied an OSU record with 5 touchdown passes. The Scarlet and Gray appeared to have shaken off the Illinois defeat, but no one could have foreseen what lay ahead.
Penn State was ranked #1, and by the time kickoff rolled around for the October 29th meeting with Ohio State, #2 Nebraska had already chalked up a solid 24-7 win in Lincoln over #3 Colorado. This gave Paterno’s troops even more of a sense of urgency, and they didn’t hold back. The Buckeyes were down 14-0 when Eddie George was taken to the locker room with a severely sprained ankle. By the time he came back to the bench the score was 35-0, and when the avalanche finished Ohio State had been buried 63-14. The 63 points was the third-highest total ever given up by a Buckeye defense, and once more the heat was on head coach John Cooper. Ordinarily, the team took their mandatory day off on Sunday, but Cooper brought the squad in the day after the pummeling and put them through their paces, a schedule they maintained the rest of the year. OSU responded by winning their last three regular season games, including Cooper’s first win over Michigan 22-6.
Heading into 1995, there seemed to be as much good as bad for the Bucks. The three-game win streak at 94’s end, including the first win over TBGUN since 1987, had been tempered by a last-second loss to Alabama in the Citrus Bowl. Quarterback Bobby Hoying and tailback Eddie George would be back as the unquestioned leaders of the offense, but the passing game was a huge question mark with the departures of Joey Galloway and Chris Sanders. Offensive tackle Orlando Pace would be back to anchor the offensive line, but his bookend, Korey Stringer, had decided to turn pro a year early. The defensive line was in good hands with Mike Vrabel, Luke Fickell and Matt Finkes, but middle linebacker Lorenzo Styles and outside linebacker Craig Powell had joined Stringer in defecting to the NFL. The loss of Styles forced Greg Bellisari, a natural outside backer, to man the middle, which offensive coordinators found to their liking as the OSU ‘D’ would allow 6 backs to go over 100 yards rushing in 95’s first 7 games. To top off all concerns was the schedule, which found the Buckeyes facing Washington and Notre Dame at home while traveling to Penn State and Wisconsin within the first 6 games of the season. There had been rumors that the Michigan game the previous November had been a do-or-die proposition for Cooper, but strangely enough the coach seemed to catch one break. While there was still some fretting about the tough first-half schedule, most of Buckeye Nation was so caught up in the hype over the first meeting with Notre Dame since 1936 that Cooper’s job status didn’t get much run.
The Bucks originally weren’t set to open the season until September 16th with Washington, but by then their opponents would have one or two games under their belts, so OSU agreed to face Boston College in the Kickoff Classic at the Meadowlands on Sunday, August 27th. Two Eddie George touchdown runs and a 97-yard kickoff return by Shawn Springs sparked the Buckeyes to a 38-6 win, then three weeks later George lit the Washington defense for 212 yards as Ohio State rolled to a 30-20 victory. The next Saturday in Pittsburgh, flanker Terry Glenn introduced himself to the nation with school records of 253 yards receiving (breaking Gary Williams’ record of 220 against Florida State in 1981) and four touchdowns (tying the mark set by Bob Grimes against Washington State in 1952). With the lopsided 54-14 triumph in the books, OSU could finally ‘officially’ look forward to the Fighting Irish.
It was an absolutely gorgeous September 30th in Columbus as two of college football’s giants teed it up for the first time in 59 years. Notre Dame had won the only other two tilts between the schools, edging the Bucks 7-2 in South Bend in 1936, and scoring 18 fourth-quarter points to rally for an 18-13 win in 1935, a contest which maintains ‘Game Of The Century’ status to this day for many. The Irish jumped out to a 10-0 lead in 1995, and held a 20-14 lead late in the third quarter when the game blew up in their faces. Three consecutive Irish turnovers jumpstarted a 31-6 final push by the Buckeyes, and when it was all over Ohio State owned a 45-26 victory. It was the most points ever given up by a Lou Holtz-coached ‘Domer’ team, and Eddie George (207 yards rushing), Bobby Hoying (4 more touchdown passes) and Terry Glenn (128 yards receiving and two TD’s, including an electrifying 82-yard catch-and-run) had dazzled the record Ohio Stadium crowd and the national television audience. But now sitting at 4-0 and #5 in the polls, the Irish were quickly forgotten as the Buckeyes looked to extract revenge in Happy Valley.
