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O/NSO: Trojans/Ohio State rivalry series edition

The Obvious: Last week, the O/NSO spotlighted the Trojans out-of-conference rivalry with the Michigan Wolverines of the Big Ten, but when it comes to cardinal and gold rivalries with that power conference, nothing tops the history and traditions of USC and Ohio State.

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans and Ohio State Buckeyes have convened a whopping 24 times, the Cardinal and Gold reigning with a 13-10-1 record over the Scarlet and Grey. Surprisingly, only seven of the games between the two storied programs have been played on Jan. 1 in the Rose Bowl. The two legendary powers met most recently in the 2017 Cotton Bowl. While the Rose Bowl has been the game in which many have associated the two universities, there have been many home-and-home series, which began in 1937.

The Obvious: Both Ohio State and USC have their traditions, which begin with their celebrated marching bands and representative music.

The Not So Obvious: Two of the most storied traditions of both universities revolves around music. For Ohio State, it’s the dotting of the “I” in the band’s scripted O-H-I-O, and for the Trojans, it’s their famous horse, Traveler, running around the field as the Trojans Marching Band plays Conquest.

The Obvious: USC and Ohio State first began their rivalry series in 1937 with the Trojans entertaining the Buckeyes in the Coliseum before 65,000 fans.  

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans, under legendary head coach Howard Jones, got off to a good start in the initial meeting between the two elite programs, pulling out a 13-12 victory. The Men of Troy were led by captain and end Chuck Williams. From 1937 till 1964, the Trojans and Buckeyes met 13 times with the Buckeyes holding a 7-5-1 record over the Cardinal and Gold.

The Trojans first meeting with Ohio State took place in 1937 in the Coliseum (photo above), and the Trojans pulled out a 13-12 victory.

The Obvious: In 1969 Rose Bowl, things took on a real and dramatic national tone in this rivalry when the No.1 Buckeyes and the No. 2 Trojans had at it. At the time, this was only the second time in the Rose Bowl where the two top teams in the AP Poll played and only the third time in a bowl game. It was a rough and tumble game, and Ohio State was loaded with their “super sophomores” and future NFL talent. In the end, the Buckeyes were too powerful, and the Trojans lost 27-16.

The Not So Obvious: It was the first of four Rose Bowl meetings featuring two coaching legends, Ohio State’s Woody Hayes and the Trojans’ John McKay. It was also the first of three Rose Games between the two with a national championship being on the line. The highlight for the Trojans in the 1969 Rose Bowl was an electrifying 80-yard touchdown run by Heisman Trophy winning tailback O.J. Simpson in the first half that appeared at the time to give the Trojans momentum. A side note, the O/NSO had the good fortune of being able to watch some of the Buckeyes Rose Bowl workouts at East Los Angeles College, and I’ll never forgot how enormous Ohio State was in person. Both future OSU first-round NFL offensive tackles, Dave Foley and Rufus Mayes, were monsters, and sophomore strong safety Jack Tatum stood out like a man among boys.

Trojans tailback O.J. Simpson (video above) and his legendary 80-yard TD run against Ohio State in the 1969 Rose Bowl Game.

The Obvious: The 1973 Rose Bowl game, featuring the Trojans and the Buckeyes, was a defining moment for head coach John McKay’s dynasty. After this dominating 42-17 Trojans’ victory in the Rose Bowl against the Buckeyes, the 1972 Trojans were acclaimed by many the best college football team ever assembled. The game cemented the legends of such USC immortals as Sam “Bam” Cunningham (see top cover photo above), who had four goal line touchdowns. There were other notable USC standouts including tailback Anthony Davis, tight end Charles Young, offensive tackle Pete Adams, defensive tackle John Grant, and linebacker Richard “Batman” Wood.   

