Michigan vs Michigan State Football – Looking Back – 1975


The college football landscape was much different in 1975. For that matter, the entire world was different. Nobody had even heard of the term “social media.” If you saw anyone carrying anything like a cell phone, it was either part of a science fiction movie, or one of those spectacular gadgets that James Bond used. On the gridiron, Michigan fans hadn’t yet developed a fear of mobile quarterbacks and spread offenses, and the team certainly didn’t have a defensive coordinator who designed blitzes to stop the spread. And if you wanted to wait for a sandwich at the corner of Kingsley and Detroit, you wouldn’t even have to wait on a line. Of course, that wouldn’t have helped you get a sandwich, since it was several years before Zingerman’s opened its doors.

There were a couple of things that were similar to our modern era, though. Michigan actually wore white pants in 1975, marking the last time a Wolverines team wore white pants in East Lansing. Of course, there are rumors of a Michigan uniform surprise this Saturday, but I digress.

The other thing the 1975 Wolverines had in common with the current Wolverines was a determination to run the ball behind a powerful offensive line. Head coach Bo Schembechler was so detail-oriented that he used a ruler to measure the splits between the stances of his offensive linemen. Schembechler was going to make sure his teams ran the ball well, a skill that has often proved to be the deciding factor against Michigan State. Michigan had a left tackle that season named Mike Kenn who went on to become one of the few offensive linemen in the NFL to have some success against Lawrence Taylor. The maize and blue also had a backup offensive lineman named Les Miles who went on to experience a fair amount of success as a football coach, though none of it occurred in Ann Arbor.

Most of all, the offensive line opened holes for running backs Gordon Bell and Rob Lytle. Together, Bell and Lytle combined for 216 yards on 39 carries against Michigan State, as the Wolverines seized possession of the ball and the game’s pace, averaging more than five yards a carry. Add in 69 yards on the ground by quarterback Rick Leach and it was obvious to see why Michigan controlled play that day. Ironically, Leach was the same type of quarterback who frustrated Michigan defenses in the early years of the 21st Century.

Still, the Spartans weren’t about to go quietly. After three quarters, the teams had split two field goals apiece, and it wasn’t until Bell scored on an 18-yard run in the fourth quarter that Michigan pulled away for good, leaving East Lansing with a 16-6 win over Michigan State. Unfortunately, the season ended in less-than-stellar fashion, as Michigan surrendered a late lead against Ohio State and fell to eventual national champion Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. But with Leach, Bell, and Lytle on the offense, and linebacker Calvin O’Neal and safety Dwight Hicks on defense, 1975 was merely a prelude of things to come for Michigan football.

There was another thing that was interesting about 1975. President Gerald Ford was a Michigan graduate, having played on the undefeated national championship teams of 1932 and 1933.

Enjoy this clip of Michigan football practice from 1975.

About Jeff Cummins

Jeff Cummins has written about football since 1998, including nine years with The Record of Hackensack, N.J. He frequently contributes feature stories to Touchdown Illustrated, an insert in the national college football game program, published by University Sports Publications, and he has also written the official pregame stories for the game programs of the Rose Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Gator Bowl, and the BCS National Championship game. He has written the preview story for the official program for the NHL Winter Classic at MIchigan Stadium, and numerous college basketball feature stories for College Hoops Illustrated, another game program insert published by University Sports Publications. In addition, he has written stories about theater, music, physical therapy, and newsletter marketing. He’s an avid Michigan football fan and long-time New York Jets season ticket holder, and he can be reached at jeffcummins@optonline.net.