Penn State had come out of the gate 3-0, beating Texas Tech (24-23), Temple (66-14) and Rutgers (59-34). The Nittany Lions were owners of a 20-game winning streak, with their last loss coming against Ohio State in the snow in 1993. The next week, however, as conference play began, the Wisconsin Badgers invaded Beaver Stadium and upset the Lions 17-9, ending the overall 20-game win streak and snapping a run of 21 straight home wins by PSU. Joe Paterno’s squad had posted impressive scores in their three opening wins, and they had 7 starters back from the ‘94 offensive juggernaut including Bobby Engram, who had won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver. But the non-league competition had been questionable, and without Kerry Collins, KiJana Carter and Kyle Brady, it was evident this Penn State team wasn’t anywhere near the caliber of the Big Ten championship squad of ‘94. Ironically, it was starting to look like John Cooper’s offense was a carbon copy of the previous year’s Lion team, featuring a prolific senior quarterback (Bobby Hoying), a fast, powerful tailback (Eddie George), a speedy, big-play wideout (Terry Glenn), and a rangy tight end that could block as well as catch (Rickey Dudley). Ohio State was much better equipped for this matchup with Penn State than in ‘94, and had let the 63-14 embarrassment stew in the back of their minds for a year, but a trip to Happy Valley was still a trip to Happy Valley and now they would be facing a wounded Nittany Lion ballclub that couldn’t afford another loss if they wanted to defend their Big Ten title.
The second largest crowd in Beaver Stadium history (96,655, ranking only below the 97,079 that had witnessed the 63-14 mauling of OSU the year before) packed the place for the noon kickoff. Neither team could get anything going on its opening drive, and after a Brent Bartholomew punt the Nittany Lions set up shop at their own 39. Tailback Curtis Enis, who had been Ohio’s Mr. Football in 1993, gained five yards on two carries. Quarterback Wally Richardson, who had set a Penn State record with 33 completions in the Wisconsin loss, drilled a 21-yard completion on third down to Bobby Engram, giving the Lions a first down at the Buckeye 35. Engram, who was already PSU’s all-time leader in career receptions and yardage, had equaled his entire 21-yard output of the Wisconsin game with one catch. Three plays later on third-and-9, Richardson hooked up with Freddie Scott on another 21-yard pass play. Scott, who had set a Penn State record with 13 receptions the week before against the Badgers, gave the Blue and White a first down at OSU’s 13. Tailback Mike Archie picked up 7, then bruising fullback Jon Witman hammered out two more. Facing a third-and-inches situation, Witman got the ball again and barreled for a first down at the 3. Sticking with a good thing, Paterno called on Witman one more time and he dove over the right side for the first score of the day. Brett Conway tacked on the PAT and Penn State led 7-0.
Eddie George appeared to get the Ohio State offense on track with an 11-yard run on the first play of the subsequent drive, but a holding penalty forced a 3rd-and-17 call. George caught a short swing pass but was hit by defensive tackle Brad Scioli and fumbled. Cornerback Mark Tate recovered at the Buckeye 33. It was Eddie’s first fumble of the season and OSU fans had to be wondering if the ‘94 nightmare was about to play out all over again. On 2nd-and-8 from the 31 Curtis Enis bulled for 9 yards and a first down at the 22. John Cooper and his staff had taken criticism for letting KiJana Carter get out of Ohio, especially after Carter had torched the Bucks for 4 touchdowns on this same field a year ago. Now Union City, Ohio native Enis, who had been playing linebacker as recently as PSU’s opener against Texas Tech, was starting to ring up yardage against a Buckeye defense that had already let 3 running backs get 100 yards. It was a critical juncture of the ballgame and the Scarlet and Gray defense responded. Enis was stopped for no gain, then Engram tried to come across the middle on a wide receiver screen and was leveled by Luke Fickell. Richardson had tight end Bob Stephenson open on a crossing route but threw it too far out front as he tried to beat the blitz. Brett Conway came on and booted a 40-yard field goal, and with 1:16 to go in the first period Ohio State trailed 10-0 for the second week in a row.
