Jack looks back | Bizarre loss at Michigan State stunned top-ranked Buckeyes

Jack Park For The Columbus Dispatch
Officials ruled that Ohio State fullback Champ Henson (38) failed to break the plane of the goal line on this plunge over right tackle in the final seconds of Saturday's game at Michigan State on Nov. 9. 1974. Time ran out before another play, giving Michigan State a 16-13 upset victory. [File photo]

Ohio State returns home Saturday evening for homecoming against always dangerous Michigan State. The Buckeyes lead the all-time series with a record of 32-15 (68.1%).

OSU has a noticeably better winning rate at East Lansing (17-5, 77.3%) than in Columbus (15-9, 62.5%). Ohio State also lost to the Spartans in the 2013 Big Ten championship game at Indianapolis 34-24. It was Urban Meyer’s first loss as coach after winning his first 24 games over two seasons.

Get the news delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our BuckeyeXtra newsletter

The Buckeyes have been successful during their 97 previous homecoming contests at Ohio Stadium with a record of 73-19-5 (1922 through 2018). Ohio State has a 5-0 homecoming record against Michigan State. The Buckeyes have not lost at homecoming since a 13-6 setback to Penn State in 2008.

The 1974 Big Ten co-champion Buckeyes celebrated their 45th anniversary four weeks ago, during the weekend of the Ohio State-Cincinnati game. The team finished its season at 10-2, suffering a controversial 16-13 loss at Michigan State and losing the Rose Bowl to Southern California 18-17.

The Michigan State setback, played Nov. 9 at Spartan Stadium, produced one of the strangest endings in college football history. At 8-0, top-ranked Ohio State was solidly favored over the unranked Spartans, who were 4-3-1. The game was a sellout at 78,533.

The score was surprisingly tied 3-3 at halftime. Even though the Buckeyes struggled offensively most of the afternoon, their 13-3 lead with 9:03 remaining in the final quarter appeared to be safe. The Spartans then struck for two quick scores to go ahead 16-13. Their second touchdown came on a first-down 88-yard sideline sprint by fullback Levi Jackson, at the time the second longest run ever by an Ohio State opponent.

Ohio State responded by rapidly marching to the MSU 5-yard line. Fullback Champ Henson plunged to within inches of the end zone. There were 29 seconds remaining, and the Buckeyes had used all of their timeouts.

The Spartan defenders were extremely slow to get up following Henson’s plunge, and Ohio State had difficulty executing an additional play. When the ball was finally snapped it squirted between the legs of quarterback Corny Greene and was picked up and carried into the end zone by wingback Brian Baschnagel. Head linesman Ed Scheck signaled touchdown, but back judge William Kingzett indicated time had expired before this final play.

It was nearly impossible to comprehend what had just happened and who won the game. Approximately 40,000 fans were still in the stadium 46 minutes later, when Big Ten Commissioner Wayne Duke announced that Michigan State had won 16-13. Referee Gene Calhoun informed Duke that time had run out before OSU’s last play. Calhoun also stated the Buckeyes would have been penalized on this play, because they had not come to the required one-second set before the ball was snapped.

Coach Woody Hayes claimed the Michigan State linemen held some of the OSU players on the ground after Henson’s plunge. Hayes maintained this deliberate action prevented the Buckeyes from properly executing its final play before time expired. It was a somber return trip to Columbus for the previously top-ranked Ohio State team.

Michigan State won its final two games over Iowa and Indiana to finish the season at 7-3-1, good for 12th place in the final AP poll. Ohio State finished fourth behind national champion Oklahoma (11-0), second place Southern California (10-1-1) and third place Michigan (10-1).