1979-1987: Earle Bruce
Hayes was replaced by a former protégé, Earle Bruce. Bruce inherited a strong team led by sophomore quarterback Art Schlichter but that had also lost eleven starters, and the 1979 squad exceeded pre-season expectations, ending the 3-year loss drought against Michigan and going to the Rose Bowl with an opportunity once again to be national champions. The Buckeyes lost both by a single point, 17-16, but Bruce was named Coach of the Year. His success was hailed by those in the media who saw it as a rebuke of Hayes and the start of a "new era".
1980, however, saw the start of a trend that eventually brought criticism to Bruce, when Ohio State finished with a 9-3 record, the first of six consecutive years at 9-3. Though each of these seasons, and the 10-3 season that followed them, culminated in a bowl game, Ohio State did not appear to be any closer to a national championship than during the end of the Hayes era. Bruce's teams were not without impact players, however. All-Americans and future National Football League stars included Keith Byars, Cris Carter, Chris Spielman, John Frank, Jim Lachey, Tom Tupa, Marcus Marek, and Pepper Johnson. His program was also known for the number of notable assistant coaches on staff, including Jim Tressel, Glen Mason, Pete Carroll, Nick Saban, Urban Meyer and Dom Capers.
The 1980 team was selected as the top-ranked team of the pre-season AP poll and opened the season with four games at home, but were shocked in the fourth game by UCLA, shut out 17-0. The team rebounded to win its next six easily, but then were shut down by a ball-control Michigan team that allowed the Buckeyes only 23 minutes with the ball, then lost again to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl.
In 1981, Ohio State opened strong, including a victory at Stanford in which senior Art Schlichter out-dueled John Elway, but then lost back-to-back games to Florida State and Wisconsin (their first victory over the Buckeyes in 22 games). The Buckeyes continued to struggle on defense, losing a third time, at Minnesota. Victories over Michigan to gain a share of the Big Ten championship and over Navy in the Liberty Bowl salvaged the season.
For the first time since 1922 the Buckeyes lost three in a row in Ohio Stadium in 1982, including rematches with Stanford and Florida State, and for the second year in a row to Wisconsin, but then won seven straight, the last over BYU in the Holiday Bowl. Sophomore running back Keith Byars had a stand-out season in 1983, rushing for 1,199 yards, and Ohio State defeated the Oklahoma Sooners in Norman, but three losses in conference meant a 4th-place finish. 1984 witnessed what Bruce called "the greatest comeback after the worst start" when Ohio State fell behind Illinois 24-0 at home but roared back on 274 yards rushing and five touchdowns by Byars to win 45-38. Ohio State also defeated Michigan to win an outright Big Ten championship. Byars led the nation in rushing and scoring but finished second in Heisman balloting.
Byars broke his toe just prior to the start of the 1985 season, ending his Heisman hopes and seriously handicapping the Buckeye attack. He returned against Purdue with Ohio State at 4-1 and scored twice, but then re-injured his foot the next week against Minnesota. Iowa was top-ranked nationally when they came into Ohio Stadium favored to end the longest home winning streak in the country, and were the first #1 team the Buckeyes faced since Purdue in 1968. Ohio State's defense dominated with four pass interceptions to win 22-13.
In 1986 Bruce received a 3-year contract, the first for the modern program but the team opened with two losses, which had not occurred in over 90 years. The Buckeyes then won 9 in a row before Michigan took a close game when kicker Matt Frantz missed a field goal with a minute to play. After the season Bruce was offered the position of head coach at the University of Arizona with a 5-year contract but was persuaded to stay at his alma mater by Athletic Director Rick Bay. Hopes for a standout season in 1987 suffered a serious setback when All-American wide receiver Cris Carter was dropped from the team for signing with an agent. Indiana defeated Ohio State for the first time since 1951, 31-10, in a game that came to be known as the "darkest day", and Ohio State lost three conference games in a row going into the Michigan game.
On the Monday of Michigan week, after a weekend of rumors and speculation, Ohio State President Edward Jennings fired Bruce but tried to keep the dismissal secret until after the end of the season. Bay, who had been instrumental in keeping Bruce at Ohio State, disregarded Jennings' orders and announced the firing and his own resignation in protest. Jennings made his own situation worse by refusing to give a reason for the firing and the circumstances have been the subject of controversy since. The Buckeyes enjoyed an emotional come-from-behind victory over Michigan in Ann Arbor after the entire team wore headbands bearing the word "EARLE", then declined an invitation to play in the Sun Bowl.
Read more about this topic: History Of Ohio State Buckeyes Football
Famous quotes containing the word bruce:
“A lot of people say to me, Why did you kill Christ? I dunno ... it was one of those parties, got out of hand, you know. We killed him because he didnt want to become a doctor, thats why we killed him.”
—Lenny Bruce (19251966)