The Buckeyes began the ensuing drive on their 20, and money man Eddie George lit the fuse with an immediate 10-yard pickup. Hoying converted a 3rd-and-7 with a 13-yard pass to Terry Glenn, the first reception of the afternoon by an OSU wide receiver. As the second quarter began, fullback Nicky Sualua lost 2, but then Glenn made a super diving catch good for 33 yards to the Penn State 44. Glenn had entered the game ranked second in the country with a 25-yard average per catch, and on this play he had badly beaten corner Brian Miller, a 1994 All Big-10 selection who had intercepted two Buckeye passes in the 1994 game. It looked as though the Nittany Lions would assert themselves as Eddie George was stood up for no gain and Bobby Hoying was sacked by defensive tackle Brandon Noble for a loss of 5, bringing up 3rd-and-15 at the PSU 28.
Although it seemed fairly obvious that Hoying would be looking for Terry Glenn, knowing the junior flanker was the intended target and covering him were two completely different things. Safety Clint Holes tried to keep up with Glenn on a post route but was no match as Hoying connected with Terry on a 28-yard scoring toss, narrowing the score to 10-7, Lions.
Penn State’s next possession started at their own 26, where Curtis Enis took a pitchout and motored for 36 yards before being dragged down at the Ohio State 38. Enis had been held to 22 yards on 8 carries against Wisconsin, but now had 50 yards against OSU on 5 totes. On second-and-3 from the Buckeye 31, Richardson was called for intentional grounding, which basically stalled the march. John Cooper had been upset that the Mid-American Conference officials working the Notre Dame game the previous Saturday had let Irish quarterback Ron Powlus heave the ball into A-deck at the Shoe without a flag being thrown. His attention, if you will, to grounding had paid off now with the team of Big Ten officials. Darrell Kanea punted the Bucks back to their own 2, and slowly the Buckeye offense got it in gear. Terry Glenn’s 13-yard snag converted a 3rd-and-6 situation, then tight end Rickey Dudley got in on the act, pulling in a 25-yard throw from Hoying for a first down at the OSU 44. Hoying went back to Glenn for 11 more, but after a 3-yard run by Eddie George and a 3-yard completion to Nicky Sualua, the Buckeyes were looking at 3rd-and-4. Rickey Dudley headed down the seam and got by linebacker Gerald Filardi to gather in a 26-yard touchdown strike from Hoying. It was Rickey’s third score of the year, Hoying was now 13 of 14 for 175 yards passing, and Ohio State had a 14-10 lead, which they would take into the halftime break.
The Buckeyes had outscored their opponents 56-9 in the third quarter of their 1995 games so far, and they wasted no time padding that stat in Happy Valley. On the opening drive of the third period, Terry Glenn hauled in a 12-yard catch and Eddie George rambled for 11 to move the sticks to the OSU 43. There was a minor hiccup as Hoying was sacked by defensive end Terry Killens for a loss of 8, but Hoying dialed up George for 12 and split end Buster Tillman for 13 to give the Bucks a first down at Penn State’s 40. Then Ohio State got a huge break- Eddie George tried to circle the left side but was hit by safety Kim Herring and appeared to have fumbled. Mark Tate recovered but the officials ruled that Eddie was down, and in this day of no instant replay the call stood. Hoying immediately went for the jugular and hit a wide-open Terry Glenn for a 37-yard touchdown. Hoying now had 12 scoring throws in his last 3 games, 8 of which had gone to Terry Glenn, and Ohio State now led 21-10.
Penn State cranked up their most impressive series of the day on the ensuing possession. Witman gained 10, Bobby Engram got open for 17 and Curtis Enis powered for a total of 10 yards on a pair of carries to give the Nittany Lions a first down at the Buckeye 47. Witman dragged linebacker Ryan Miller as he gained 7, and the Blue and White got a gift 15 as Shawn Springs was hit with a dead ball personal foul flag. Enis converted a 3rd-and-inches with a 3-yard pickup to the OSU 12, and the Buckeyes took another hit as Shawn Springs suffered a severely sprained ankle and had to leave the game. Enis smashed up the middle for 9, and at the play’s end cornerback Ty Howard left the field after getting popped in the head while trying to tackle the big tailback.
