OHIO STATE’S GREATEST DRIVE #1

We’ve reached the end of the road, so to speak, of our recollection of some of Ohio State’s finest hours. And honestly, folks, there was little doubt in my mind how our journey would conclude. In fact, I probably spent more time trying to piece together the bottom portion of our list than the top 5 or so.

Each of the games we’ve covered so far has had singular moments that still shine brightly in the minds’ eye (Gonzo’s catch in ’05 in Ann Arbor (photo right), Ray Griffin’s pick on the same field thirty years earlier, Will Allen’s theft against UM in ’02, and the ’03 Fiesta Bowl with a decade’s worth of big plays in one night), but taking the totality of a final march into account, there’s only one drive that deserves to be at the top.

The main cogs of one of the school’s most prolific offenses ever were gone, but 8 starters, made up of 7 experienced seniors and a junior corner that was the nations’ best, were back on the defensive side in 1996. With the three new additions: tackle Winfield Garnett, safety Damon Moore and freshman phenom linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer, forming the spine, the stop troops became every bit as dominant as their ’95 offensive counterparts had been. And with BIll Young and his aggravating “bend but don’t break” defensive scheme off to Oklahoma, Fred Pagac stepped into the defensive coordinator role, put corners Shawn Springs and Ty Howard on an island with opposing receivers, and brought the dogs. In stark contrast to the passive approach on display in Glendale last January, the ’96 “D” came at you from all angles. The preseason hope was that the abundance of experience and playmaking ability among Pagac’s troops would hold the fort until the offense could gel. Hopefully no one wasted any good Maalox worrying about the offense as they ran up 142 points while blasting Rice and Pitt in their first two games.

Still there were skeptics, waiting to see what would happen when the Bucks went up against a worthy foe. After punking Notre Dame in South Bend 29-16 and flattening JoePa 38-7 in Columbus, there wasn’t much doubt that the Buckeyes were for real. They showed plenty of grit the next week, coming from behind on a late catch-and-run for a score by Dimitrious Stanley to edge Wisconsin 17-14 in a tough, physical contest. In West Lafayette the next Saturday, Pagac unexpectedly started the game playing zone. When Purdue completed 86- and 55-yard touchdown passes in the first five minutes to grab a 14-0 lead, “Pug” unleashed the Silver Bullets, the Silver Bullets, holding the Boilers scoreless the rest of the way while the Bucks rang up 42 unanswered points.

After jumping out to a 38-6 lead on Iowa, then holding off a furious Hawkeye rally to win 38-26, OSU blanked Minnesota 45-0 and Illinois 48-0, putting themselves in the rare position of being able, with a win at Indiana, to clinch a trip to Pasadena prior to the Michigan game. There must have been minds wandering to sun, sandy beaches and Disneyland as the Hoosiers held a 10-7 lead after three quarters.

OSU forged a 10-10 tie, then got one of the plays of the year from Andy Katzenmoyer. The freshman middle ‘backer, who had taken heat at the beginning of the season for asking to wear his old high school jersey number 45 (Archie Griffin granted had lived up to the hype, and with Indiana on the move late in the fourth quarter, Katzenmoyer(right) stripped the ball away from IU QB Jay Rodgers. Defensive end Matt Finkes scooped up the loose football and trucked 45 yards for the go-ahead score, greeting a mass of Buckeye fans in the endzone who had knocked down the fence in front of the bleachers. Damon Moore then forced another fumble that resulted in a field goal, and then took an interception to the house to clinch it. The 27-17 win punched the Buckeyes’ ticket to the Rose Bowl, and they could now turn their attention to TBGUN.

On the national scene, OSH had held down the runner-up spot in the polls since the Penn State win, sandwiched between top-ranked FLorida and #3 Florida State. With those two set to butt heads one week after “THE Game”, it was clear the Scarlet and Gray had a shot at that elusive national championship.

But yet again, it all went terribly wrong. The previous year it had been Terry Glenn who had fired up the Wolverines with his “Michigan is nobody” comment. Now the embers would be stoked by former coach Earle Bruce, albeit unwittingly. WSYX, the Columbus ABC-TV affiliate, had aired the Senior Tackle ceremony live, giving the viewing audience a rare glimpse into a storied Buckeye tradition. Among those watching were the Maize and Blue in their hotel, and Bruce’s impassioned speech to the team and 20,000 fans on hand served to fuel UM.

