Jack Park: The greatest Ohio State – Penn State game never played

Staff Writer
Buckeye Xtra
In 1968, Woody Hayes was in his 18th season at Ohio State and Joe Paterno was in his third year as head coach at Penn State (after 16 seasons as a PSU assistant coach).

Ohio State will travel to State College to battle Penn State Saturday evening, in what may be the most significant Big Ten Conference game this season. The Nittany Lions are in their 26th season in the Big Ten. Ohio State is 17-8 over their first 25 league meetings, going 11-2 at home and 6-6 on the road.

The Buckeyes did not enjoy the same success prior to 1993, winning only two of eight nonconference games against the Nittany Lions between 1912 and 1980. Penn State was 4-1 at Ohio Stadium against teams coached by Woody Hayes. OSU's only two victories were in Columbus in 1975 (17-9) and at State College the following season (12-7). 

Ohio State’s first triumph over Penn State was its 1975 home opener, following an enormous 21-0 triumph at highly respected Michigan State the previous Saturday. It was the initial meeting between coaches Woody Hayes and Joe Paterno. The Buckeyes were ranked third in the weekly AP poll, the Nittany Lions seventh.\

OSU opened the afternoon with an 80-yard drive to lead 7-0. The major play of the series was a surprise 49-yard reverse by wingback Brian Baschnagel. Fullback Pete Johnson scored the touchdown from the three, behind a key block by Archie Griffin. PSU retaliated with a 55-yard field goal by Chris Bahr to make the score 7-3. Ohio State’s Tom Klaban booted his first field goal of the season, from 45 yards out, to put OSU on top after one quarter, 10-3.

The Nittany Lions defense stiffened to hold the Bucks scoreless the next two quarters. Meanwhile, Bahr connected with a 31-yard second-quarter field goal, and a 25-yarder after halftime, tightening the score at 10-9 heading into the final period.

The Buckeye offense finally got back on track, with Johnson scoring his second touchdown on a powerful burst from the Nittany Lion 11. Klaban's conversion concluded the game's scoring at 17-9. The drive was kept alive when Archie Griffin made a breathtaking one-handed grab of Cornelius Greene’s pass, on a third and 11 from the OSU 32.

Griffin led all rushers with 128 yards; it was his 23rd consecutive regular-season game of rushing for more than 100 yards. Tom Skladany averaged 47.6 yards on five punts. Hayes was especially proud of his young defense, who had not given up a touchdown in its first two games. It was the first time Penn State had been held without a touchdown in its last 27 games.

This year Ohio State is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its undefeated-untied national championship season of 1968 (10-0). Penn State (11-0) placed second in the final 1968 Associated Press poll, after finishing the year with a thrilling come from behind 15-14 Orange Bowl victory over Kansas. Penn State felt its team should have been given more consideration for that season's mythical national title.

The 1968 OSU team included some of the greatest players in school history, including cornerback Jack Tatum, middle guard Jim Stillwagon, quarterback Rex Kern and offensive tackles Dave Foley and Rufus Mayes, both All-Americans that season. Likewise, the 1968 Nittany Lions were led by some of the biggest names in Penn State history: tackles Mike Reid and Steve Smear, linebacker Jack Ham, quarterback Chuck Burkhart, halfback Charlie Pittman and All-America tight end Ted Kwalick.

In 1968, Woody Hayes was in his 18th season at Ohio State and Joe Paterno was in his third year as head coach at Penn State (after 16 seasons as a PSU assistant coach). The Buckeyes and Lions did not face a common foe that season. Ohio State outscored its 10 opponents 323-150, while Penn State outscored its 11 opponents 354-120. It likely would have been an outstanding game had these two teams with perfect records faced each other at the end of the 1968 season.


Coach Jim Tressel’s teams were 7-3 against Penn State from 2001 through 2010. His first game in 2001 was a tough loss. Playing at Beaver Stadium, the Buckeyes were ahead 27-9 early in the third quarter but couldn’t hold the lead. The Nittany Lions scored the game’s last 20 points to win, 29-27.

This was career coaching victory #324 for Penn State head coach Joe Paterno, who that afternoon became (at the time) major college football’s all-time winningest coach.