Oct. 13, 2006
By Jack Ebling, Online Columnist
It's a series of firsts, first and foremost.
And as strange as it seems, Michigan State (MAC/MSC/MSU) has only faced THE Ohio State University 36 times on the football field - five more games than the Aggies/Spartans have had with Alma College.
But what an amazing series it has been, from the first matchup in 1912 to the last five minutes of last year's meeting, both in Columbus.
We've seen an 88-yard touchdown run by MSU's Levi Jackson and a 63-yard field goal by Morten Andersen, a first in Big Ten history.
We've watched OSU coach Woody Hayes smack a student in Spartan Stadium, his first of two physical contacts with an unsuspecting opponent.
And we've seen a game when both teams thought they'd won and their fans took turns celebrating for the first 45 minutes after a futile, final, fumbled snap.
Maybe the best way to learn what the battle of the States is about is to pick up a six-pack of memories - my most-memorable half-dozen games in the series.
First, a quick look at how it all began and what we just witnessed before we begin our countdown.
MAC entered its season-finale 94 years ago with a 6-1 mark, including wins over Olivet, DePauw, Ohio Wesleyan and Wabash by a combined 180-0 score. Still, few outside the family thought the Aggies could stay with 6-2 OSU on Thanksgiving. Most expected something similar to a 55-7 loss to Michigan in October in Ann Arbor, for those in search of parallels to the present.
Despite two early TDs by the Buckeyes on a blocked kick and a fumble recovery, John Macklin's second MAC team trailed just 20-14 at the half. And just when OSU fans said, "OK, enough of this nonsense!" the Aggies wrecked their week for the first time with three unanswered scores in the fourth quarter. George Gauthier, Blake Miller and William Riblett were the heroes in MAC's first win over a Big Ten school, one year before its breakthrough victory at Michigan.
And we'd be remiss if we didn't reflect on the last two October losses to the Buckeyes. In 2004 the Spartans rallied from a 17-0 deficit to lead 19-17 with 3:06 left. Suddenly, Jim Tressel's team scored 15 points in 1:12 on a 58-yard pass to Ted Ginn Jr., a two-point keeper by Troy Smith, an interception by A.J. Hawk and a 51-yard run by Maurice Hall for a 32-19 win. The guests wound up trailing 22-12 in first downs and 407-307 in total offense but led in the numbers that mattered: points on the scoreboard.
Last year, MSU seized a 17-7 lead in "The 'Shoe," then tried a horribly executed field goal just before halftime. When the kick was blocked and returned 72 yards for a TD, John L. Smith gave ABC's Jack Arute an honest assessment in a classic halftime mini-interview. Even after OSU took a 21-17 lead early in the third quarter, the Spartans answered behind Drew Stanton's 26-for-36 passing for 340 yards. Jason Teague's 6-yard run put MSU ahead again with 4:53 left in the third quarter. It stayed that way for 15 minutes until Santonio Holmes' 46-yard scoring grab, a turnover and Smith's 1-yard run for a deceiving 35-24 triumph. No team moved the ball on the Buckeyes the way the Spartans did with edges of 27-13 in first downs and 456-386 in yardage.
But let's look back at the six most-memorable MSU-OSU games - two at home and four in Ohio Stadium:
No. 6 . . . Oct. 6, 1951 - MSC 24, OSU 20: The ninth victory in the Spartans' record 28-game winning streak from 1950-53 was probably the second-biggest triumph for turning heads nationally. It was Biggie Munn's fifth MSC team against Hayes' first group of Buckeyes and a stunning comeback Hayes never forgot. Down 20-10 in the closing minutes, a 3-yard pass from Al Dorow to Paul Dekker cut the deficit to three with 5:46 left. When OSU's Bob Keopnick fumbled to the Spartans' Ed Luke, MSC was back in business at the Buckeyes' 45. That's when the famed "Pony Backfield" had a hand in a fourth-down gamble for the ages, the legendary "Trans-Continental" that Munn introduced just two days earlier. Fullback Evan Slonac took a direct snap from center, faked a dive into the line and slipped the ball to Dorow, who'd turned his back to the defense. Dorow then flipped the ball to Tom Yewcic, streaking toward the right sideline. Yewcic sold the sweep, then stopped and fired the ball all the way back across the field to Dorow, who caught the ball at the 12, dodged two defenders, including Heisman-winner Vic Janowicz, for a 28-yard TD. Six weeks later, the Spartans had a 9-0 record and a share of their first national title.
