This post is really long, so if you don’t want to know the details of a classic game in 1977 between two storied programs just read the first paragraph and the last 3 or 4. Thanks.
I was able to re-watch 1977 Oklahoma at Ohio State game recently and I was totally unaware that this was the first ever meeting of these two giant football programs. Their first ever meeting took place on September 24th, 1977.
These were also about the last days of the great Woody Hayes as coach of the Buckeyes. At the end of the following season, 1978, Hayes would punch a Clemson player and be fired, sadly ending 28 years of coaching at Ohio State.
Barry Switzer was in his hey day and in the middle of an incredible run. If you have never seen
Oklahoma run it’s Wishbone Offense back in it’s excellence in the 1970’s you have missed out.
Both of these football powerhouses were off to their usual excellent starts with Ohio State being 2-0 with a beating administered to the Minnesota Gophers the weekend before, 38-7.
The Oklahoma Sooners were also 2-0 and whipped Utah the previous week, 62-24.
These two programs were rolling along. Over the the last 4 seasons, Oklahoma sported a 43-3-2 record while Ohio State had a 42-5-2 record.
Oklahoma won the coin toss and elected to defer and take the wind at their backs which turned out to be a move of genius. Neither team threw the ball much, but in the kicking game the wind was huge and kept Ohio State in field position trouble the entire first quarter.
German born Oklahoma kicker Uve Von Schamann booted the ball out of the End Zone giving the Buckeyes the ball at their own 20.
Ohio State was averaging 336 yards rushing per game ranking them second in the country and the Oklahoma Sooners were running for 315 yards per game and ranked sixth.
Ohio State had extremely athletic Rod Gerald from Dallas, Texas at Quarterback. Ron Springs, the future Dallas Cowboy started at Fullback, but he also switched to Tailback. Ray Griffin, the brother of two time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin, was moved from safety for this game.
The Sooner defense was fast and furious and they stuffed the Ohio State running game on the first series forcing them into a punting situation.
In spite of a furious wind in his face and getting the ball off the side of his foot, the Ohio State punter Dave McKee booted the ball 33 yards to the Oklahoma 38 yard line. Good field position for the Sooners, but it could have been worse for the Buckeyes.
The Sooners with their ball control ground game slowly started eating up yardage with super quick Quarterback Thomas Lott running the Wishbone to near perfection.
A demonstration of Lott’s athletic ability occurred early in the game when the entire Oklahoma backfield ran option left and Lott went the wrong way. When he realized what he had done, he quickly recovered and ran the ball on to the outside away from the play and got enough yardage for a first down.
This was a good Oklahoma Wishbone team. They had Billy Sims, the Heisman Trophy winner in 1978, at one Halfback position. Sims was from tiny Hooks, Texas and one of the most highly recruited backs ever out of the state of Texas. At the other Halfback position they had Miami, Florida’s Elvis Peacock who was super fast and talented in his own right and a future first round draft pick.
At Fullback, the Sooners trotted out Kenny King, another Texan, who would start on two Super Bowl champion Raider teams. This team was fast and it was talented. Thomas Lott, the Quarterback, was not going to be an NFL Quarterback, but at 5-11, 205 and speed to burn he was perfect for the Sooner Wishbone.
The talent was not just in the backfield as they had a pretty solid Offensive Line led by future
Consensus All American and Lombardi Award winner Guard Greg Roberts and Karl Baldischwiler.
The Ohio State Buckeye’s defense may have seemed over matched at first, but they did counter with Linebacker Tom Cousineau and Defensive Backs Mike Guess and Todd Bell.
Thomas Lott ran option right and pitched to Elvis Peacock. Lott was actually past the line of scrimmage and the pitch was forward just a little but nobody seemed to notice and Peacock was off to the races before being pushed out of bounds at the Ohio State 33 yard line.
If you have never watched the Wishbone offense at work there are just a few basic plays. One of those plays calls for the Quarterback to pivot to either the left or the right and hand the ball off to the Fullback. Actually, that is part of the option offense at work. The Quarterback can choose to hand the ball to the Fullback crashing straight ahead or fake it and keep the ball and take it around end and he has the option to either run or pitch the ball to his trailing Halfback. There are other variations of this play where the Quarterback can drop back to pass while rolling out.
It’s an offense that has to have just the right Quarterback running it and he has to be very quick thinking and smooth. A mental mistake by the Quarterback will lead to at best a failed play, or at
worst a turnover.
When the Sooners had advanced to the Ohio State 33 yard line. Lott pivoted to his right and stuck the ball in front of Fullback Kenny King and attempted to bring the ball back in for a keeper and then he just dropped the ball.
Buckeyes Left End Paul Ross inadvertently kicked the ball right under his feet and the ball seemed to have eyes for only the Sooners as it bounced forward and Oklahoma Halfback Elvis Peacock just almost accidentally ran into the ball about 10 yards down field. It had bounced about knee high and he gathered it up on a dead run and easily scored. A stunned Ohio State Cornerback Leonard Mills gave chase, but Peacock was just too fast and he had a running start.
