There have been several memorable ties in the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry, and a couple of times when Michigan finished the season undefeated, but ended with a tie against Ohio State. That was the case in 1992, the third installment of this year’s series on the rivalry. The rivals finished the game tied, 13-13, with different perspectives from each side.
Make no mistake; the Michigan faithful were not wild about the tie. Michigan came in with a team that probably should have beaten Ohio State. The Buckeyes had already suffered defeats to Wisconsin and Illinois, and the critics in Columbus were already barking for coach John Cooper’s hide. Still, Cooper had the Buckeyes steadily improving, setting up a classic matchup between the two rivals.
Michigan entered the game having only given more than 20 minutes on two occasions, and coach Gary Moeller’s coaching staff featured a pair of assistants (Lloyd Carr and Les Miles) who each went on to win a national championship, and another (Jim Herrmann) who went on to win a Super Bowl. The Wolverines had three All-Americans in Joe Cocozzo, Chris Hutchinson and Derrick Alexander. Aside from the stars on the team, the defense led the Wolverines. Moeller had amassed a stellar secondary featuring Corwin Brown at free safety and Shonte Peoples at strong safety, with a promising young backup at cornerback named Ty Law. By the time The Game rolled around in 1992, Michigan had already clinched the Big Ten championship, but Ohio State had won five consecutive games, and the Bucks were red hot – or scarlet hot, if you’re an OSU fan.
The day was warm, but wet. Late in the first quarter, Ohio State got on the board first with a field goal from Tim Williams, but it wasn’t long before the Wolverines responded, with senior quarterback Elvis Grbac, dropping back to pass, but then quickly sprinting forward to scored on a quarterback draw play, giving the Maize & Blue a 6-3 lead. Unfortunately, OSU defensive lineman Dan Wilkinson hit Grbac hard as he crossed the goal line, knocking him out of the game. Todd Collins stepped in to ably replace Grbac, but Michigan fans will always wonder how the game might have turned out had Grbac not been injured. Still, Collins made his present felt, scoring in the third quarter on a naked bootleg to put Michigan ahead, 13-1. Against most opponents, that would have been a safe lead, but not against Ohio State. Williams narrowed the deficit to 13-6 when he kicked a 29-yard field goal for the Buckeyes, which led to the critical drive. Quarterback Kirk Herbstreit, who went on to considerable success on television, completed a 5-yard touchdown pass to Greg Beatty, leaving Cooper with a decision. Should he kick the extra point, or go for two? Well, Cooper kicked the extra point, a choice that wasn’t sexy, but was built on sound reasoning. If the Bucks went for two points and failed, Cooper would have been blamed by an entire state. So Michigan got the ball back with more than four minutes remaining. The Wolverines made a drive of it, but incompletions on the final two plays of the game ended Michigan’s hope for victory.
For Ohio State, the tie might have saved Cooper’s job. For Michigan, a couple of questions will always haunt the Wolverines. First, would the Wolverines have won if Grbac had been able to stay in the game? Second, what possessed Lloyd Carr to wear one of the ugliest sweaters in history? Fortunately for Lloyd, there was no need for winter weather gear in the Rose Bowl, where Michigan topped Washington, 38-31. Ohio State went on to the Citrus Bowl and lost to Georgia, 21-14.
Many thanks to ABC and to youtube poster WolverineDevotee for the video clip below. As always, I own none of the material presented.