No. 5 . . . Nov. 11, 1972 - MSU 19, OSU 12: It was the last of Duffy Daugherty's 19 seasons as the Spartans' leader and the first of tailback Archie Griffin's four years with Big Ten titles and Rose Bowl trips. But in Daugherty's last great victory, a colorful walk-on with shoulder-length hair walked off with the headlines. Dirk Kryt, who'd just been promoted from the junior varsity and didn't even have his name in the program, set a Big Ten record with four field goals and an extra-point in the first half, During Daugherty's post-game interview, Kryt strolled by, smoking a cigarette, and said in a heavy Dutch accent, "Coach, I'm going to go out tonight, celebrate with a girl and have a few beers. Wanna come along?" When the media launched a barrage of questions about the team's training rules, Daugherty did what he always did best - deflect and disarm with a wink and a quip. "We have a new rule," Daugherty said. "Anyone who kicks four field goals in a game is allowed to do most anything he likes."
No. 4 . . . Oct. 31, 1987 - MSU 13, OSU 7: The 5-1-1 Buckeyes were 3½-point favorites to hand the 4-2-1 Spartans their first Big Ten loss. And a 79-yard scoring pass on the game's first snap gave every indication that would happen. Instead, it only fueled the best defensive effort by an MSU team in more than two decades. George Perles outcoached Earle Bruce. Percy Snow outplayed Chris Spielman in a battle of Butkus Award-winning linebackers. Defensive tackle Travis Davis, an OSU reject, had five of his team's seven sacks. And the Spartans outrushed their humbled hosts 247-2, as Nick Saban's "Gang Green" defense was born. To put it another way, quarterback Bobby McAllister had 41½ times as many yards on the ground as the Buckeyes, including a twisting, 15-yard scramble for the tying score, after a 38-yard run by Lorenzo White. John Langeloh's two first-half field goals ended the scoring. And despite just a six-point cushion, MSU could've played a couple more quarters without an OSU scoring threat.
No. 3 . . . Oct. 15, 1966 - MSU 11, OSU 8: One of the greatest wins in school history probably COST the Spartans at least a share of some national championship trophies. A solid No. 1 in every poll going in, MSU had to battle torrential rain and huge gusts of wind to overcome an 8-3 deficit in Columbus. Meanwhile. Notre Dame beat North Carolina 32-0 in good weather at home and leapfrogged to a No. 1 ranking it kept, though the Spartans were fit to be tied. The Buckeyes scored first in a game Hayes had prepared for all year when an MSU punt snap sailed 40 yards past Dick Kenney for a safety. After the Spartans took a 3-2 lead in the third quarter on Kenney's 27-yard field goal, OSU regained the lead on Kim Anderson's 50-yard TD reception in the fourth quarter. With a repeat Big Ten title and more on the line, MSU responded with a 16-play, 84-yard drive that swallowed 7:44. Jimmy Raye hit four soggy passes, two to Gene Washington and two to Al Brenner, and fullback Bob Apisa scored the go-ahead points on a 1-yard smash. Up by just one, Daugherty reached into his bag of tricks for two points. The extra-point snap went straight to Apisa who drifted back till holder Charley Wedemeyer got free in the end zone. It was the first time all the Spartans' points were scored by Hawaiian recruits and enough to make Hayes hate pineapple.
