Paul Brown, the coach who won Ohio State's first championship, was gone. Soft-spoken Carroll Widdoes was given the task of filling the giant shoes.
Paul Brown enlisted in the Navy in April of 1944. The understanding was he would serve his country, then come back to Ohio State as head coach. Brown placed Carroll Widdoes in charge of his players until his return.
Widdoes was a quiet man with an easygoing coaching style but had limited head coaching experience. The only time he served as a head coach was at Longfellow Junior High School in Mansfield. It was a big jump, but Widdoes studied under Brown at Massillon and Ohio State.
|The 1944 Buckeyes|
|B1G Record||6–0, 1st|
|Coach||Carroll Widdoes (1st year, 9–0)|
Games of Note
September 30th • Missouri • Ohio Stadium
In 1943, Iowa Pre-Flight ended Ohio State's streak of victories in 49 consecutive in season openers. The return of Les Horvath greatly enhanced the team's chances of starting a new streak, however.
A civilian again following the disband of the Army program he was in, Horvath provided needed leadership for Ohio State's 55th team. The 1944 roster was young — 31 of the 44 players were freshmen.
Bob Brugge, a freshman from Parma, scored the first points of the season. Brugge ran in from 13 yards out to put the Buckeyes up 7-0. That was all Ohio State needed against the paper-like Tigers. In the end, the Buckeyes' offense racked up 466 yards and won easily 54-0.
|SEP. 30||MISSOURI||OHIO STADIUM||W, 54–0|
|OCT. 7||IOWA||OHIO STADIUM||W, 34–0|
|OCT. 14||NO. 19 WISCONSIN||CAMP RANDALL||W, 20–7|
|OCT. 21||NO. 6 GREAT LAKES||OHIO STADIUM||W, 26–6|
|OCT. 28||MINNESOTA||OHIO STADIUM||W, 34–14|
|NOV. 4||NO. 15 INDIANA||OHIO STADIUM||W, 21–7|
|NOV. 11||PITTSBURGH||OHIO STADIUM||W, 54–19|
|NOV. 18||ILLINOIS||CLEVELAND||W, 26–12|
|NOV. 25||NO. 6 MICHIGAN||OHIO STADIUM||W, 18–14|
October 7th • Iowa • Ohio Stadium
In the Big Ten opener, Ohio State forced eight Iowa turnovers and defeated the Hawkeyes 34-0.
Edward "Slip" Madigan was the fill-in coach for Iowa that year. The Hall Of Fame coach never faced the Buckeyes again.
The AP Poll took notice of Ohio State starting the season 2–0 and winning by a combined score of 88-0. It ranked the Buckeyes in the top 10 for the first time since the end of the 1942 season.
For the accolades Ohio State received, the 19th-ranked Badgers were lying in wait in Madison and ready to knock them down. Would Widdoes have his team ready for Wisconsin?
October 14th • No. 19 Wisconsin • Camp Randall Stadium
Dick Flanagan ended Ohio State's 75-yard opening drive with a touchdown run. The rest of the first half featured stalled drives and the Buckeyes took the 7-0 lead into halftime.
Earl "Jug" Girard tied the game in the third quarter on a 1-yard plunge into the end zone. The tie was short-lived, though, after Bill Hackett set up Ohio State's next score when he blocked a Wisconsin punt in Badger territory.
After a short drive, Ollie Cline crossed the goal line to put the Buckeyes up 13-7. Horvath put the game away when he returned an interception to the Wisconsin 14-yard line late in the final quarter. He added an insurance touchdown with 18 seconds left.
The trip to Madison was the only game the 1944 team played outside of the state of Ohio.
October 21st • #6 Great Lakes • Ohio Stadium
Great Lakes Naval Training Center came to Columbus with Ohio ties. Former Ohio State coach, Paul Brown, was the Blue Jackets' head coach. Other former Buckeyes on his roster were Ernie Plank and Jim Rees.
Not known at the time, but a future Hall of Fame coach was also on the team. Akron native, Ara Parseghian, played fullback for Brown and later coached for Woody Hayes at Miami (Ohio). He eventually got the head coaching position at Notre Dame.
This matchup drew national interest and was covered by CBS and NBC on the radio. Ohio State scored first when Dick Flannagan broke the goal line from a yard out to give the Buckeyes a 6-0 lead in the waning seconds of the first.
After Great Lakes scored in the third quarter, the battle with the Blue Jackets entered the fourth quarter tied. The work Widdoes and his staff put into conditioning came through as Ohio State dominated the final quarter. Two of the three touchdowns recorded in the last stanza were by Horvath.
Ohio State remained undefeated after beating its former coach 26-6.
November 4th • #15 Indiana • Ohio Stadium
One week earlier, Horvath scored two of the Buckeyes' five touchdowns against Minnesota. He rushed for 90 yards and passed for 113 in the 34-14 victory.
Indiana marked the third ranked opponent for the now No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes in their first six games. The Hoosiers came out swinging and led 7-0 early. This was the first time all season the Buckeyes trailed.
