Iowa-Ohio State: Will 2009's Hawkeyes vs. Buckeyes Be Déjà Vu of 1985?

JA AllenSenior Writer INovember 8, 2009

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

The year was 1985 and the setting was Iowa City, where the Iowa Hawkeyes under the leadership of head coach Hayden Fry were enjoying the best season memory could recall.  

The Iowa faithful had grown to love almost everyone—even in the media—except Beano Cook, who could possibly love that cranky forecaster who obviously had it in for Iowa!

Three weeks into the season and the Hawkeyes were declared the No. 1 team in the nation. Chuck Long, Iowa’s vaunted quarterback, was a frontrunner for the the Heisman trophy. 

Could life get any better?

During the sixth game of the season, No. 1 Iowa, still undefeated, welcomed the No. 2 Michigan Wolverines into Kinnick Stadium. Iowa trailed in that game, 10-9, as the clock was winding down in the fourth quarter. With five minutes left in the game, Iowa regained possession of the football on the Iowa 22-yard line.  

Long drove the Hawkeyes the length of the field to the Michigan 12, where kicker Rob Houghtlin successfully kicked a field goal as time expired with rain dripping off his helmet. Iowa escaped, 12-10, and its season was preserved.  

The following week the 1985 Hawkeyes played at Northwestern, where they won, 49-10. But on Nov. 2, 1985, the Hawkeyes had to travel to Columbus, Ohio, to play the Ohio State Buckeyes, who were then ranked No. 8.  

Back then, nobody could beat the Buckeyes in Columbus. Iowa had not won there since 1959. In fact, Ohio State had won its last 20 games at home.  

It would be Iowa’s severest test of the season, after upending Michigan. If the Hawkeyes got by the Buckeyes, then they could conceivably end the season undefeated but certainly end it as Big Ten champs.

Dare to dream, Cinderella Iowa. This promised to be the game of the season against an Ohio State team that specialized in smashing pumpkins.

Long led a potent Iowa offense with running back Ronnie Harmon in the backfield. Marv Cook stood in at tight end and Houghtlin was rock-solid as Iowa’s place kicker.

The Hawkeyes also fielded a powerful defense led by Dave Haight (DL), Larry Station (LB), Devon Mitchell (DB), and Joe Mott (DE). 

In 1985 there was no BCS. The winner of the Big Ten played the winner of the Pac-10 in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. At this point in the season, it appeared that the winner of this game was playing for a chance to go for the Roses.

The day dawned dreary, drizzling, as the rain-soaked crowd of 90,467 packed into Ohio Stadium during the much-anticipated contest. The rain began in earnest in the second quarter.  

The media had been speculating all week about the injured Buckeye Keith Byars, the Big Ten’s leading rusher and scoring champion.  

Would he be able to play in the biggest game of the year?  

Byars suffered from a bruised foot he received the previous week in a game with Minnesota. If he could not play, the duties would fall to freshman Vince Workman, who would split time with John Wooldridge.  

Not known at the time, Wooldridge was also suffering from severely bruised ribs. Both backs would also rely on big fullback George Cooper to provide his much-needed bone-crunching blocks.

Ohio State’s defense would have its hands full as well trying to slow down an impressive Iowa offense for which Long led the nation in passing efficiency. He had thrown for over 1984 yards with 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

In the Ohio State locker room before the game, Byars ranted on about the meaning of this win for Ohio State. A win against Iowa would forever seal this day as one of Ohio State’s greatest victories.


Let the game begin

For Iowa, the day could not have been worse, as Long was intercepted four times and Ohio State recovered a fumble, leading to a score.  

The record crowd of 90,467 in rain-soaked Ohio Stadium watched Ohio State build a 15-0 lead—as John Wooldridge’s 57-yard run led to a score, plus two field goals by Rich Spangler and a safety when Sonny Gordon blocked an Iowa punt.  

When Workman ran it in from four yards out after an Iowa fumble, Ohio State built a 22-7 lead with 11:39 left on the clock.  

Iowa ended the day down by a 22-13 final score, as Long completed 17-of-34 passes for 169 yards. 

He called it one of the most frustrating days in his illustrious college career. The extreme noise of the crowd and the inability to settle himself in the pocket doomed Long’s chances of a victory and the Heisman which in the end went to Bo Jackson.

The Buckeyes also fielded a more diversified offense than they usually had. Quarterback Jim Karsatos, fifth in the nation in passing efficiency, threw for 151 yards (10-of-17, two interceptions). Fullback George Cooper had 104 yards in 17 carries.

The Ohio State defense dominated and denied the Hawkeye offense all afternoon. They harassed and confounded Long causing him to throw under pressure and without time—resulting in the four interceptions.  

The Buckeye defense stopped drives dead and took the heart out of the potent Iowa offense. The tackle that turned out to be the ultimate wedge in Iowa’s path to victory came at the hands of Chris Spielman, who drilled Ronnie Harmon, stopping him for no gain on 4th-and-1—on the Ohio State 10-yard line late in the third quarter. 

Harmon was done for the day after that tackle.

Coach Earl Bruce’s Buckeyes rose up and smacked down the Iowa team without compunction or pity. That was the Big Ten way and is still the way today. At the end of the day, both teams stood 7-1 overall. Bruce called it the finest victory in his career.


The aftermath

It seems natural, looking back on that game 24 years ago, that Spielman would recall it as the best game he ever played in while Long and Co. during reunions celebrate only the Michigan win and push the memory of the Ohio State game forever out of their consciousness.

Iowa was 7-0 heading into the game in Columbus in 1985. This year the Hawkeyes are 9-1. At the conclusion of the game next Saturday, they will either be 10-1 or 9-2. They will either be tied for second place in the Big Ten with Penn State or be leading the Big Ten race once again.

It all depends on the Iowa fighting spirit and the ability of a red-shirt freshman quarterback in James Vandenberg to rise to the occasion to lead an Iowa team to victory.  

It appears that Ricky Stanzi will not be engineering the Iowa offense next week. Regardless, Iowa still controls its own destiny.

In the end, Ohio State will have its own demons to overcome. At least it knew and understood Stanzi. This week the Buckeyes must prepare against an unknown quantity.  

Now, who can say if this 2009 game will rank up there with the 1985 contest in the eyes of Buckeye fanatics? It has all the ingredients to stir up some real controversy. True, no top-five national ranking exists any longer in the Big Ten, but there is plenty of action left to watch unfold.

In 1985, Iowa bounced back and won its last three games and represented the Big Ten in Pasadena, losing to UCLA. The Ohio State Buckeyes went on to lose two of their final three games and played BYU in the Citrus Bowl, which they won.

In the end, we must wait and see, speculating and anticipating...the future has not been written...


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