A false start call set the Lions back to the 8, but fullbacks Jon Witman and Brian Milne alternated carries until Witman, on a fine second effort, muscled in for his second touchdown of the day. Penn State went for 2 and got it as Wally Richardson hit Joe Jurevicius in the corner of the endzone. OSU’s lead was now 21-18 and that’s how things stood after three.
Joe Paterno’s troops continued to reel off chunks of yardage on their next series. Starting from their 16, a 12-yard Mike Archie reception and a 15-yard scamper by Curtis Enis moved the ball into Buckeye territory at the 47. Wally Richardson fired to Bobby Engram for 20 more and now the Lions were at the 27. The OSU defense forced an incompletion, then dropped Enis for a loss of 1, bringing up 3rd-and-11. Ryan Miller and Greg Bellisari came on a blitz, forcing Richardson to scramble to his right. Richardson threw a dying quail across the field towards Engram who was inside the 10. Engram went up over Ty Howard to make a circus catch at the two, and on the next play Jon Witman pounded in for his third touchdown of the afternoon. After scoring the game’s first ten points, then giving up 21, Penn State had answered with 15 points of their own to take a 25-21 lead with 12:23 left.
Ohio State’s next drive was short-circuited when Bobby Hoying, trying to force the ball to Terry Glenn, was intercepted by corner Brian Miller. The Buckeye ‘D’ forced a three-and-out, and got the ball back for the offense with 8:07 to go at their 38. Glenn picked up 17 on a crossing route, and three Eddie George runs produced a first down on PSU’s 30. But all of a sudden Hoying cooled, throwing two incompletions. His third-and-10 pass to Rickey Dudley picked up 8, and now the Bucks were faced with a crucial 4th-and-2. With everyone expecting Eddie George to carry the ball, offensive coordinator Joe Hollis called for an out route to Terry Glenn, hoping to catch the Penn State defense napping. Corner Mark Tate wasn’t buying it though, and he separated Terry Glenn from the football before the fleet receiver could haul it in. 5:00 were left on the clock and the 12th-ranked Lions could smell an upset.
The Ohio State defense, which had been overshadowed by its offensive counterparts all season, now stepped up. Linebacker Kevin Johnson tripped Curtis Enis up for a loss of 1, then after a false start call Richardson threw incomplete for Milne. On 3rd-and-14 Mike Archie made a catch for only 6 yards and the Nittany Lions were forced to kick it away. Dimitrious Stanley returned the punt to the OSU 42, and the Buckeyes had 3:10 left to make something happen.
After missing connections with Rickey Dudley on first down, Hoying looked for Terry Glenn on second down but linebacker Aaron Collins made a super play, breaking away from his coverage on Nicky Sualua to knock the pass down. On the national ABC telecast, Keith Jackson said it was about time for ‘that tight end down the middle’, while up in the Ohio State radio booth Jeff Logan told Terry Smith,’(Penn State is) so interested in containing Terry Glenn that Bobby has got to look to somebody else. He cannot continue to force the ball to number 83. Buster Tillman has got to come up and make a big play’. Logan’s crystal ball must have been clear as the blue sky. It was now 3rd-and-10, and with all eyes on Glenn, Hoying went for Tillman on an out cut to the left. Buster brought the pass in at the sideline for a huge 12-yard gain to the Buckeye 46. Even though it was a play late, Keith Jackson’s clairvoyance was about to come to fruition in the form of one of the most memorable plays in Ohio State history.
With 2:57 left on the clock, Hoying dropped back, got good protection and saw that Rickey Dudley had sped past linebacker Gerald Filardi again down the middle. Hoying pumped as if he was going to throw which drew the attention of safeties Clint Holes and Kim Herring to Dudley. Hoying finally let fly and Dudley went up after the ball. With Herring barreling towards him, Rickey collared the pass while getting blasted from behind by Holes. The big tight end, who had been criticized as a receiver for bad hands at times, held on to the catch of his career and the Buckeyes had a first down at the Penn State 13. Hoying would finish the day with 354 yards passing, but these 33 would be the most important. Now it was bread-and-butter time- Eddie George over Orlando Pace on the left side. Eddie bolted for 7, giving him 99 yards for the game. On the next play, Nicky Sualua and Eddie set up in an offset-I to the left. Rickey Dudley came in motion from right to left to add even more beef. Orlando Pace pancaked his man, Sualua absolutely buried Kim Herring, and Eddie breezed right by linebacker Jim Nelson and went into the endzone untouched, putting the Bucks back into the lead. Josh Jackson tacked on a significant point-after and OSU led 25-21 with 1:42 to play.