Oklahoma took a 7-0 lead.
After Oklahoma kicker Uwe Von Schamann easily booted the ball into the Ohio State End Zone with that wind at their back, Ohio State Quarterback Rod Gerald ran the option to his left and he was hammered by Sooner Linebacker Darryl Hunt. Gerald then fumbled the ball and Sooner Linebacker George Cumby pounced on it on the Ohio State 17 yard line. Gerald was hit so hard that he was down on the turf for a little bit. We all found out much later that Gerald had a serious cocaine habit and may have sniffed right before this game. He confessed later on that he had a problem even during football games.
Oklahoma Quarterback took the ball on the option right and gained 3 yards. Ohio State star Linebacker Tom Cousineau was shaken up and had to be helped off the field. First it was their Quarterback, and now their top player on defense that had to leave the field due to injury.
On the very next play, Oklahoma super Running Back Billy Sims took it 14 yards on a counter play for a Touchdown. Sims really looked like Superman on that play.
The Sooners took a 14-0 lead with plenty of time left in the first quarter with the wind still behind Oklahoma.
Ohio State failed to move the ball again and a bad punt got the Sooners back in scoring position really quickly. The Sooners’ drive stalled and they had to settle for an Uwe Von Schamann Field Goal. Bad news for the Sooners is that Billy Sims got hammered by a Buckeye and injured his ankle a little bit.
The Sooners were so deep and talented especially at Running Back and Billy Sims was replaced by another Texas school boy legend in David Overstreet. While, Overstreet was good, he was certainly no Billy Sims.
The score was now 17 to 0 in the favor of the visiting Oklahoma Sooners.
With time remaining in the first quarter, the Sooners were threatening to blow out the Buckeyes at their own stadium and in front of some stunned Ohio State fans.
The Buckeyes were unable to move the ball once more and the crowd was growing restless. The Buckeyes had to punt again and the Sooners muffed the punt with the Buckeyes getting the recovery. The momentum had suddenly turned and the crowd came to life. But, the Buckeyes had not given the Sooner return man enough room to field the punt.
Buckeyes were flagged and the Sooners got the ball back on the Ohio State 45 yard line with a 17 point lead and still 1:29 left in a very painful first quarter for the Buckeyes.
Billy Sims ankle was injured, but he was still a major super star and he took the ball on a very impressive carry for a big gain and the Sooners were already on the Buckeye 30 yard line.
A couple of plays later, the 1st quarter mercifully came to a close for the home team Buckeyes. Oklahoma had a 17 point lead with the ball in Ohio State territory. The Sooners had 8 first downs in the first quarter and Ohio State had a grand total of zero.
As Oklahoma Sooner Quarterback Thomas Lott ran the option and moved the ball all the way down to the Ohio State 12 yard line, But, in something of a break for the Buckeyes, Lott was injured on the play.
Back up Sooner Quarterback Jay Jimmerson came in and took over and the drive stalled forcing the Sooners to kick the Field Goal against the wind.
Reliable kicker Uwe Von Schamman easily booted it through for a 20 to 0 Oklahoma lead.
Oklahoma had 152 total yards in the first quarter and Ohio State had a grand total of 19 yards.
But, now, Oklahoma had to kick into the wind and Ohio State had a chance at better field position at
the very least.
Buckeye Kick Returner Ron Springs fielded the Kick Off at the 6 yard line, but was unable to make it past their own 19 yard line. No advantage in field position as of yet.
Buckeye Quarterback Rod Gerald dropped back and attempted a pass but missed a wide open James Harrell. Nobody ever accused Woody Hayes or Barry Switzer of ever liking the forward pass.
But, strangely, Gerald dropped back to pass for the second straight play and he was almost sacked by a fierce Oklahoma pass rush. Gerald was an outstanding runner, and he escaped and ran out to the Ohio State 29 yard line which was past the first down marker and their very first of the entire game.
There was a personal foul penalty called on the Sooners and suddenly the Buckeyes had another first down and the ball out at their own 45 yard line in their best field position of the day.
A few more runs and the Buckeyes are in Oklahoma territory for the very first time. A crowd that had been stunned and sitting in silence suddenly came to life.
While Gerald could never be called a great passer, he was an excellent runner and very proficient in running the option. He got hammered by the Oklahoma contain man and pitched last second to Running Back Ron Springs who took it 31 yards for a score.
20 to 7, with the Sooners still maintaining a fairly comfortable lead considering how easily they had moved the ball in the first quarter.
But, the momentum had turned.
Ohio State booted the ball out of the End Zone just as Oklahoma had done with the stiff wind at their backs.