The Not So Obvious: John McKay didn’t personally like Ohio State head coach Woody Hayes, and near the end of the game, McKay signaled across the field to Hayes that Sam Cunningham would be diving again over the top for his fourth and final TD of the game. As an interesting side note, former standout starting offensive guard on the 1972 team, Allan Graf, told the O/NSO that McKay wanted to confuse the Buckeyes’ defense and presented some different blocking schemes in the first half, but that seemed to stymie the Trojans offense, which went into halftime tied 7-7. During halftime, the players asked to return to their regular schemes, the suggestion accepted, and the Men of Troy proceeded to outscore the Buckeyes 35-10 in the second half. The unsung hero of the Rose Bowl game was underrated USC quarterback Mike Rae, who was outstanding both in the bowl game and also during the regular season. Of note, the attendance of 106,869 set a Rose Bowl record, as well as the NCAA bowl game record.

The Obvious: In the 1974 Rose Bowl game, the Buckeyes extracted revenge from the year before. Using Woody Hayes “three yards and a cloud of dust offense,” the Buckeyes’ simply physically wore down the Trojans’ defense and pounded the Cardinal and Gold to a final score of 42-21.

The Not So Obvious: The Buckeyes and Trojans were tied at 14 points each at halftime, but the visitors from Columbus grinded and grinded behind big and powerful fullback Pete Johnson (3 TDs), tailback Archie Griffin (145 yards rushing), and shifty quarterback and Rose Bowl MVP Cornelius Greene. Outscoring the Trojans 28-7 in the second half, the game was never in doubt. With new USC quarterback Pat Haden, the Trojans did have their moment, as tailback Anthony Davis and wide receiver J.K. McKay each found the end zone.

The Trojans couldn’t stop Ohio State quarterback Cornelius Greene (photo above No. 7) in the 1973 Rose Bowl. Green was named the game’s MVP but received support from tailback Archie Griffin (photo above – No. 45).

The Obvious: The 1975 Rose Bowl was the rubber match of the past three seasons, and this game turned into an instant classic, with a dramatic end to the fourth quarter.Needless to say, this game also turned out to be for a national championship, and the slugfest lived up to the billing, as the Trojans rallied from a 7-3 halftime deficit to pull out a 18-17 heartstopper.   

The Not So Obvious: The highlights of the game turned out to be a 38-yard TD strike from Trojans’ quarterback Pat Haden to wide receiver J.K. McKay, both named co-MVPs,late in the final stanza, which was followed by a game-winning two-point conversion from Haden to receiver Shelton Diggs. Some may have forgotten, but Ohio State still had two minutes left to win the game, but on the last play of the game, OSU placekicker Tom Skladnay’s 62‐yard field‐goal attempt fell short. Of note, Trojans All-America tailback Anthony Davis was knocked out of the game in the second quarter with a rib injury and was replaced by an effective Allen Carter, but Haden made up for the absence of Davis by throwing for 181 yards and two touchdowns. The national championship victory became the fourth under John McKay.

The Obvious: Almost five years had elapsed until the Trojans and the Buckeyes met again in the 1980 Rose Bowl and both teams had different head coaches. The Trojans were guided by John Robinson, who had succeeded John McKay, and Earl Bruce had taken over for Woody Hayes.  The game was another classic as the No. 3 Trojans took on the No. 1 Buckeyes. The Trojans outpointed the Buckeyes 7-6 in the fourth quarter to hold on for a narrow 17-16 victory. 

The Not So Obvious: Even with the big victory over the Buckeyes in the Rose Bowl, the Trojans’ finished the season as the No. 2 team behind Alabama. A shocking 21-21 tie to Stanford during the season in the Coliseum spoiled what could have been another USC national title. As for the Rose Bowl game itself, USC’s Heisman Trophy winning tailback Charles White led the come-from-behind victory. White, the game’s MVP, rushed for a Rose Bowl record 247 yards, including a 1-yard dive into the end zone with 1:32 remaining. On the winning 83-yard drive, White carried the ball six times for 71 yards. A side note, the game was televised on NBC with Dick Enberg, Merlin Olson, former USC Heisman Trophy winner O.J. Simpson in the booth,    

The Obvious: Another five years elapsed until USC and Ohio State collided in the 1985 Rose Bowl, as the Trojans continued their dominance over the Buckeyes by winning a tight 20-17 game.

