44th Annual Sugar Bowl Classic ~ January 2, 1978
#3 Alabama 35 (Final: 11-1-0, #2)
#9 Ohio State 6 (Final: 9-3-0, #10)
How Alabama and Ohio State Met in the 1978 Sugar Bowl
RELATED: Woody Hayes and Bear Bryant: An all-time coaching class at the 1978 Sugar Bowl by Marty Mulé for the New Orleans Advocate, 12/31/14
“We thought we had ‘em then.”
Lou Green, an Alabama guard, had Ohio State right where he wanted the Buckeyes – under his foot.
He had cut out pictures of Buckeye stalwarts like Aaron Brown. Tom Cousineau, Byron Cato and Dave Adkins and put them in his sock.
“I wanted to paste Brown’s picture in my helmet,” Green dead-panned, “but some of the guys talked me out of it. I just kept them down there where they couldn’t raise any hell.”
The Buckeyes never get out from underfoot – either Green’s or the ‘Bama team – despite 10 Crimson Tide fumbles, though only two were lost.
Even with that, from start to finish, Alabama was in command.
“The plan,” center Dwight Stephenson said, “was to take it right to them.” And 16 of Alabama’s first 17 plays went right into the teeth of the Buckeye defense. The Crimson Tide held the ball for eight minutes, gaining 60 yards, while Ohio State appeared to be just hanging on, even at that early stage. David Sadler, Green, Bob Cryder and Jim Bunch, the ‘Bama offensive line, thrashed their opposition as the Tide backs consistently gained yardage off tackle. The drive ended short of points when quarterback Jeff Rutledge was stopped on a two-yard pickup on fourth-and-goal from the 5.
“We had a little further to go than I thought,” commented Alabama coach Paul Bryant. “We should have kicked the field goal. It was a stupid call, and I made it.”
The ease in which ‘Bama handled Ohio State, points or not, on that drive carried a message: “We thought we had ‘em then,” Rutledge admitted.
With almost embarrassing efficiency, Rutledge guided the Tide 76 yards on its second possession. A 29-yard pass to Ozzie Newsome, with a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty tacked on, put the Buckeyes in serious trouble. Tony Nathan bounded into the end zone from the 1 after Bruce Bolton put the ball there on a six-yard run that wasn’t supposed to be.
“Ozzie came off when Bolton went in, and he (Newsome) was supposed to carry on the play,” Bryant moaned with a smile, “The Good Lord called that one for us.”
Bolton also figured in the next ‘Bama touchdown, which came on a play Bryant hadn’t used all season. Rutledge and the Crimson Tide line had Ohio State backpedaling on its next series, an 11-play, 76-yard touchdown drive. The points came when fullback Johnny Davis swung right on a fake at the Buckeye 27 while split end Bolton, who had lined up as a right halfback, rolled out of the backfield and shot down the sideline.
Anticipating the run, the Buckeye cornerback stepped forward – and Bolton was almost instantly clear. Rutledge dropped back and got the ball to Bolton, barely inbounds. The extra point was missed, but with 4:32 left until the half, Alabama led 13-0.
The Tide had scored on two of only three first half possessions.
Quarterback Rod Gerald had the Buckeyes in position to get back in the game, guiding Ohio State to the Alabama 3. Coach Woody Hayes, however, passed up a field goal attempt on fourth down. “I thought about it being bad football,” he explained. “When you’re down 13 points, field goals don’t look so big…if we had gotten the touchdown we may have played better ball.”
But they didn’t.
After ‘Bama again held Ohio State at its 28, Rutledge took the Tide 72 yards where he hit Richard Neal with a three-yard TD pass. Another pass to Neal on a two-point conversion made the score an out-of-reach 21-0.
“There in the third quarter, when we had the ball on the short end of the 50 twice and didn’t move,” smoldered Hayes, “their defense rose to the occasion and our offense didn’t. That definitely sealed the ball game right there.”
Buckeye players continued to talk about their exhaustive beating to Michigan, and why they should’ve been in Pasadena as Big Ten champions. While embarrassed Sugar Bowlers cleared their throats and avoided eye contact after one of the game’s worst matches, reporters wondered how one team could fumble 10 times and still win by 29 points.
Answers came from the Alabama locker room. Tackle Lloyd David Sadler felt it was because there simply was no better team. “Anyone who doesn’t vote for us,” he said with an eye toward the next day’s final balloting after finding out that in the Cotton Bowl Notre Dame beat Texas, the only team ahead o the Tide in the poll, “isn’t voting with a clear conscience.”
Story excerpted from the book “Sugar Bowl Classic: A History” by Marty Mulé, who covered the game and the organization for decades for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.