- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The motivational techniques were working even then, regardless of how well they were nationally known.
The spread offense was putting up crazy numbers, despite the fact Bowling Green didn’t settle on one starting quarterback until near the end of the season.
And Urban Meyer was already coaching aggressively and unafraid to get a little creative with the game on the line, though that reputation was only just being established as he took his Falcons to Northwestern in mid-November 2001.
But the Meyer trademark was all over his first team, and in hindsight it’s plain to see.
In spite of the conference affiliations and a late comeback, his quarterback didn’t consider Bowling Green an underdog then and doesn’t remember the win as an upset now. In just his second start in the spread offense, Josh Harris set a school record for total offense and the Falcons scored 43 points on the road. And perhaps most important of all, those last 2 points not only came after a gutsy decision to play for the win, Bowling Green scored them on a reverse to a converted wide receiver who had the option to throw and the outcome in his hands.
“Not only was it a huge game, but it was also an opponent that we, quote unquote, weren’t supposed to beat,” Harris said. “Even if they weren’t a super name-brand [program], they were in the Big Ten and we were the little guys from the MAC.
“We went and put it down on them. It was definitely one of those defining moments of my career.”
The dramatic victory also set the stage for Meyer’s career, giving him the first of what would become many shining moments on the sideline and offering an early glimpse at his potential leading a program.
Now 12 years later, he’s leading a different team to Northwestern under far different circumstances as the No. 4 Buckeyes hit the road as clear favorites in the Big Ten and a potential threat to win the national title. But even three programs and more than a decade removed from Bowling Green, the memories of his debut season and a signature win still come back easily.
“Coaches are weird ducks, man,” Meyer said. “I don't know my address but I can tell you every play in that game.
“We had a six‑hour bus ride, and we refused to leave the locker room for about two and a half hours. Those kids wouldn't leave, and I wouldn't leave with them. We were just crying and enjoying it.”
There was a real possibility the tears of joy could have been for disappointment after trailing for nearly the entire game and facing long odds down 14 points in the final four minutes.
But Harris operated a pair of flawless hurry-up drives sandwiched around a Northwestern fumble, capping an outing with 402 yards passing with a short touchdown pass to pull within a point with 36 seconds to go. Meyer kept the offense on the field after that, dialed up a bit of trickery and trusted Cole Magner to make the right decision with the football as the outcome -- and Northwestern’s chances to earn a bowl bid -- hung in the balance.
“What was unique about it was the guy whose hands he put the ball in,” Harris said. “I mean, you’re talking about a true freshman from Alaska, quarterback-turned-wide receiver. At the time he was probably 150 pounds, and we called a little reverse pass with an option to run, and I don’t think he ever even thought about throwing the ball. He caught the pitch and just booked it for the pylon.
“It didn’t end up being unique [for Meyer], but at the time it was still pretty unprecedented.”
That first visit to Northwestern, though, did wind up helping set the standard for Meyer and his teams. Now he’s returning to the scene of the crime, looking to add to his memory bank.