The Not So Obvious: The Trojans had entered the game with an 8-3. Coaching the Trojans was Ted Tolner, who was elevated from USC offensive coordinator after former head coach John Robinson had stepped down to take an administrative position with the university. Guiding the Buckeyes again was Earl Bruce. The co-MVPs of the game were Trojans’ quarterback Tim Green (two TD passes)and linebacker Jack Del Rio. The Trojans entered the game as 3 ½ point underdogs. However, it was the Trojans’ defense that prevailed over an Ohio State offense that was led by Heisman Trophy runner-up running back Keith Byars. The SC defense basically held Ohio State to three Rich Spangler field goals.

The Obvious: The Trojans would not meet Ohio State in the Rose Bowl again, but they did resume their rivalry in an out-of-conference home and home series in 1989 and 1990. The Trojans swept that brief two-game series by scores of 42-3 in the Coliseum and 35-26 in Columbus, respectively.  

The Not So Obvious: In the 1990 game back in Ohio, the game was called with 2:36 remaining due to dangerous weather.The Trojans now had defeated Ohio State six of the last seven meetings and were riding a five-game winning streak.

Trojans head coach Larry Smith (photo above) led the Trojans in the victories against Ohio State in 1989 and 1990.

The Obvious: The 2008 Trojans, now coached by Pete Carroll, welcome the Buckeyes to Los Angeles with Jim Tressel now at the helm for the Midwesterners. Trojans’ quarterback Mark Sanchez threw four touchdown passes, tailback Joe McKnight rushed for 105 yards on 12 carries, and the top-ranked Trojans destroyed No. 5 Ohio State 35-3 on a Saturday night.

The Not So Obvious: While the Trojans offense rolled on national television, it was the USC defense that crushed the Ohio State offense. Afterward, Buckeyes’ coach Jim Tressel said, “We played against a great team tonight. We were never able to take control on offense or defense. We must now roll up our sleeves and realize we can’t play like this and win.”

The Obvious: All eyes were on Columbus, Ohio, when the Trojans traveled to the “Horseshoe” in 2009, as the Cardinal and Gold were led by a precocious true freshman quarterback named Matt Barkley, who was a legend at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei High School. Nobody really expected Barkley to survive the rowdy 106,033 record crowd, but he performed in the fourth quarter like a senior in that final comeback drive, which ended in a USC 18-15 victory, a truly jaw dropping and legendary performance.  

The Not So Obvious: “The Drive” in the final quarter may have been the signature moment in Barkley’s fine career. The O/NSO was there as witness, and we can honestly say that was as loud any visiting stadium as I’ve ever been in. The noise on the field was like being inside a jet engine. Even today, folks marvel how Barkley was able to maintain such poise in the face of impossible circumstances.

The Obvious: In 2017, the Trojans and the Buckeyes gathered in Arlington, Texas, in the Cotton Bowl. It was certainly a different feel than being in the Rose Bowl. The Trojans entered the game No. 8 in the country while OSU came into the contest at No. 5. This was a chance for USC head coach Clay Helton to show that his program was ready to play an Urban Meyer Ohio State team. However, the outcome was anything but equal. The Buckeyes physically manhandled the Trojans, 24-7, although neither team scored a point in the second half.

The Not So Obvious: The loss by the Trojans was a difficult one because this game against Ohio State was a measuring stick to where the Men of Troy stood as a program with a true national power. In nearly all facets of the game, Helton’s Trojans were unable to match the Buckeyes. Although Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold did throw for 356 yards, the only SC touchdown of the game came from running back Ronald Jones on a 1-yard plunge as the Trojans could manage just 57 yards rushing. The Buckeyes’ defense managed to record eight sacks against the Trojans, which were the most since Cal had nine sacks back in 1999.           

The Obvious: And finally, the good news is that the Trojans have a winning record in their long history with the Ohio State Buckeyes.

The Not So Obvious: One thing is for sure, when the Trojans and the Buckeyes get together, it’s likely to be a donnybrook of a game with a “take no prisoners” approach. The only question remaining is when will these two storied programs once meet again?

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Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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