After starting Stanley Jackson at quarterback the entire season, then rotating in Joe Germaine, coach John Cooper decided to start Germaine against Michigan. While there was no doubt Joe was the more accurate passer, as well as a cooler customer under pressure, “THE Game” wasn’t the time to tinker with something that had worked all year. And the offense, which had rolled up 93 points in the first two weeks of November, had struggled at Indiana and continued to sputter against the Wolves.

had been caught on a breakaway run at the Michigan 2, and three plays later OSU still couldn’t punch it in, so they settled for a field goal. Stan Jackson missed Michael Wiley on a sure TD pass late in the second, leading to another field goal, and just before the half kicker Josh Jackson rang up a third 3-pointer after Germaine misfired for Pearson in the endzone. When Shawn Springs fell down, allowing Tai Streets to take a Brian Griese slant 69 yards to paydirt early in the third quarter, the Bucks still led by 2, but for all intents and purposes it was over. The Wolves tacked on two field goals of their own and ruined the perfect season with a 13-9 upset. Offensive coordinator Joe Hollis’ running game was the stuff of sheer genius- OSU ran the ball 39 times against Michigan. 6 plays went to the right, while all of 6 more went to the left behind Orlando Pace, only arguably the greatest offensive lineman in school history. Hollis stubbornly hammered up the middle 27 times, right at two of UM’s best defenders, nose guard William Carr and linebacker Jarrett Irons. When it was announced that Hollis would be taking the Arkansas State head coaching job after the Rose Bowl, the majority of Columbus was only too willing to help him pack his bags.

A 10-yard Jackson strike to Dee Miller accounted for OSU’s initial first down, then Jackson and Pepe Pearson worked the ground game out to their 47. A 7-yard toss to Miller moved the ball into Sun Devil territory, then following a Buckeye timeout; Jackson faked a reverse to Dimitrious Stanley. With both safeties cheating up, David Boston got loose on a post route, but pressure forced Jackson to tuck it and go, which he did for 19 yards to the ASU 26. Mike Jacobs, who had assumed offensive coordinator duties when Hollis accepted the Arkansas State job after the Michigan game, kept up the hot hand, calling for a play-action pass. The Sun Devils bit hard on the play fake to Pearson, and Jackson dialed up fullback Matt Keller, who had circled out of the backfield, for 22 yards to the Arizona State 4. Jackson picked up a fumbled snap and circled the right side for an apparent score, but a procedure call wiped it out. Stan’s next two throws were incomplete, bringing up third-and-goal from the 9.

Dropping back, Jackson looked left but had no one open. Scrambling to the right, he fired for David Boston right at the pylon. The freshman wideout made the catch, but the official right on top of the play asked for help in determining whether Boston had gotten one foot down in the endzone. After several maddening seconds, his arms shot skyward and the Bucks had drawn first blood at 7-0.

It was the Buckeye defense that was sniffing blood on the next series, as Katzenmoyer and Matt Finkes got to Plummer for back-to-back sacks. OSU had great field position at the ASU 44 following the ensuing punt, but again the Sun Devil defense brought their own heat and stifled the drive with Mitchell Freedman’s 10-yard sack of Jackson. Brent Bartholomew punted into the endzone and the first quarter ended with OSU up by 7.

Plummer tried to go long on first down to his favorite receiver Keith Poole, but Shawn Springs broke up the play. Springs had earned second-team All-American honors despite having no interceptions in 1996. Of course, most quarterbacks had been smart enough not to throw his way. Facing third-and-10, Plummer completed a swing pass to tailback Terry Battle, who juked Katzenmoyer and picked up 11. J.R. Redmond and Plummer gained another first down running, then on a five-yard completion to Ricky Boyer, both teams were hit with personal foul penalties, but somehow the Sun Devils got a first down out of it from the Big East officiating crew. Plummer converted 2 more first downs with short tosses to his tight ends Steve Bush and Devin Kendall, helping move the ball to the Buckeye 25. Plummer then fake-pumped and aired it out deep towards Boyer, who had beaten nickelback Antoine Winfield. Boyer stretched out to make a tremendous grab for the touchdown, and with 10:04 to go in the first half the game was knotted at 7. ABC went into its usual round of replays of the score, and it was only then that it became rather obvious that Boyer had dropped the football. The Buckeye fans hooted long and loud as the play was shown on the Rose Bowl’s video board, but the catch stood.

