Note: This is the second of a series in which BuckeyeSports.com provides an overview of the second season as head coach at Ohio State for six of Urban Meyer's predecessors. We began with Francis Schmidt and continue with Paul Brown. Woody Hayes, Earle Bruce, John Cooper and Jim Tressel to follow this week.
Ohio State Year 2 Overview: 1942
Coach: Paul Brown
Previous season record (finish): 6-1-1, 3-1-1 Big Ten (2nd)
Notable players: End Robert Shaw, tackle Charles Csuri, guard Lindell Houston and halfbacks Paul Sarringhaus and Gene Fekete were all named All-Americans that season. Bill Willis, who went on to help re-integrate professional football and be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was one of the starting tackles, and 1944 Heisman Trophy winning halfback Les Horvath was also a member of the backfield. George M. Lynn served as team captain.
Notable games: A 26-0 win over Purdue on Oct. 17 represented the first time Ohio State played with the AP’s No. 1 ranking. Two weeks later, the Buckeyes suffered their first loss as the nation’s top team when No. 6 Wisconsin downed them 17-7. They finished the conference season with wins over No. 13 Illinois (44-20) and No. 4 Michigan (21-7).
Other developments (strategy, injuries, etc.): The Buckeyes did most of their damage during the season running the single wing, but Ohio State historian Jack Park noted in “The Official Ohio State Football Encyclopedia” that a 32-21 win over Indiana in the second week of the season featured a surprise deployment of the ‘T’ formation. Facing a Hoosier lineup that included future Cleveland Brown Lou Saban among its star players, the Buckeyes rallied from a 21-19 third-quarter deficit in large part thanks to the exploits of Fekete, who rushed for 132 yards and three touchdowns from the fullback position. Ohio State piled up 341 yards on the ground while averaging 5.1 yards per attempt.
Brown gave some indication of his future role in shaping the modern football offense by displaying flexibility with his attack. That was evident in the Michigan game as he saw Horvath and Sarringhaus hook up for a pair of touchdowns through air – first Horvath throwing to Sarringhaus then Sarringhaus throwing to Horvath. The Buckeyes scored all three of their touchdowns through the air that afternoon, including a 60-yard scoring strike from Sarringhaus to Shaw.
Ohio State outscored opponents 33.7-11.4, but that margin might have been even larger if the Buckeyes had gotten a full season from Dante Lavelli. An end from Hudson, Ohio, Lavelli suffered a season-ending leg injury during a week three win over USC. He went on to have Pro Football Hall of Fame career for the Cleveland Browns.
The box score from the Buckeyes’ only loss of the season did not tell the full story as many Ohio State players were hindered or sidelined by a case of dysentery that came from a tainted water supply on the trains used for transportation to Madison. It has come to be known as “The Bad Water Game”.
How’d it end up? Despite the loss to the Badgers, the Buckeyes were voted national champions by the Associated Press after closing the season with four consecutive wins.
They climbed back up the polls by whipping Pittsburgh 59-19 then knocking off the Fighting Illini in Cleveland and Michigan in Columbus.
Michigan outgained Ohio State 268-257, but the Buckeyes prevailed 21-7 with the passing game and timely defensive stops to claim the Big Ten championship. The Wolverines held the Buckeyes to 2.4 yards per play on the ground (48 rushes for 115 yards), but OSU passers combined to complete 6 of 8 attempts through the air for 142 yards and the three scores.
Ohio State (9-1, 5-1 Big Ten) capped the season with a 41-12 win over the Iowa Seahawks – a naval cadet service team – then were voted national champions over Georgia Tech in a razor-close vote. Ohio State had entered the last weekend of the season ranked No. 3 but benefited from losses by No. 1 Boston College and the second-ranked Yellow Jackets.
The OSU passing game was again precise against the Seahawks as the Buckeyes completed 6 of 7 passes for 159 yards. Meanwhile, Ohio State shut down the Iowa Pre-Flight passing game, holding the Seahawks to 3 completions on 13 attempts and intercepting five passes.
Fekete won the league rushing title with 550 yards on 134 carries during Big Ten play and led the league in scoring with 52 points.
Ohio State led the conference in rushing with 270.1 yards per game and scoring at 25.0 points per contest.