Sunday, February 18, 2007

1978 team: Wolverines captured third straight Big 10 title

The 1978 team was looking to capture its third consecutive Big Ten Conference title and advance to the Rose Bowl for the third time in as many years. The offense was led by senior All-American quarterback Rick Leach while the defense was paced by All-Big 10 performers Curtis Greer (Def. Tackle) and Ron Simpkins (Inside Linebacker). The Wolverines opened the season with a conference home game versus Illinois and scored a convincing 31-0 victory. The next week Michigan traveled to South Bend, Indiana to take on Notre Dame for the first meeting between the two teams since 1943. Notre Dame, the defending National Champions, were led by their quarterback Joe Montana. However, it was Michigan's quarterback Rick Leach who had a big day. Leach passed for 3 touchdowns and ran for another in leading the Wolverines to a 28-14 victory over the Fighting Irish in the renewed rivalry. The Wolverines notched two more non-conference victories (Duke 52-0; Arizona 21-17) in the following weeks before hosting in-state rival Michigan State. The Spartans spoiled Michigan's bid for a perfect season as Michigan State defeated the Wolverines 24-15. Michigan responded by winning their next four games by wide margins (i.e., Wisconsin 42-0; Minnesota 42-10; Iowa 34-0; Northwestern 59-14). The Wolverines then played host to the #15 ranked Purdue Boilermakers in what was senior Rick Leach's last game in Michigan Stadium. Leach passed for 2 touchdowns and rushed for 90 yards on 18 carries against Purdue while spearheading a 24-6 Michigan victory in his final home contest. The #6 ranked Wolverines (9-1) then traveled to Columbus, OH for their annual showdown with the Ohio State Buckeyes who were ranked #16 in the nation. Michigan came away with a 14-3 victory and its third consecutive Big Ten title and trip to the Rose Bowl.

The end of the "Ten Year War"
Coach Schembechler's victory over Ohio State in 1978 ran his record to 5-4-1 in games versus the Buckeyes. Unbeknownst to everyone at the time, this was the last time that Bo would coach against Woody Hayes. Coach Hayes was dismissed from his position as Ohio State's Head Football Coach a few months later after he punched a Clemson player (Charlie Bauman) following an interception in the 1978 Gator Bowl game. The ten years that Bo coached against Woody (1969-1978) would later become known as "The Ten Year War."

Heisman Trophy Voting

In his senior year of 1978, QB Rick Leach placed third in the Heisman Trophy balloting. Leach had put together another outstanding regular season as he led the Wolverines to a 10-1 record, a Big 10 title, a Rose Bowl game berth, and a #5 national ranking in the AP poll. Leach was 68/137, 1,146 yds., 16 tds., 4 int. through the air during the 1978 regular season. On the ground, Leach rushed the ball 133 times for 589 yards and 12 touchdowns. In recognition of his accomplishments, Leach was named an All-American in 1978.

Rose Bowl Game vs. USC (January 1, 1979)
After losing back-to-back Rose Bowls the previous two seasons, quarterback Rick Leach wanted to end his collegiate career with a victory in Pasadena, California. However, it was not meant to be as Southern California's star RB Charles White scored a "phantom touchdown" that proved to be the difference in the ballgame. With USC leading 7-3 in the second quarter, the Trojans had the ball on second down on the Wolverines' three-yard line. White took the handoff and jumped over the middle of the defense but lost the ball in the process. Although umpire Don Mason saw White fumble the ball that Outside Linebacker Jerry Meter recovered on the one-yard line, head linesman Gil Marchman ruled that White had crossed the goal line and scored a touchdown for USC. The controversial touchdown call stood and USC led 14-3. The Trojans added a field goal before halftime to go into the locker room with a 17-3 lead. In the second half, the Wolverines managed to cut the lead to seven when Leach threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Roosevelt Smith in the third quarter. However, neither team was able score after that and the Trojans were able to secure a 17-10 victory over the Wolverines. As an aside, Leach was named the game's co-MVP. The loss dropped Coach Schembechler's Rose Bowl record to 0-5. However, on a positive note, the 1978 Wolverines (10-2) finished with an AP ranking of #5 which marked the tenth consecutive year that Michigan finished the season ranked in the nation's top 10. Go Blue!

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