On OSU’s next series, Stan Jackson rolled right to avoid pressure and had Buster Tillman open deep. The pass was underthrown, but Tillman appeared to have come back and gotten his hands under the ball. The catch was waved off, prompting Brent Musburger to wonder aloud, “Under the rules that we’ve established (here) in the Rose Bowl, that was clearly a catch!” The Bucks ended up punting the ball away after Jackson missed an open Dee Stanley, and after the TV timeout Joe Germaine was shown getting loose on the sidelines. After ASU’s ensuing drive was halted thanks to a 14-yard sack of Plummer by Rob Kelly, Germaine took control of the Ohio State offense.

The Bucks initially played it close to the vest with the Mesa, Arizona native at the helm. Freshman Michael Wiley, who had debuted with a bang against Rice with three touchdowns as a receiver, had gotten totes from the tailback position during the back half of the season after Joe Montgomery was lost for the year with a knee injury at Iowa. Wiley’s first carry of the Rose Bowl was good for 11 yards, and he came back with consecutive runs of 3 yards to bring up a third-and-four. Germaine’s throw to David Boston only netted 2, and the Buckeyes had to turn the ball over. Jake Plummer was able to engineer one first down, but the OSU defense put the clamps on, and with the ball at their own 20 after ASU’s punt, John Cooper chose to run out the clock and the teams headed off at the break still tied at 7. There was no question the Buckeye defense had done the job in the first half. They had made good on Pagac’s promise to come after the shifty Plummer, and the Sun Devils, who had averaged 248 yards rushing during the regular season, had mustered only 17. The “D” would need to maintain- Arizona State had outscored its opponents 230-72 in the second half in 1996.

Things didn’t get off to a smooth start in the third quarter for Ohio State, as they not only quickly went three-and-out, but also had to burn a vital timeout less than two minutes in. The Sun Devils got great field position
at their own 45 following Brent Bartholomew’s punt. Since Shawn Springs had completely shutdown wideout Keith Poole, ASU got him the ball on a reverse instead for 12 to the Buckeye 38. Facing third-and-8 from the 36, Plummer hit a tight end screen to Steve Bush for a huge 23-yard pickup to the OSU 13. But in one of the overlooked turning points of the game, right tackle Grey Ruegamer came flying into the pileup at the end of the play and decked Mike Vrabel after the whistle. The resulting dead-ball personal foul moved the ball back to the Ohio State 28, and moments later on 3rd-and-1 from the 19, Damon Moore made a one-handed stop on Terry Battle right at the line of scrimmage with help from Shawn Springs. Robert Nycz was sent in for the field goal attempt, and his 36-yard effort was good, putting Arizona State out in front 10-7.

followed Pearson into the line. By the time the cameraman recovered, Joe had found Stanley at the ASU 46, and Dee was gone. Jason Simmons had decent coverage of Stanley off the line, but the senior flanker got great separation on his post cut and Germaine was right on target. The 72-yard score was Ohio State’s longest pass play of the season, and would stand as the school’s longest bowl game scoring throw until Troy Smith’s 85-yard bomb to Santonio Holmes against Notre Dame in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl(right). With 8:23 to go in the third, both offenses had suddenly come to life and the Buckeyes had a 14-10 lead. In a somewhat ironic moment, Dee Stanley’s scoring bolt had ended with him slipping down in the endzone right in front of Deborah Countiss, who at the time was news anchor on Columbus’ ABC-TV affiliate, WSYX. Some ten years later, it would be Stanley (and his eye-popping threads) who would co-anchor WSYX’s pre- and post-game coverage of Buckeye football.

Just as quickly as both teams had moved the football, the defenses immediately stepped it up a notch. Arizona State found themselves in a 2nd-and-18 hole at their own 30 on their next possession, and here came Antoine Winfield after Plummer. He was able to hem the quarterback in so Andy Katzenmoyer could drop him for a five-yard loss. After ASU punted the ball away, Joe Germaine was sacked by Pat Tillman and then again by Brent Burnstein. OSU had to punt from their own 20, and Bartholomew could only manage a 28-yard effort, giving the Sun Devils another short field to work with.

