As the Buckeyes look toward Monday's road opener against Virginia Tech, it's an ideal time to reflect on one of Ohio State's most memorable road openers in program history.
Ohio State entered the 1998 season as the top-ranked team in the country, and they kicked off the year on the road in Morgantown, West Virginia, against the 10th-ranked Mountaineers. The media descended upon Morgantown early, and excitement for the game had reached a fever pitch days before kickoff. Mountaineers fans were convinced they were going to watch their team pull off a monumental upset.
The Buckeyes and the Mountaineers took the field that evening in front of the largest opening-day crowd in WVU football history, and all of the Mountaineers among those 68,409 fans had good reason to be optimistic about their team that season, led by quarterback Marc Bulger and running back Amos Zereoué, a Heisman contender.
West Virginia took a 3-0 lead on their opening possession. They couldn't ride that high for long, though. Ohio State's defense stifled the Mountaineers' offense, holding Zereoué to just 77 net rushing yards. Ohio State's defense was especially stout in the second half, when Zereoué was limited to negative three net rushing yards. The Buckeyes' offense dominated, as quarterback Joe Germaine put up 301 passing yards and two touchdowns and running back Michael Wiley rushed for 140 yards on the Mountaineers defense. The Buckeyes came away with a 34-17 victory.
"I hope we don't see defenses like that again," said Mountaineers center (and Huron, OH native) Eric de Groh following the game.
The loss to the Buckeyes seemed to set the tone for WVU's season. West Virginia would finish the season with an 8-4 record and a loss to Missouri in the Insight.com Bowl.
For the Buckeyes, it was an important win against a ranked opponent to start a season that carried hopes for a National Championship run. Unfortunately, Ohio State finished the 1998 season with one loss, falling to Michigan State 28-24 at home late in the season despite taking a two-score first quarter lead, and the loss removed them from national championship consideration. Ohio State was named Big Ten co-champions alongside Wisconsin and That Team Up North, and because the Buckeyes had represented the conference in the Rose Bowl following the previous season, Ohio State took on Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl instead, winning 24-14.