The 1973 season
The Ohio State Buckeyes, under coach Woody Hayes, had been good – nationally good – for quite a while. But the 1973 season was special. The Buckeyes simply dominated their opponents. They started the season with victories over Minnesota (56-7), TCU (37-3), and Washington State (27-3). Then, there was the middle-of-the-season quartet of shutouts: 24-0 versus Wisconsin, 60-0 over Northwestern, 30-0 against the Illini, and 35-0 over Michigan State. The Buckeyes entered the season ranked No. 3 and moved to No. 1 after the TCU game.
They stayed there the rest of the season, until a fateful 10-10 tie in Ann Arbor against the No. 4-ranked TUN dropped the Bucks to No. 4. And something weird happened. OSU and UM both finished the regular season at 9-0-1 overall and 7-0-1 in Big Ten play. The head-to-head was a tie. It was up to the conference athletic directors to decide which team would best represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl against the PAC-8 representative, USC.
The balloting was close, but the final tally gave the nod to Ohio State, 6-4. It was conjectured at the time that Michigan quarterback Dennis Franklin’s fractured collarbone might have been a factor in the voting. Who knows? But the Buckeyes were off to Pasadena, on a trip that almost didn’t happen.
The Rose Bowl opponents
Rose Bowl matchups between the Trojans and Buckeyes were becoming very familiar. The teams (and coaches) knew each other. USC ran a more balanced rushing-passing attack, and the Buckeyes had the defensive edge; the games were battles. Southern Cal brought to the 1974 game their usual stockpile of talent. Pat Haden at QB, Anthony Davis at RB, Lynn Swan at WR. Remember them? The Trojans had cleared all of their conference hurdles, but tied Oklahoma 7-7 and lost to the Irish of Notre Dame 23-14. Having begun the 1973 season ranked first, they entered the Rose Bowl ranked No. 7.
But the Buckeyes’ talent wasn’t too shabby. On offense, running quarterback Cornelius Greene led the team, and Archie Griffin (in his first year), Bruce Elia, and Pete Johnson were top rushers. All-American guard, John Hicks, cleared their way. The stellar defense was headlined by linebackers Randy Gradishar and Rick Middleton and defensive backs Neal Colzie and Tim Fox. Including the 21 points yielded in the Rose Bowl, the OSU defense gave up only 64 points for the 11-game season: less than six per game. Meanwhile Greene and Griffin scored at a 37.5 points per game clip, with almost no passing game.
USC opened the scoring with a long field goal, but Pete Johnson’s one-yard dive put the Buckeyes ahead 7-3. And that’s how the first quarter ended. The first half finished with the teams knotted 14-14 after a second Trojan FG, a second Johnson one-yard run, and a tricky tailback pass play from Anthony Davis to J.K. McKay for a 10-yard TD, followed by a two-point conversion.
Davis scored a touchdown of his own for Southern Cal early in the second half to give the Trojans a 21-14 lead, but it didn’t last long. The remainder of the game was all Buckeyes, as they scored four unanswered touchdowns: a 4-yard plunge by Johnson, a 1-yard run by Greene, a 2-yarder by Elia, and a 47-yard scamper by Griffin. The only blemish was a blocked PAT after the Johnson score. But a two-point conversion on a Greene running play remedied that later. The 60th Rose Bowl ended with Ohio State winning, 42-21.
Why it’s important
Although a 21-point win over Southern Cal is a big deal, it wasn’t enough to get the votes to award the Buckeyes a national championship. The 1973 season was the last year that the UPI coach’s poll released its final rankings at the end of the regular season, before the bowl games. Alabama was, therefore, the top-ranked team in the final UPI poll. The Tide, however, lost 24-23 to Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl and finished the year 11-1. The Irish, at 11-0, won the title in the AP poll, with Ohio State (10-0-1) finishing at No. 2.
I’ll argue, though, that the 1973 Buckeye squad was the last of the great Woody Hayes teams. The 1974 team went 10-2 and the 1975 team 11-1, but they weren’t undefeated, and they didn’t dominate like the 1973 bunch. Granted, Archie Griffin didn’t win the Heisman as he did in 1974 and ’75. Archie finished fifth in the 1973 balloting; the award was won by Penn State’s great running back, John Cappelletti. Significantly, the Heisman runner-up was Ohio State offensive lineman John Hicks, who was the last lineman to finish second in the balloting.
This team was classic Woody Hayes. The defense was unmovable. The offense advanced the ball on the ground with a running quarterback, a bruising fullback, and the speedy and elusive Griffin. They didn’t pass much. Greene threw only 46 passes in 11 games. He completed 20 of them for 343 yards — about 25 yards less than what C.J. Stroud averages a game. But Greene ran the ball 126 times for 720 yards. The Bucks often capped a long drive with a short dive into the line for the TD. It seemed (to me and probably to the other team) that they had the ball the whole game.
Woody’s teams lost twice in 1976, then suffered three losses in ’77 and four in ’78 — Woody’s final season at the Buckeye helm. Earle Bruce took over in 1979, and things changed dramatically; not just the team’s record but also the team’s style. Art Schlichter was at QB that year and threw 200 passes, about three seasons’ worth for a Hayes team.
There are plenty of videos available of the OSU 1974 Rose Bowl win. If you’re at all nostalgic for good, old Woody Hayes football, take a look. It doesn’t get any better than this one.