The year was 1976, and Michigan football had a big problem. They hadn’t beaten Ohio State since ‘71 - and that was only the third time in the rivalry’s history they had gone so long without a win. This time, though, was in the heart of Bo versus Woody. The 10-year war. And Bo desperately needed a comeback.
Ricky Leach was already a star quarterback as a sophomore, but keep in mind that he was a QB in the ‘70s. His dynamo sophomore stats? A 151.1 passer rating, 13 TD’s, 10 more rushing TD’s, and 8 interceptions. He completed 50 passes for 973 yards that year. He ran for 638 yards.
His best days were still ahead of him (two top-10 Heisman finishes! one season with a 50% completion rating!), but for now, he was leading #4 Michigan against #8 Ohio State in front of a record crowd of 88,000 people in Columbus, Ohio. And he made the most from the plays he was given.
“3rd and 3 at the Ohio State 47-yard line. There is - a broken play and Ricky Leach is going to make the first down! The 40 - the 35! He cuts away to the 30, he’s down to the 26-yard line! Ricky Leach!”
That 21-yard gain was a part of Michigan’s first drive of the third. The score was still 0-0, but it was about to turn into a blowout thanks to the running backs - one of whom was already a Michigan legend.
Rob Lytle to the right for 11 yards. Rob Lytle to the left for 9 yards. Stuffed. A gain of three, Ohio off-sides. Then, Davis standing in for a touchdown.
Lytle leaps a tackler, gains 16. Cuts over the right tackle, for 4. Is subbed out for Davis. Comes in after one play, gains another 5. Davis takes over again, scores another touchdown. 15-0.
Then, Rob Lytle, who became the Wolverines’ all-time rushing leader in the game before this:
This was a showdown with the Big Ten championship, and a Rose Bowl berth, on the line, and Woody Hayes’ group managed -7 yards in the second half. With the clock ticking down to nothing, and the scoreboard showing a 22-0 Michigan lead, Ohio State fans had to readjust their measurement of the season as they dropped to 8-2-1, with the Wolverines sitting pretty at 10-1.
All but one of Michigan’s first downs had come by way of the run against the Buckeyes; the other was thanks to a Buckeye penalty. For Rob Lytle, it was a career-defining performance in a sterling, and now Hall of Fame, career. He chipped in one of the team’s three touchdowns and ran for 165 yards, the third-highest total of his career and the most that any Wolverine had garnered against Ohio State to that point (the record now being Tim Biakabutuka in ‘95). Russell Davis chipped in 83 yards on 24 carries. Quarterback Ricky Leach had 49, plus 6 passes, no completions and an INT.
The Wolverines went on to face the USC Trojans in the Rose Bowl, losing 14-6 in front of 106,000 people. Lytle was held to 69 yards in that one, and Michigan had the ball for barely more than 24 minutes of clock. But it was still a memorable senior year for Lytle (1,550 total yards and 16 TD’s), and Michigan was ready to reload without him for ‘77.