The Buckeyes were hit with an illegal substitution penalty on the first play, then after Springs broke up another pass towards Keith Poole, the OSU bench was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct flag. Apparently the officials found fault with the way the defense was lingering by the sideline during a change of possession, waiting to see what kind of personnel lineup ASU was going with. The beefing about the illegal substitution call during the next play drew the next flag, and all of a sudden Plummer and Co. were set up at the Ohio State 28. Three plays later, however, Plummer tried again to go to Poole on a quick slant. Springs arrived at the same time and deflected the ball to Andy Katzenmoyer. The “Big Kat” actually rumbled 50 yards back to the ASU 29, but a block below the waist brought the ball all the way back to the Buckeye 25.

During Arizona State’s series of plays, Dick Vermeil had commented on ABC’s broadcast about the strength of fullback Jeff Paulk. “Look at those arms” he had marveled while revealing Paulk could bench press 475 pounds, which, according to Vermeil, was about 10 more pounds than partner Brent Musburger could handle. Brent’s classic reply? “I couldn’t lift one of his arms”.

Arizona State kept up the defensive pressure as OSU took over. Jason Simmons made a nice play to break up a deep pass to Buster Tillman, then after a screen to Matt Keller lost 5 yards, Joe Germaine tried to spin away
from linebacker Derek Smith and was drilled right under the chin by safety Mitchell Freedman for a loss of 15. The Bucks punted away as the game moved to the final period with OSU up 14-10.

The teams battled on into the fourth quarter, and following a 59-yard punt by Lance Anderson, the Sun Devils had the Bucks backed up to their own 3-yard line. Pepe Pearson popped up the middle, shook Pat Tillman at the 5, and behind a great block from center Juan Porter, sped 62 yards down to the ASU 35. The Buckeye fans among the throng of 100,635 sensed that the knockout blow was coming, but the Sun Devil “D” stiffened and Josh Jackson came in to try a 38-yard field goal. Brent Burnstein got a paw up to block another of Jackson’s legendary weak kicks, and Derek Smith picked it up and took off. At his own 47, he made an illegal forward lateral to Derrick Rodgers, who scooted into the endzone complete with a somersault, but it came back to the ASU 42.

Plummer converted a 3rd-and-5 by finally completing a pass to Keith Poole for 10 to the OSU 43. Another 3rd-and-5 arose moments later, and Plummer could only scramble for one. Sun Devil coach Bruce Snyder called time and with three minutes left, ASU was down to their last shot.

Receiver Lenzie Jackson went wide to the left and drew single coverage from Ty Howard. The Bucks brought the house and Plummer had to unload.

Jackson got a step on Howard and made the catch at the Ohio State 8-yard line. The Sun Devils had new life, but the Buckeye defense wasn’t going down without a fight. Fullback Jeff Paulk bulled for one, and on second
down Plummer looked for the slant but nothing was there. Greg Bellisari blew right past tackle Juan Roque and dragged Plummer down for a loss of 4. The Sun Devils called their second timeout with 1:47 to go, and absolutely everyone knew what was coming- about 9 white-jerseyed Buckeyes on an all-out blitz. Plummer slipped to the right to avoid Katzenmoyer, then juked Matt Finkes and Winfield Garnett. With both corners in the endzone on coverage, Plummer had an open lane and dove in for the score. Brent Musburger described the play this way-

“Plummer in trouble…steps away…cuts free…breaks loose…(at the) five, touchdown, Sun Devils! ‘The Snake’ does it again! This team won’t die! You can cut a snake’s head off, but he continues to live!”

Buckeye Nation was in disbelief. Arizona State, who was on no one’s radar until the upset of Nebraska way back in September, was 1:40 from riding the shoulders of their gutty senior quarterback into an undefeated season and a possible national title. The Buckeyes were that close to an unbelievable repeat of ’95- rolling through their schedule unscathed only to blow it against TBGUN and their bowl opponent. They would need the ultimate two-minute drill facing a 17-14 deficit with only one timeout left.

Robert Nycz, not wishing to kick it deep to Shawn Springs, pooched one to fullback Matt Keller at the Buckeye 22. Keller made a nice return to the 35, and Joe Germaine, chin gash and all, came on with 1:33 to play. His first two throws went to tight end D.J. Jones, who got open twice down the seam. The first was dropped and Jones could only get one hand on the second before it fell to the ground. I remember vividly wondering why in the world, when the game was on the line, you would all of a sudden try to throw to a guy that you had completely ignored most of the season.