Amazingly, in an almost instant replay only reversed, Oklahoma Quarterback Thomas Lott was back in the game and he ran the option. Ohio State Linebacker David Adkins lowered the boom on Lott and he coughed up the football. The Sooners had fumbling problems coming into this game and their woes continued. Adkins caused the ball to come out and then he also recovered the fumble setting up the Buckeyes at the Oklahoma 18 yard line.
The Buckeyes had been unable to do anything with the wind in their faces were suddenly an offensive juggernaut and Gerald ran option right and scored making it 20 to 14 and a brand new ball game.
The Sooners couldn’t move the ball and they were forced to punt. Ohio State was in control at this point, but they failed to capitalize on their advantage.
Oklahoma fumbled the ball with the Buckeyes recovering in great field position only to see Ohio State be stopped on 4th down. The Buckeyes blew another opportunity to take the lead.
The first half ended with the Sooners still leading 20-14.
Oklahoma Quarterback Thomas Lott was injured in the first half, but he was back under Center in the second half. This time, Ohio State had the wind at their back.
The Sooners and Lott could not move the ball on their first possession and the Buckeyes got the ball on the Sooners 48 yard line with excellent field position.
Ohio State Quarterback Rod Gerald was not much of a passing threat, but he tried to hook up with Tight End William Jaco. The pass was incomplete, but Pass Interference was called against outstanding Oklahoma Cornerback Darrol Ray.
The Buckeyes now had the ball at the Sooners 16 yard line with a 1st and 10. A few plays later,
freshman Fullback Joel Payton scored and after the extra point, Ohio State took their first lead of the game. The Buckeyes now led 21-20.
Adding to the current misery of the Oklahoma Sooners was the rain coming down harder.
The Sooner Quarterback, Thomas Lott, was hurting and they replaced him with Dean Blevins who was a better passer.
In spite of Blevins being the best passing Quarterback on the Sooners team, they just weren’t built for throwing the ball. After Blevins had been crushed by Buckeye Defensive End Paul Ross on one play, he dropped back to pass and he threw an Interception to Ohio State’s Kelton Dansler.
The Sooners were in trouble now and the Buckeyes had the ball in great field position to score again.
The Buckeyes were also on their second Quarterback with back up Greg Castignola in replacing Rod Gerald. Like Blevins at Oklahoma, Castignola was the better passer on his team.
Even though he was the better passer, Castignola’s pass should have been picked off by Oklahoma Strong Safety Bud Hebert. But, instead it was caught by Ohio State Tight End Jimmy Moore for a Touchdown.
After being down by 20 points, the home town Buckeyes had scored 28 straight points to take a 28-20 lead.
The 3rd quarter ended with Oklahoma reeling.
But, all of the points had been scored with the wind at the back of the scoring team.
That’s a pretty strange stat considering both of these schools had always been famous for running the ball.
With 9:45 left in the game, Woody Hayes and the Buckeyes were passionate about running down the game clock and escaping with a win. With the wind in their faces, the Buckeyes marched down the field led by a big gainer by Ray Griffin to the Oklahoma 48 yard line. Archie’s little brother moved from his Defensive Back because of injuries and he was doing well now.
With Rod Gerald on the sideline, back up Quarterback Castignola was leading the team down the
field until he fumbled the ball which gave Oklahoma new hope.
Dean Blevins ran the option offense to perfection taking the Sooners slowly and methodically down the field. Blevins pitched to Elvis Peacock for a score making it 28 -26 still in favor of the Buckeyes.
Of course, Barry Switzer elected to go for 2 to tie the game, but they ran the exact same play as the score and it failed.
With little time left, the Sooners were down 28-26 and they had little choice but to go for the Onside Kick which they did and they recovered at the 50 yard line.
Oklahoma had a chance at winning the game outright and Ohio State was desperate to stop them.
Several runs later, Oklahoma had the ball inside the Buckeye 25 yard line with 6 seconds left. Uwe
Von Schamann was called on to make a 41 yard Field Goal.
Woody Hayes called a time out to ace Von Schamann and the Buckeye fans went into a chant “block that kick” “block that kick” and almost as if from out of a football movie, Von Schamann acted like the Maestro in front of his orchestra leading them with his hands. Ohio State tried to ice Von Schamann, but he was already as cool as could be. When he got his chance, he drilled the football right through the uprights.
Oklahoma won 29-28 in an instant classic.
Paul Ross for Ohio State was named the Defensive Player of the Game and Von Schamann was the Offensive Player of the Game.
This game was a classic, but the ending was even more interesting if you ever followed the career of Woody Hayes. As the game ended, Woody well known for his hatred of losing, his foul temper and his punches, pulled off another one and nobody seemed to notice.
As Woody was walking off the field, obviously very angry, some ignorant Oklahoma fan ran up to him wanting to shake hands. Woody promptly and easily punched the fan knocking him to the ground. Of all the punches thrown by Woody Hayes, I have never heard anyone mention this one.