Jack looks back | Illini’s huge upset of Wisconsin a reminder of upset at Ohio State

Jack Park For The Columbus Dispatch
John Wilce, Ohio State's football coach from 1913 to '28 [File photo]

Saturday’s Ohio State-Wisconsin game was expected to feature highly ranked teams, each with records of 7-0. Instead, Wisconsin was 6-1 after suffering a huge 24-23 upset at Illinois the previous weekend.

The Illini’s statistics were unusual for a winning team. Sixth-ranked Wisconsin led in time of possession, 42 minutes to 18. The Badgers had surrendered a total of only 29 points over their first six games and had posted four shutouts. It was the Illini’s first victory over a top-10 ranked Big Ten opponent since defeating No. 1 Ohio State 28-21 at Ohio Stadium in 2007.

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This huge upset by Illinois is similar to a previous Ohio State-Illinois game. The Buckeyes were an overwhelming favorite over the Illini for the last game at Ohio Field along High Street on Nov. 19, 1921. It was homecoming, and the Buckeyes entered the game 4-0 in league play, having shut out all four Big Ten opponents by a combined score of 76-0. Illinois had lost all four of its league games, being outscored 51-8.

The Illini had not scored a touchdown in these four games and were in serious danger of not winning at least one conference game for the first time in 22 seasons.

Illinois accomplished the impossible that afternoon, shutting out the Buckeyes 7-0. Illini coach Bob Zuppke, a master psychologist, used only 11 players. His game plan contained several new schemes, including a “drop-back pass defense” to guard against the fine passing of Ohio State’s “Sonny” Workman.

OSU coach John Wilce used 33 players while attempting to wear down the inspired Illini. Illinois scored in the second quarter on an unusual play. With the ball at the Ohio State 35-yard line, Illini halfback Don Peden passed to end Dave Wilson. The ball escaped Wilson’s grasp and bounced off the chest of Buckeyes defender Cyril “Truck” Myers. Illini captain Laurie Walquist quickly snatched the ball and rambled into the end zone for the game’s only touchdown. Some of the OSU players claimed the ball touched the ground before Walquist grabbed it, but the officials ruled otherwise.

The Buckeyes completely dominated the game’s statistics, running 72 plays from scrimmage compared with the Illini’s 49. Ohio State led in first downs, 14-5, and in total offense, 251 yards to 128. Ohio State had three excellent scoring opportunities deep in Illinois territory, but the visitors came through with timely defensive plays to preserve the shutout.

Sportswriter Harvey Woodruff, covering the game for the Chicago Tribune, was impressed with the inspired play of the Illini. In his Sunday column, he referred to the team as the “Fighting Illini.” The new nickname stuck, and the Illini have been known as the “Fighting Illini” ever since their monumental upset at Ohio State in 1921.