No. 2 . . . Nov. 7, 1998 - MSU 28, OSU 24: All the talk before the game was about Michigan's visit to Ohio Stadium in three weeks and where fans should stay for the trips to the national championship game. But someone forgot to tell Saban his players were supposed to be college football's Washington Generals. Spotting the top-ranked Buckeyes a 24-9 advantage, the Spartans caught fire when a punt bounced off an unsuspecting OSU blocker. Suddenly, Bill Burke couldn't miss and finished with 323 yards through the air, including 125 to favorite target Plaxico Burress. But the undisputed hero was linebacker-turned-lightweight-lineman Julian Peterson, who saved the day when top defender Robaire Smith broke his leg on a second-half cheap shot. "Unblockable" was the only description, as Peterson produced a school-record seven tackles for losses, including four sacks of Joe Germaine and a strip that set up Sedrick Irvin's winning score. The Buckeyes' dramatic final drive and hopes for a national title ended with an all-out blitz and Renaldo Hill's interception of a fourth-down heave. Some OSU fans, including the famed "Neutron Man," had to helped from the stadium with tear-soaking strands of Buckeye nuts around their necks.
And No. 1 . . . Nov. 9, 1974 - MSU 16, OSU 13: It's simply the greatest game in school history. And that includes any win over Michigan or a classic 10-10 tie with Notre Dame. The top-ranked Buckeyes were en route to their third-straight Rose Bowl when the Spartans shocked the world. Trailing 13-3 in the fourth quarter as ABC viewers said, "At least they gave Woody's guys a game," Denny Stolz's players had other ideas. A 44-yard pass from Charlie Baggett to Mike Jones made it 13-9. After a two-point pass came up short, MSU stiffened and forced a booming punt by Tom Skladany. It was first-and-10 at their 12 for the Spartans with 3:21 left. Seconds later, it was pandemonium in the southeast corner of the OSU end zone. A simple fullback dive, "Slice Right," went for 88 yards when Levi Jackson flashed his 9.4-second, 100-yard speed and tied Dick Panin's record for MSU's longest run. The longest three minutes - actually the longest 48 - were just beginning. Here came the Buckeyes, saved by a blown call on an obvious interception by Terry McClowry. When Archie Griffin broke free with one shoe off on a screen pass, OSU was battling two opponents, the Spartans and the game clock. Who can forget the final snaps, with Harold "Champ" Henson, not Griffin or slippery Cornelius Greene pounding the middle and getting nowhere fast. That included getting up. And with the final seconds ticking away, the Buckeyes failed to get set for a hurried snap that slid through Greene's legs to halfback Brian Baschnagel. His dive over the goal-line produced both a touchdown signal as well as a waive-off for illegal procedure. And both teams took turns leaping for joy as they interpreted the signals as a victory. That's when Hayes walloped an MSU student who made a daring grab for his Block "O"cap. The officials rushed through the tunnel and headed straight to Kellogg Center to shower. But with no clear indication of what happened, Big Ten Commissioner Wayne Duke told MSU Sports Information Director Fred Stabley to sit tight and announce nothing until he could track down the officials. Virtually everyone stayed in Spartan Stadium and staged alternating eruptions of joy. The one sobering note for MSU's players was a message that assistant equipment manager Troy Hickman had been hit by a falling goalpost and killed. Minutes later, Hickman fought through the crowd and entered the locker room to everyone's surprise. When Duke got the word from referee Gene Calhoun that the Spartans had won, an announcement was finally made over the public-address system. But Duke's work was just beginning. He had to visit the OSU locker room to tell Hayes what had happened and put himself in great danger. The Buckeyes never accepted the verdict. And Hayes vowed to get even, which he did with a 21-0 win in the 1975 season-opener and by helping to hand the Spartans on a three-year, no-TV, no-bowls ban. Duke later said the No. 1 source of information was Michigan's Bo Schembechler, not Hayes, though Woody stood up and took credit for the punishment. The score never changed.