The fourth installment of the series looking back at the football rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State takes us to 1978. This was an unusual time in America, and particularly in southeastern Michigan. The automobile industry was undergoing changes and facing significant competition from foreign manufacturers. People wanted desperately to feel optimistic, but there was an uneasy sense in the nation. For Michigan students, alumni, and fans, the UM football team provided a temporary escape from their concerns.
While head coach Bo Schembechler always preached the importance of focusing on the team, there’s no denying the fact that quarterback Rick Leach was the face of those Michigan teams from 1976 through 1978. Sure, Michigan boasted its usual staunch defense and pulverizing offensive line, but Leach grabbed most of the headlines as he slashed his way through defenses. In 1978, Leach led Michigan back to Ohio Stadium, where the Maize and Blue had routed the Buckeyes two years earlier. This time, it would be a little more challenging. Michigan running back Harlan Huckleby didn’t play and fullback Russell Davis was sick. Compounding that was the fact that Leach pulled a hamstring in the second quarter. So, how did Leach respond? He threw a pair of touchdown passes, one for 30 yards to Rodney Feaster and one for 11 yards to Roosevelt Smith, to lead the Wolverines to a 14-3 win over their rivals from Columbus.
Still, any report on this game would be remiss if it didn’t mention the Michigan defense. The Wolverines held the Buckeyes to just 48 passing yards, and Michigan’s third down efficiency was impressive, to say the least. Michigan allowed Ohio State to convert only four of 16 third down opportunities, ushering the Buckeye offense off the field swiftly. Linebacker Ron Simpkins led the Wolverines with 15 total tackles, and middle guard Mike Trgovac had two tackles for loss.
The win marked Michigan’s third consecutive triumph over Ohio State, and it was the 10th and final game between Bo and Ohio State coach Woody Hayes. The series continued to be intense in subsequent years, but it lacked the galvanizing coaching personalities that marked that 10-year period, which many consider to be the height of the rivalry.
Thanks, as always, to ABC Sports, and to YouTube posters WolverineHistorian and Dr. Sap. I own nothing and this blog and the accompanying videos are posted strictly for the enjoyment of readers.