A case for No. 1
Ohio State holds off Texas A&M in Sugar Bowl
Posted: Saturday January 09, 1999 04:46 PM
NEW ORLEANS (CNN/SI) -- All season long, Ohio State considered themselves the top team in the nation. The Buckeyes were preseason No. 1 by both polls and were cruising along until a freak loss to Michigan State on Oct. 25.
Even then, the Buckeyes thought they still had an outside shot at the title after breaking a curse against hated rivals Michigan. Later upset losses by UCLA and Kansas State opened the door even wider.
Thus Ohio State seemed miffed they were passed over for the Fiesta Bowl. Thus they ended up in the Sugar Bowl for a second straight season with a very outside shot at glory. All they needed to do was beat a good Texas A&M in convincing fashion and then hope for a Florida State win in Tempe and maybe, maybe they'd have a shot.
Instead, they played a lackluster game, especially in the second half, in a 24-14 win over the Aggies, thus knocking themselves out of that slim chance at glory.
In the long run, it didn't really matter as Tennessee capped off an amazing undefeated season by knocking off the Seminoles in the Fiesta Bowl. All the Buckeyes could do was finish second.
After the game, the Buckeyes still though they had a shot at the top spot.
"If it's a sloppy game and Florida State wins, you could make an argument that the Buckeyes are as good as anybody in the country," coach John Cooper said.
But the last thing Cooper and the Buckeyes needed was a sloppy performance by an offense that amassed 432 yards, moved in Texas A&M territory nine times but failed to score a touchdown in the final three quarters.
"I was a little disappointed at halftime that we didn't score a couple of more touchdowns," Cooper said.
Joe Germaine threw for a touchdown, Joe Montgomery rushed for one and the special teams came up with a blocked punt return for a score -- all in the first quarter. But that was all the touchdowns Ohio State (11-1) could muster.
What looked like it might be the rout the Buckeyes could have used had too many anxious moments in the end. And with each failed opportunity, their slim hopes to share the national championship got a little slimmer.
"I think we're the best team in the country, but unfortunately it's not in our hands right now," said Reggie Germany, who caught an 18-yard touchdown pass.
It was the first time the Buckeyes beat Michigan and won a New Year's Day bowl game in the same season since 1968, which is also the last time Ohio State won a national championship.
"This was not a perfect season," Cooper said, alluding to the shocking loss at home to Michigan State that knocked Ohio State from No. 1. "But there's no question it was a good, solid season. I don't think we're going to be any worse than second in the country."
The Aggies (11-3) were making their first appearance in the Sugar Bowl since winning their only national championship 49 years ago.
Coach R.C. Slocum had said the Buckeyes should have a shot at sharing the national title, and he may know best as the only coach to face Ohio State and Florida State. In the Kickoff Classic, his Aggies put a scare into the Seminoles before losing 23-14.
"I don't see a significant amount of difference in Ohio State and Florida State," Slocum said. "Ohio State is certainly as good as any team we've played this year."
Texas A&M, which came from behind in five of its victories this year, never quit. After trailing 24-7 at halftime, the Aggies closed to 24-14 on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Branndon Stewart to Leroy Hodge.
They tried for one more comeback -- just like the one over Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship game that put them in the Sugar Bowl -- but Jerry Rudzinski tipped a lateral pass and recovered the fumble to end one drive, and the Buckeyes' defense made enough plays to keep the lead.
The victory made it a New Year's Day sweep for the Big 10 -- and gave it a 5-0 record in bowl games for the first time in conference history.
Cooper had said he would try to score as many points as possible against the Aggies, and it showed.
Ohio State didn't look anything like a team trying to milk the clock with a 10-point lead throughout the fourth quarter. Germaine continued to throw downfield, with mixed results, and frustration began to mount even if the points didn't.
The Aggies, who had managed just three first downs after taking their opening drive for a touchdown, got three first downs off penalties during a 68-yard drive that culminated with Hodge's touchdown.
Derek Ross, who blocked a punt that Kevin Griffin returned for a touchdown in the first quarter, got into a shoving match with teammate Joe Brown on the sidelines, and then the Buckeyes got a personal foul after their kickoff return.
Despite a commanding lead, Germaine wound up 21-of-38 for 222 yards. That set an Ohio State bowl record for passes attempted.
Montgomery had 96 yards on nine carries, while starter Michael Wiley had 88 yards.
"I think the whole country knows that we earned our way to be No. 1," Montgomery said.
The Buckeyes, who were just 2-7 in bowl games under Cooper, came out tight but snapped out of it as soon as the Aggies went 59 yards in six plays for a 7-0 lead on Dante Hall's 9-yard touchdown run.
Germaine finished a 71-yard drive with a touchdown pass to Germany, then turned it over to the running game. Michael Wiley gained 20 yards on two carries and Montgomery rumbled 29 yards up the middle to the 10, from where he scored one play later.
The special teams took over from there. Ross came around left end untouched and stuffed the ball before it even left the leg of punter Shane Lechler. Griffin, nephew of Ohio State's two-time Heisman Trophy winner, Archie Griffin, scooped it up and ran 16 yards for a touchdown that made it 21-7 and left the Aggies in shock.
The Buckeyes also led 21-7 in the first quarter against Michigan State, a game in which they blew a 15-point lead in the second half and wound up in the Sugar Bowl instead of the Fiesta Bowl.
"We weren't talking about Michigan State at halftime. We were talking about Kansas State," Cooper said.
Neither happened. The Buckeyes didn't fold, the Aggies didn't rally.
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