Buckeye fans to exhale temporarily. But Germaine’s next two passes fell incomplete, and once more it was 3rd-and-10. “Joe Cool” deftly avoided pressure and dialed up Stanley again for 13 yards to the Arizona State 41. Sticking with a good thing, the two combined for an 11-yard reception on an out route and a fresh set of downs at the Sun Devil 30.

Germaine pulled out early from under center on first down, costing the Bucks 5 yards. The clock had ticked down to 43 seconds, but with the flag the officials asked for the clock to be reset to 46 seconds. The tension in the Rose Bowl was momentarily cut as the scoreboard operator mistakenly put 46 minutes on the scoreboard, bringing cheers from the Buckeye fans and derisive howls from the Sun Devil backers. From the 35, Germaine went deep for Stanley, but Jason Simmons was called for interference and the ball moved to the 20. If anything, Ohio State was in range for a potential game-tying field goal and maybe overtime, but no one wearing Scarlet and Gray wanted to see this one coming down to a field goal attempt.

With a first down at the 20, Germaine fake-pumped left and rolled to his right. With absolutely nothing in front of him, Joe fired incomplete towards Matt Keller on the sideline. ABC’s replay from the opposite endzone camera showed nothing but green grass in front of Germaine, and even Jake Plummer had a puzzled look on his face along the Sun Devil sideline. Germaine tried to go back to Stanley on second down, but he was absolutely mugged by Courtney Jackson with no flag thrown. Dick Vermeil was beside himself in the TV booth-

“Those guys down there, the officials, ought to donate their check to charity on that call. My gosh, that’s too obvious!”

While Pepe Pearson and Michael Wiley had put up solid games, the weak link of this Arizona State squad- their defensive backfield- was on full display despite the missed interference call, and it made you wonder why Jackson and Germaine hadn’t been allowed to just air it out all day. With the football still at the 20 on 2nd-and-10, Germaine went for David Boston on a post route. Marcus Soward was all over him and the yellow laundry flew from every direction. The clock was down to 24 seconds and the Buckeyes were five yards from paydirt.

In came the play- Two Left Twins 240 X Smash. Dee Stanley would be the primary target on the slant, while David Boston would run a “smash” route- basically running into his defender then breaking away. Germaine took the snap and looked right at Stanley, while Boston broke towards Courtney Jackson. As Boston released and spun outside, Jackson actually dropped back towards Stanley as he watched Germaine’s eyes. All Joe had to do was play pitch-and-catch with his freshman split end, and Boston stepped into the endzone for one of the most dramatic scores in school history. Ohio State was now up 20-17 with 19 seconds to go, and it stayed that way as Josh Jackson’s PAT was blocked. Arizona State could only hope for a miracle to get into field goal range, but with no timeouts left, Jake Plummer’s completion to Lenzie Jackson in the middle of the field at the OSU 35 allowed the clock to run out.

Ohio State finished 1996 at 11-1 and would be #2 in the final polls. The next evening, Florida exacted revenge on Florida State with a 52-20 pasting in the Sugar Bowl, vaulting Steve Spurrier’s troops from #3 into their first-ever national championship.

Joe Germaine, the kid from Mesa whose hometown school, Arizona State, had wanted him to play defensive back, was named the game MVP and etched himself into Buckeye lore with the fabled final march. John Cooper became the first head coach to win the Rose Bowl with both a PAC-10 team (Arizona State) and a Big-10 team, and during the trophy presentation on the field he made sure to single out nose tackle Luke Fickell, who hadn’t let a torn left pectoral muscle keep him from starting in his record 50th-straight game. Luke’s senior class of 1996 would leave school with 41 wins, a record that would be broken two years later as the ’98 seniors tallied 43.

At the beginning of the season, John Cooper had publicly stated that the Buckeyes had one goal, and one goal only- to win the Rose Bowl. And while the loss to Michigan had stained the chance at a national title and forced the team to share the Big Ten title with Northwestern, it had been “mission accomplished” as Buckeye fans celebrated a win in Pasadena for the first time since the 42-21 thumping of USC after the 1973 season.

And to the victors went the spoils- John Cooper and some of the players turned up on “The Tonight Show” the next evening, with the players bringing their coach, Jay Leno, and other guests Jeff Foxworthy and Paula Abdul out on their shoulders. Coop had been surprised with a Gatorade shower backstage, since, as Leno pointed out, there hadn’t been time for the players to do that with the excitement in the final moments.

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