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Ohio State's 1970 season was laser-focused on Michigan, perhaps too much so

Ray Stein
Buckeye Xtra

Editor’s note: Ohio State has never played a game on Dec. 19, so this week we will look back at an anniversary season in OSU history. Today: Gold, 1970. 

Setup

The seeds of the 1970 Ohio State football season were planted well before the Sept. 26 opener against Texas A&M. Ten months days before, Michigan and first-year coach Bo Schembechler had stunned No. 1 OSU by a 24-12 score, denying the Buckeyes a second straight Big Ten and national championship. As the story goes, coach Woody Hayes disembarked the team plane upon returning to Columbus, went straight to the football facility and began preparations for a rematch against the Wolverines. Oh, how the Old Man loved cultivating young football players to beat Michigan. He worked the soil, watered them every day, coaxed the best from them, never losing focus. 

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Ohio State coach Woody Hayes is carried off the field by his players after a 20-9 win over Michigan to end the 1970 regular season. It was a game Hayes and the Buckeyes desperately wanted to win after the Wolverines upset No. 1 OSU a year earlier.

High point

There really was just the one, largely because Hayes had built the entire season around getting revenge against Michigan — down to the floor, literally. (He had a rug made with the teams' names, the 1969 score, and blank spaces for the ’70 result.) The Buckeyes got their Wolverines pelt, all right, winning 20-9 in an emotional game in Ohio Stadium behind senior quarterback Rex Kern and a stifling defense. 

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Low point

Again, there really was just the one. The win against Michigan capped an unbeaten regular season and sent Ohio State to the Rose Bowl. Once there, however, the Buckeyes switched from gardening to animal husbandry — they laid the first of what would be a handful of eggs in Pasadena. Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jim Plunkett and Stanford pulled a shocking upset, winning 27-17 on a day when Ohio State simply didn’t have the goods.

Ohio State quarterback Rex Kern (10) fumbles as he is hit by Stanford's Dave Tipton in the 1971 Rose Bowl, the Buckeyes' only loss in the 1970 season.

Stars

So, so many. Kern was the leader, though his passing numbers were way down from the previous two seasons. In all, six Buckeyes were named All-Americans, including middle guard Jim Stillwagon, who won the Outland Trophy and the Lombardi Award; record-setting fullback John Brockington; defensive backs Jack Tatum, Tim Anderson and Mike Sensibaugh; and tight end Jan White.

Aftermath 

Ohio State went unbeaten in the regular season, though without the fresh, unbridled joy of the 1968 Super Sophs or the utter dominance of the 1969 team that crushed opponents’ souls with their talent and precision — until Ann Arbor. The ’70 Buckeyes had immense talent but little swagger; they outscored 10 opponents by an average of 29-12, a shadow of their 42-10 margin the year before. Yet Ohio State took the field at the Rose Bowl knowing that a win would mean a national title. It just didn’t get it done.

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Quotable

“I’ve got to feel this is our greatest victory. This makes up for what happened last year. This justifies in the minds of our seniors that they are the greatest group of players we ever had here. We’ll just have to see if this one accepts the challenge to be the greatest.” — Hayes, after the Michigan victory 

rstein@dispatch.com