On a field cozily embraced by fir, juniper and 19,400 fans, San Jose State found itself last Saturday night parked directly in the path of San Diego State, a small-college football team that has been itching to sink its teeth into major college competition. San Jose indubitably is—or was—major. In a game that brought together the NCAA's major college offensive leader and its college division's second best in total offense, San Jose's Danny Holman and San Diego's Don Horn, the Aztecs of San Diego won easily 25-0. Immediately, San Diego Coach Don Coryell ran off the field in search of another major college fool enough to play his team.
Throwing from a tight pocket that made Holman shudder with envy, Horn won the passing contest, completing 13 of 29 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns. Holman's seven of 12 were for only 46 yards, far behind his pregame completion record of 80 out of 129 attempts for 984 yards and eight touchdowns. Holman finished the game with a bruised right leg, sore ribs and ugly red welts up and down his back. "I've never in my life been rushed like that," he said. "All I saw were No. 77 [Tackle Leo Carroll] and No. 61 [End Cliff Hancock]. We never stood a chance. They may be a small college, but they were bigger than us."
Making San Diego State look bigger is exactly what Coryell has been working for in his six years as head football coach at this "small" school of 17,000 students. Energetic and intense, Coryell has lifted the Aztecs to a position of public adulation and support where his only fear is of being downgraded. The rules committee of the California Collegiate Athletic Association—San Diego State is a member—threatens a cutback in athletic aid, and Coryell is ready to become an independent. "That is why," he said before the San Jose game last week, "this is the most important football game in San Diego State's history. We are playing a major college team, one that has beaten Oregon and California. If we win impressively we can prove we're good enough to play anybody, major or minor. It takes guts to go off on your own."
San Jose State has been off on its own for some time and lately, with Danny Holman at quarterback, has been giving everybody's pass defense a hard time. Holman may be the best pure passer in college football today—Griese, Beban, Spurrier and Southall included. In throwing San Jose past Oregon 21-7, California 24-0 and in almost beating Stanford, Holman demonstrated to a growing mob of professional scouts a precise buggy-whip arm that had them talking in superlatives. Bob Sneddon, who scouts for the San Francisco 49ers, took one look at Holman and told his boss, Pappy Waldorf, that Holman is one of the future greats of professional football. "I'd take him tomorrow," says Sneddon. "He's got all the physical abilities we look for—the quick feet, the arm, the accuracy—and he's proven himself to be tough in spite of his size. And, best of all, he's a winner."
It says in San Jose State's press guide that Danny Holman stands 6 feet 2 and weighs 160 pounds. When you ask him about his weight Holman will shrug and say, "Aw, that's not right. I really weigh about 168—sometimes as much as 172." However, when you watch Holman grab the ball and scamper back into the pocket, his jersey billowing about him, his socks falling down around his ankles, you begin to think the press guide erred on the side of bigness. "I don't really care how much he weighs now," says Sneddon. "He's only 20 years old and he's going to get bigger."
And probably better. Holman's passes, drilled authoritatively on short-hook or sideline patterns, or lofted deep to receivers as far as 55 yards away, are impressive enough, but what may be his greatest attribute is his ability to pick up and hit alternate receivers when his original target is covered. "He can drive you absolutely stark, raving mad," said Coryell last week, his most jittery seven days in 17 years of coaching. "Holman has such a wide range of vision, he can take in the whole field with just a twitch of his head and see who's open and who isn't. Plus he's on the money so much of the time you've simply got to get to him."
The job of getting to Holman fell to Defensive Coach John Madden, who was more responsible for his team's victory than any other single person. Madden, acting upon keys he discovered in the San Jose State offensive sets, decided to blitz his linebackers, 244-pound Jeff Staggs and 215-pound Jon Wittier, in the direction in which Holman was expected to roll. The idea was to have Staggs and Wittler occupy as many blockers as possible as they fought to reach Holman, leaving an open route for the rest of the rushers, fellows like the 253-pound Carroll and the 196-pound Hancock. "We wanted to force Holman to pull up short and drop the ball to his waist. That way he couldn't flick it into our secondary as quickly as he had done against everybody else," said Madden, who also had his players belting Holman's receivers at the line of scrimmage. As a result, Holman had few clear targets and no place to scramble when he simply had to run.
Meanwhile Coryell's wide-open offense, which featured everything from I-slot sets to double-wing spread formations, functioned beautifully behind a line that averages 225 pounds from tight end to tackle. Quarterback Horn, who has so much respect for Holman he predicted it would take five touchdowns to win the game, checked off adroitly at the line of scrimmage all night long, sending his two 9.7 runners, 210-pound Ted Washington and 207-pound Don Shy, bursting through the heart of San Jose State's defense on clever traps and delays. Washington and Shy gained 137 yards between them. "We wanted to establish a running game early," said Horn, "and then open it up later on. But Teddy and Don were running so well it seemed foolish to change."
Aided by two San Jose penalties, the Aztecs went ahead 3-0 on Craig Scoggins' 22-yard field goal in the first period and made it 10-0 on Shy's five-yard run after he recovered a fumble on the Spartan 30. Nine minutes remained in the first half when San Jose's Randy Cardin, who held off San Diego with a 38-yard punting average, had a frantic punt from his end zone blocked after a pass from center that sailed over his head. The safety made it 12-0, and Horn's three-yard pass to Haven Moses gave San Diego an 18-0 lead at the half. Horn's 30-yard pass to Moses in the fourth quarter ended the scoring.
After the game San Jose's players were the first to admit they had been beaten by a faster, bigger and superior team. Many were convinced that next to USC and UCLA San Diego State is the best football team on the Coast this year. "Look," said one. "We beat Cal 24-0, San Diego beat us 25-0, Cal beat Washington 24-20 and Washington only lost by three to USC. That makes San Diego about 50 points better than USC, doesn't it?"
Not really. But USC or UCLA might be wise to steer clear of the Aztecs.