Gameday+ | Using a halfback at quarterback worked for one game in '59

Ray Stein
Buckeye Xtra
Tom Matte, shown here as a sophomore in 1958, came to Ohio State from Cleveland to play halfback, but injuries at quarterback forced coach Woody Hayes to use him under center in 1959 and '60.

Oct. 31, 1959

Each week, Gameday+ takes a look at an Ohio State game played on this date: 

Ohio State 30, Michigan State 24 

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Setup: In the five seasons of Ohio State football between 1954 and ’58, the Buckeyes under coach Woody Hayes lost seven games total and captured three Big Ten and two national championships. The 1959 season, however, would turn into an anomaly of deficiency for Hayes and his team, which suffered key injuries at a dizzying rate. Nowhere was the cruelty of injury felt more keenly than on OSU’s offense, which saw starting quarterback Jerry Fields depart with an arm injury in the season opener and saw all-American fullback Bob White sidelined for stretches of the season with a shoulder injury. The Buckeyes adjusted where they could, including inserting halfback Tom Matte at quarterback. But they pretty much never got off the offensive schneid, finishing with 83 points in nine games. (For comparison’s sake, the 2018 OSU team led by Dwayne Haskins eclipsed that total in less than 65 minutes of football.) Ohio State suffered three shutouts on the season and scored more than 15 points in a game only once – a Halloween surprise against favored Michigan State. 

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Stars of the game 

Matte enjoyed his finest game as Ohio State quarterback, completing 5 of 8 passes for 138 yards and three touchdowns and adding 73 yards rushing on 22 attempts. End Jim Houston caught two TD passes from Matte and finished with 110 yards on three receptions. Sophomore Bob Ferguson sparked the running game with 109 yards on only six carries and White toughed out 42 yards on 14 attempts. Michigan State got touchdowns from future pro standouts Herb Adderley and Fred Arbanas.

Jim Houston

Turning point 

Matte-to-Houston touchdown passes of 57 and 17 yards gave Ohio State a 16-14 halftime lead, and Ferguson’s 55-yard romp early in the fourth quarter pushed the Buckeyes’ cushion to 30-17. Michigan State pulled to 30-24 on an Arbanas TD with 6:35 remaining, but Matte engineered a 16-play, 64-yard drive to eat the clock, the game ending with OSU at the Spartans’ 3-yard line. 

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Impact 

Yes, well. Inspired by their 420-yard output and their first-ever victory over the Spartans, the Buckeyes took the field the next week against Indiana and laid a not-so-golden egg. Ohio State totaled seven first downs, 127 yards and zero points in an inglorious 0-0 tie with the Hoosiers. Then came more pestilence — losses to Iowa (16-7) and Michigan (23-14) that left the Buckeyes with a 3-5-1 record and their first of what would be two losing seasons under Hayes in 28 years. 

Quotable 

“I told our boys (after losing) at Wisconsin last week: ‘Forget about the Rose Bowl and winning the conference championship. From now on you’re not playing for any exterior prizes. … If you get beat, that’s one thing. If you stay beat, that’s another.’ ” — Hayes, on keeping his team motivated through a tough season

rstein@dispatch.com