Horvath and his teammates would not behind for long. Horvath hit Jack Dugger for a 41-yard touchdown pass to tie the game and the speedy Brugge rushed for two more scores to lead the Buckeyes to a 21-7 victory in front of the 56,380 fans in the Shoe. The win propelled Ohio State to No. 2 in the national rankings.
November 18th • Illinois • Cleveland Municipal Stadium
A week after pasting Pitt, 54-19, Ohio State faced Illinois in Cleveland's Municipal Stadium. Due to duplicate tickets being sold, temporary stands were built to accommodate the 83,627 fans in attendance. The record-breaking crowd was anxious to see the undefeated Buckeyes go for their 10th straight win over the Illini.
Horvath had another big performance and rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns in Ohio State's 26-12 win. Other Buckeyes that scored were Brugge and Jack Dugger, whose touchdown came off trickery.
Brugge had not thrown a pass all season until this game. The Parma native surprised the Fighting Illini when he connected with Dugger for the 49-yard touchdown pass.
Ohio State improved to 8-0 and the sixth ranked Michigan Wolverines were on the horizon.
November 25th • #6 Michigan • Ohio Stadium
For the first time ever, The Game would decide the Big Ten Championship.
A familiar scenario played out for Ohio State when Cline crossed the goal line late in the first quarter, but Dugger's point after try was blocked.
Both defenses dug in until the Wolverines' Dick Culligan broke through Ohio State's line with only 22 seconds remaining in the first half. Michigan made its extra point to lead at halftime.
In the third, Gordon Appleby put the Buckeyes in great field position when he recovered a fumble at the Wolverines' 23. Ohio State made Michigan pay for the turnover when he scored from a yard out. The Buckeyes missed another extra point, however, so led just 12-7.
The back and forth continued when Culligan ran for his second touchdown. The Wolverines led 14-12 with just over eight minutes remaining in the game. However, special teams change games. It can be for the better or for the worse. In Michigan's case it was for the worse. The ensuing kickoff only went 12 yards before landing out of bounds.
The stage was set for Ohio State to drive 52 yards for the winning score. The Buckeyes milked the clock as they methodically drove down the field. With 16 seconds remaining in the game, Horvath won it for Ohio State when he rushed for his second touchdown of the afternoon.
The 18-14 victory secured Ohio State's second perfect season and seventh Big Ten title.
Heisman for Horvath
At the conclusion of the season, Horvath won Ohio State's first Heisman Trophy. The ceremony wasn't like what it is today, though. Horvath wasn't in New York when he was informed that he won — he was in class.
"Well, it was rather a stunning thing, I was in dental class and the dean called for me to come down to the office that I had a phone call from New York," Horvath said. "They told me that I had won the Heisman. I was sort of stunned because it was totally unexpected."
Horvath did not immediately continue his football career. Instead he entered the Navy as a dentist. He served two years with the Great Lakes Naval Training Base in Hawaii before returning to football.
Horvath played for the Los Angeles Rams and Cleveland Browns over three seasons. In 1949, he returned to practicing dentistry in California.
Rose Bowl Invitation
The Rose Bowl committee contacted the Buckeyes and invited the Big Ten champs to play against USC. At the time, the Big Ten did not allow teams to play in postseason contests. After a vote, it was decided that Ohio State could not compete in the Rose Bowl. The season was over.
- Paul Brown could not coach at Ohio State because he enlisted in the Navy.
- Carroll Widdoes was named Ohio State's 16th coach.
- Ohio State improved to 4–0 against Missouri.
- The Buckeyes beat Wisconsin in Madison for the first time since 1933.
- Brown returned to Ohio Stadium as head coach of Great Lakes. Widdoes and Ohio State won 26-6.
- Ohio State defeated Pittsburgh for the fifth straight game.
- The Buckeyes beat Illinois for the 10th consecutive time.
- Ohio State won the Big Ten title by beating Michigan, but trails the all-time series 12–26–3 .
- The Buckeyes finished the season with an undefeated and untied record for the second time in school history.
- Ohio State finished the season No. 2 in the AP Poll.
- Jack Dugger, Bill Hackett, Les Horvath and Bill Willis earned All-American honors. Willis was honored for the second time.
- Les Horvath won Ohio State's first Heisman Trophy.
- Carroll Widdoes was named coach of the year by the American Football Coaches Association.
- Jack Dugger, Gordon Appleby, Gene Fekete, Bill Hackett, Bob Jabbusch, Cecil Souders and John Priday were selected in the NFL Draft.
The 1944 season was one for the record books. With a first year coach, and 31 freshman on the 44 man roster, The 51st team in Ohio State's history finished undefeated and untied. Widdoes did the improbable and completed the Buckeyes' first perfect season in 28 years.
The play of Les Horvath was recognized as he won the school's first Heisman Trophy. World War II was still being fought; but the Buckeyes gave the people stateside, and across the ocean, a happy distraction from the war.