Penn State’s return man touched his knee to the ground on the ensuing kickoff, so the Lions would have to start from their 19. Freddie Scott, who had been quiet most of the second half, snared a 17-yard throw from Richardson, then Jon Witman took a pass in the flat and was knocked out of bounds at his 49. Richardson just did get the next pass off before he was hit by Matt Finkes, but the ball was underthrown towards Bobby Engram. Safety Rob Kelly leaped for it but missed and Ty Howard made a diving attempt at a pick but trapped the ball. Paterno then tried to cross up the Buckeye defense by running Enis but freshman Antoine Winfield, who had replaced Shawn Springs at corner, came flying up and belted Enis after a 3-yard gain. Penn State took a timeout with 1:16 left.
On 3rd-and-7, Richardson tried to get away from Luke Fickell but the Buckeye nose guard knocked the ball loose. Richardson scooped it back up on a friendly hop and tried to scramble to his right but Matt Finkes brought him down at the Penn State 40 for his first sack of the year. It was now 4th-and-19 and Paterno called time once again. There wasn’t too much doubt that the play would involve Engram, but unbelievably the reigning Biletnikoff Award winner actually got behind the defense as Richardson fired deep down the right sideline. Engram timed his jump well but Winfield and safety Anthony Gwinn broke the play up and the Bucks took over. Paterno didn’t bother using his one remaining timeout and Ohio State ran out the clock to preserve the 28-25 win.
The Buckeyes won a tough 27-16 decision in Madison the following Saturday, then were never seriously tested as they knocked off their next five opponents by an average score of 43-12. They were 11-0 for the first time since 1979, ranked #2 in the nation behind Nebraska, and were one win in Ann Arbor away from a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl date with USC.
Just as it had in 1993, OSU’s dream of heading west died in Michigan Stadium. The Buckeye run defense, after letting 6 backs gain over 100 yards against them in the year’s first seven contests, had shored up in November. But in ‘THE GAME’, UM tailback Tim Biakabutuka rumbled for 313 yards rushing (a record for any OSU opponent) as the Wolverines pulled off a 31-23 upset. Northwestern captured the outright Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl trip, overcoming a non-conference loss to Miami of Ohio that had been the Buckeyes’ trump card down the stretch. Ironically, on the same day the Scarlet and Gray had beaten Penn State, Northwestern had gotten college football’s attention by upsetting Michigan 19-13. While trying to stay focused on their own business, OSU had still been excited when TBGUN lost, not knowing how much the Wildcats (who the Buckeyes did not play in 1995) would become a thorn in their side.
The bitter disappointment of the loss to Michigan abated somewhat in December when Eddie George was awarded the Heisman Trophy, becoming the fifth Ohio State player to win it. Eddie had rolled up 200+ yards against Washington and Notre Dame, scored the winning touchdown against Penn State and the clinching TD at Wisconsin. That in itself would have been worthy of Heisman consideration, but George cemented it with a school record 314-yard performance against Illinois on November 11th. His mark of 1,927 yards rushing in 1995 is still a school record, he was named the Big Ten’s Most Valuable Player and was a first-team All-American.
The Buckeyes have only one other win at Happy Valley since Penn State joined the Big Ten- 2003’s 21-20 thriller as the Nittany Lions missed a field goal on the final play of the game. No matter what the records or circumstances are, the trip to Beaver Stadium will NEVER be easy, something that the ‘95 game definitely proved. But Bobby Hoying and the offense put things together when they needed to in the clutch, highlighted by one of the greatest receptions in Ohio State annals. No, it hadn’t been a butt-kicking like the year before, but a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback in Happy Valley was sweet redemption enough for the Scarlet and Gray.