1998: No. 1 Ohio State 34, No. 11 West Virginia 17 – The Buckeyes began the season as the top-ranked team in college football for the first time since 1980 and proved they deserved the early accolade by silencing a raucous crowd in Morgantown.
The then-third largest crown in Mountaineer Field history – 68,409 – saw Ohio State build an early 17-3 lead and never look back. In dominating the Mountaineers, the Buckeyes turned West Virginia head coach Don Nehlen into a believer.
“I sure hope that team is No. 1,” Nehlen said.
The Buckeyes offense dominated, piling up 549 yards of total offense. That total was the most against West Virginia in five years. While the offense cruised, the OSU defense held quarterback Marc Bulger, running back Amos Zereoue and the rest of the Mountaineers at bay.
Former backups Joe Germaine and Michael Wiley led the offensive attack. Germaine, who now had the starting quarterback position all to himself, threw for 301 yards and two touchdowns, and running back Michael Wiley ran for 140 yards and another score.
West Virginia’s high-powered offense was unplugged by the Buckeyes, who were led by cornerback Antoine Winfield and linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer. The Mountaineers finished with 310 yards of total offense, but only 78 of those yards came on the ground. Zereoue was held to minus-3 yards rushing in the second half.
“They have a lot of weapons to defense,” Nehlen said. “But their defense is really something special. Their offense is darn good, but we weren’t able to sustain anything and got behind. Defensively they kept wearing us down.”
After the teams traded field goals to start the scoring, David Boston helped the Buckeyes go ahead for good when he returned a punt 20 yards to the OSU 45-yard line. Wiley then started the drive by going off tackle for a 37-yard gain to the WVU 18. On the next play, Wiley simply went the other way for a touchdown.
Germaine threw his first TD pass of the season, a 14-yard strike to Dee Miler, to extend the lead, and Dan Stultz made it 20-3 thanks to a 36-yard field goal late in the second quarter.
West Virginia attempted to rally by scoring a late touchdown on a Bulger pass to Shawn Foreman with 20 seconds remaining before halftime, but it was for naught. Ohio State dominated the second half and added touchdown drives of 96 and 74 yards to break the game open. Boston scored on a 39-yard post pattern reception from Germain, and freshman tailback Jonathan Wells capped the OSU scoring with a 7-yard TD run midway through the fourth quarter.
Bulger and Foreman connected for the final score of the game on a 3-yard pass with only 13 seconds remaining in the game.
The game was the first time Ohio State had opened a season on the road since 1975. The Buckeyes defeated Michigan State in East Lansing that year.
1992: No. 17 Ohio State 20, Louisville 19 – Freshman defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson provided just enough pressure with 33 seconds remaining in the game to relieve the pressure felt by his teammates and the 89,653 Ohio State fans at Ohio Stadium.
Louisville quarterback Jeff Brohm was quickly flushed from the pocket by Wilkinson as the Cardinals attempted to spoil OSU’s season opener with a potential game-winning two-point conversion. Brohm was forced to backpedal to his left, and his pass to running back Ralph Dawkins in the left corner of the end zone had too much air under it.
Disaster averted for the Buckeyes.
“The guard tried to each out for me, but I was too far out and I slapped his hands down,” Wilkinson said of the play. “Then I rushed the quarterback. I saw his back mostly, because he was running sort of backwards and I was trying to get him.”
The crowd roared when the ball bounced harmlessly off the ground. Safety Walter Taylor, who was a step behind Dawkins, thrust his arms in the air in celebration. Linebacker Mark Williams simply removed his helmet and dropped to one knee in silent prayer.
Perhaps a prayer was in order, as Ohio State won despite allowing the Cardinals – a team that was dead last in rushing in 1991 – to rush for 162 yards. Louisville also threw for 230 yards. The Buckeyes simply dodged a big bullet.
“I’m trying to find out which side of my head that bullet went by,” OSU defensive coordinator Bill Young said. “I’m looking for a signed spot.”
The game started well enough for Ohio State, as the Buckeyes built a 10-0 lead in first half behind a 30-year Tim Williams field goal in the first quarter and a Joey Galloway 50-yard touchdown run on a reverse.
Then the Cardinals rallied for a touchdown before halftime on a 3-yard pass from Brohm to his brother Jeff. The extra point was blocked, which would be key later, but Dawkins later gave Louisville the lead on a 5-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter.
If the Dawkins’ TD was not a wake-up call, what happened on the ensuing kickoff got the Buckeyes’ attention. Kick returner Robert Smith was sidelined for the rest of the game when the Cardinals cracked one of his ribs on what appeared to be a clean hit. Several Louisville players celebrated the hit to the point that the Cardinals were assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for taunting.
The Buckeyes quickly moved down the field and reestablished momentum. Starting at its own 40-yard line, Ohio State moved 60 yards in only 42 seconds. Quarterback Kirk Herbstreit began the drive by connecting with Brian Stablein for a 9-yard gain. Fullback Jeff Cothran rushed for 5 yards, and then Herbstreit found tight end Cedric Saunders for a 27-yard gainer.
A Greg Beatty catch netted 10 yards, and Cothran then capped the drive with a 9-yard touchdown plunge.
“That drive was something we had to do at that point,” Cothran said. “They had knocked Robert out of the game, and we needed an answer for that. I think we gave them a pretty good one.”
Williams added a 26-yard field goal to increase the OSU lead to 20-13 with 3:09 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Cardinals then marched 67 yards in less than two-and-a-half minutes for another Dawkins touchdown.
That set up the crucial two-point attempt, one Louisville head coach Howard Schnellenberger wished he didn’t have to attempt. In addition to a blocked extra point, Louisville place kicker Ken Harnden shanked a 25-yard field goal try in the first quarter.
“There were so many things we could have done where we wouldn’t have been going for two,” he said. “That’s the tragedy. Our extra-point and field goal kicking was not good.”
Herbstreit completed 16 of his 20 pass attempts for 180 yards, but he was picked off twice in Louisville territory. Cothran rushed for 49 yards and added 21 more on three receptions. However, he too committed one turnover in Cardinal territory via a fumble.
Butler By’not’e led OSU’s rushing attack with 57 yards on eight carries. Stablein had 47 yards on five receptions.
Louisville was led by Dawkins, who contributed 272 (125 rushing, 35 receiving, 112 kickoff returns) of the Cardinals’ 392 yards of total offense. Brohm completed 22 of 30 passes for 230 yards with no interceptions.
The close call was the second Louisville had given the Buckeyes in as many years. In 1991, the Cardinals threatened to tie the game in the final minute. Quarterback Erik Watts missed wide receiver Greg Brohm in the end zone and Ohio State survived with a 23-15 victory.