Note: This is the fifth of a series in which BuckeyeSports.com provides an overview of the second season as head coach at Ohio State for six of Urban Meyer's predecessors. We began with Francis Schmidt and continued with Paul Brown, Woody Hayes and Earle Bruce. Jim Tressel will follow this weekend.
Ohio State Year Two Overview: 1989
Coach: John Cooper
Previous season record (finish): 4-6-1, 2-5-1 Big Ten (seventh)
Returning starters included quarterback Greg Frey, offensive linemen Jeff Davidson and Joe Staysniak, tailback Carlos Snow and defensive backs Vinnie Clark, David Brown and Zack Dumas. New starters included Jeff Graham and Greg Beatty at wide receiver, Alonzo Spellman at linebacker and Mark “Bo” Pelini at safety. The captains were Staysniak, Davidson, Dumas and Brown along with linebacker Derek Isaman. Staysniak and Davidson were named first-team All-Big Ten, and Staysniak also earned Academic All-America honors.
The Buckeyes opened the season with a 37-13 win over Oklahoma State at home then went to Los Angeles and were annihilated by No. 12 USC 42-3. The Trojans outgained the Buckeyes 491 to 223, and redshirt freshman quarterback Todd Marinovich threw four touchdown passes. They bounced back to beat Boston College in Columbus 34-29 but then lost decisively at No. 18 Illinois by a 34-14 count in a game that was marred by four Ohio State turnovers.
A trip to Minnesota on Oct. 28 proved to be a memorable one. The Buckeyes made every mistake in the book in the first half against Minnesota while falling into a 31-0 hole but rallied for the second-biggest comeback in major college football history. Snow ran for a touchdown and Frey completed a two-point conversion pass to Jeff Graham to start the comeback with 10 seconds remaining in the second quarter, then Frey threw three touchdowns passes and ran for a fourth in the second half as the Buckeyes made their comeback. The Gophers kicked two field goals after intermission, but that was not enough as Frey hit Graham from 15-yards out for the game-winning points with :51 left in the game. Ohio State prevailed 41-37.
In the home finale against Wisconsin, Ohio State piled up 458 total yards on offense and the Buckeyes won 42-22. It was a good day for the Buckeye secondary as Brown returned an interception 43 yards for a touchdown and Wisconsin was 0 for 8 passing. That is the last time a Big Ten team has failed to complete at least one pass in a game.
They started the winning streak with a 35-31 win over an Indiana squad that was riding a two-game winning streak in the series and boasted the nation’s leading rusher in Anthony Thompson. Cooper’s Buckeyes more resembled Hayes’ men of the scarlet and gray while rushing 52 times for 253 yards. For the second time in three games, Snow (27 carries for 136 yards and a touchdown) and Graham (16/124/2) both topped the century mark. Frey threw only 6 passes but completed 5, including touchdown passes of 2 and 4 yards to tight end Jim Palmer. Thompson ran for 177 yards on 34 carries for Indiana.
The running game was really rolling again three weeks later as the Buckeyes beat Northwestern 52-27. For the first time in 19 years, three Ohio State backs ran for at least 100 yards apiece in the same game – Snow (100 yards), Graham (102) and Dante Lee (157) – and the Buckeyes piled up 456 yards total on the ground.
Snow ran for 990 yards on 190 carries to lead the Buckeyes in rushing for the second season in a row. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry and scored 11 touchdowns. Scottie Graham added 977 yards on 183 carries and scored seven touchdowns. Jeff Graham led the team with 608 yards on 32 catches while Frey competed 144 of 246 passes for 2,132 yards and eight touchdowns.
Isaman made a team-leading 88 tackles in his return after a year off to pursue an Olympic boxing career. He was named team MVP.
How’d it end up?
After the loss to the Fighting Illini on Oct. 7, the Buckeyes won six in a row to return to the national top 25 and set up a showdown with No. 3 Michigan.
Ohio State came up on the wrong end of a 28-18 decision at Ohio Stadium, but the BSB account of the game noted Cooper’s post-demeanor was not like the previous eight he had suffered as head coach of the Buckeyes. While not accepting defeat, Cooper seemed at peace with his team’s effort.
“We played hard,” the second-year Ohio State coach said after the Wolverines denied the Buckeyes a share of the Big Ten title. “We gave it everything we had and made it a good, interesting game. Let’s give Michigan a lot of credit. We lost to a great football team today.”
Ohio State outgained Michigan in total yards but a late Buckeye comeback attempt was snuffed out when Todd Plate intercepted a Frey pass intended for Beatty in Michigan territory in the fourth quarter.
The third-place finish in the Big Ten race earned the Buckeyes an invitation to the Hall of Fame Bowl in Tampa, Fla., where they lost 31-14 to No. 9 Auburn as Tigers quarterback Reggie Slack accounted for four touchdowns.
The bowl defeat dropped Ohio State’s final record to 8-4 overall and 6-2 in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes finished ranked No. 24 in the AP polled.
Look for a more expansive look at the second seasons of Ohio State's head coaches of the past eight decades in the next print edition of Buckeye Sports Bulletin.