Victory over Illinois in 1942 helped get Ohio State on the road to recovery

Ray Stein
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State's Paul Sarringhaus (88), shown in a 1942 game against Northwestern, was a key player for the Buckeyes down the stretch that season as injuries decimated OSU's corps of halfbacks.

Nov. 14, 1942 

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

Ohio State 44, Illinois 20 

Setup 

The 1942 college football season, like others played during world wars, were anything but typical. Able-bodied players became able-bodied soldiers, and some coaches took leaves of absence to become officers in the military — only to end up coaching a service team. Ohio State’s Paul Brown would take that route, but not until 1944. Two years before, Brown’s duties were to coach his second OSU team, and it was a good one. Ohio State won its first five games and was ranked first nationally upon the first release of the polls, after week 3. That ranking came crashing down in the days after Oct. 31, when OSU suffered a 17-7 loss at Wisconsin — “suffered” being the operative word. On the train ride to Madison, the Buckeyes were subjected to copious amounts of “bad water,” which led to a bout of dysentery that swept through team, as Gen. George Patton said, “like (bleep) through a goose.” Fully recovered the next week, Ohio State got back into the Big Ten picture when losses by the Badgers and Minnesota left the Buckeyes in a first-place tie for the Big Ten lead with their next opponent, Illinois. The game was played in Cleveland’s Municipal Stadium, in part because Illinois had lousy attendance and in part to aid the U.S. war effort. 

Stars 

Future Heisman Trophy winner (1944) Les Horvath engineered a 400-yard day by rushing for 68 yards, passing for 109 and accounting for two touchdowns. He also had a 31-yard interception return. Halfback Tommy James had 112 yards rushing on three carries, including TD runs of 76 and 32 yards in the first half, but he was soon sidelined by a separated shoulder that would end his season.

OSU halfback Tommy James gained 112 yards against Illinois before his season ended with a separated shoulder.

Turning point 

James’ dashes helped Ohio State to a 23-13 halftime lead on a snowy, cold day on the lakefront. The Buckeyes then forced two fumbles in the third quarter, with Horvath cashing in the second with a 47-yard scoring pass to Paul Sarringhaus to give OSU a comfortable margin. 

Impact 

The win propelled the Buckeyes to No. 5 in the polls, and they jumped two spots the next week with a 21-7 victory over Michigan to win the Big Ten title. One game remained, against the 7-1 Iowa Pre-Flight Seahawks, a service team made up of former college players and seasoned professionals. Decimated by injuries, Ohio State nonetheless used its speed to pull off a 41-12 upset win, then watched good news pour in from across the country: No. 1 Boston College had lost by 43 points to Holy Cross, and No. 2 Georgia Tech was whipped 34-0 by Georgia. The Buckeyes had won their first national title. 

Quotable 

“It all builds up to the ‘works’ next week against Michigan, doesn’t it?” — Brown, perhaps sensing that his team was peaking at the right time 

rstein@dispatch.com