Maybe the Vatican ought to consider banning Purdue instead of the Pill. Maybe Purdue is the hugest, fleetest, calmest, most skilled football team that ever tromped through the Indiana sycamores. Maybe Leroy Keyes is the greatest quadruple threat since Mt. Rushmore. And maybe Notre Dame would be better off trying to win one for Ara Parseghian instead of the Gipper. These and various other sinister thoughts are to be weighed now that the Boilermakers have put it on the Fighting Irish twice in a row in a great big Poll Bowl that brings out the Rockne in everybody.
Last week the whole scene was set up perfectly for Notre Dame. The Irish were at home, all nestled comfortably in that cavern of devotion known as the Notre Dame Stadium, and they had a running game that they lacked last year to go along with Terry Hanratty and Jim Seymour, the Mr. Fling and Mr. Cling of more glorious days, and the weather was perfect, clear and sport-jackety comfortable, and Pat O'Brien had spoken at the Friday night pep rally and done his Gipper thing, and Notre Dame wanted these Purdue people badly because of last year's loss. There were even large signs and banners strewn around the campus commanding Parseghian's legions to do some very un-Catholic things to Purdue—and the Golden Girl, too.
But there was just one thing wrong with all of this. Purdue goes to South Bend like it goes to the drugstore. If it were any other group of players, terror would have enveloped them, as it did Oklahoma on the previous week, and the Irish would have run them all the way to Elkhart. That is what happens at South Bend. An unknowing visiting quarterback looks for a receiver, and he sees Rockne in the clouds. A runner darts around end and the Four Horsemen slap at his shoe tops, tripping him. A pass receiver reaches up to latch onto a down-and-out, and suddenly the ball coming toward him is Frank Leahy's grinning face with a halo over it. But none of this happens to a Boilermaker.
He comes from two hours down the road, and he is a tall, thick, brooding, nonchalant fellow who has heard the Notre Dame fight song so much he thinks it's a deodorant commercial. He has been to South Bend, that service-station stop off the Indiana toll road. He knows he has got a lot of help out there with him, unbothered, unmoved guys like himself: a ferocious, fearsome foursome on defense to make Terry Hanratty throw a wobbler off his front foot; a cool quarterback named Mike Phipps who can take a football and knock a face guard off a man's headgear at 40 yards; and, best of all, Leroy Keyes, who will run, throw, catch, defend and smile at you as he does it all.
October 6, 1968
In the presence of 59,075 last Saturday, and millions of others on an ABC-TV regional telecast that was practically national (it was wired into 56% of the country), the Boilermakers looked almost bored before the kickoff. Here were the Irish leaping around pounding each other while that song bent the heavens, but over there stood the Purdues, hands on hips across the field, and some of them playing catch. These Boilermakers, they come to South Bend and they make the Poll Bowl, for goodness sake, look like an opening game against Virginia.
In the space of a 3 l/2-minute portion of the second quarter last Saturday, before Notre Dame even had time to wake up the echoes, the Boilermakers scored 20 points and put the game out of reach of Parseghian, Hanratty, Seymour, Pat O'Brien or anybody else. A lot of freaky stuff took place thereafter, but Purdue moved to a 23-7 lead in that span, as Keyes ran, passed, caught, etc., and you knew that if the Boilermakers could avoid going to sleep from their nonchalance, it was really all over.
By then several things had been established. Mike Phipps could throw a pass to his splendid end, Bob Dillingham, just any time he wanted to, because Notre Dame was double-covering Keyes physically and giving him 11-man coverage psychologically. Dillingham, who had been beaten out of his job the week before, ended up catching 11 passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns. Keyes, despite all the defensive attention lavished upon him, could run wide almost at will, which he did twice for touch-downs and a few more times, too, getting 90 yards in all. And Leroy could catch a big third-down pass from Phipps if needed, even with a couple of the Fighting Irish grasping at his arms before, during and after the ball's arrival, or meander out to his left and loft a neat up-and-over pass to Dillingham for one of those touchdowns.
"There was never any question whether we could move the ball. We knew that," said the baby-faced Phipps, who beat the Irish last year as a sophomore. 'Their secondary was young. We knew we'd beat 'em. All we wondered was whether our defense could hold 'em."
The defense not only held Notre Dame when necessary, it made the big plays—an interception and a fumble recovery—which set in motion the 20-point barrage that ultimately led to the slightly misleading final score of 37-22. The Purdue defense had moments of letting down and allowing the Irish runners to burst into an open secondary and look niftier and speedier than they are. But the defense would recover in time to catch them after five or six yards, because the thick-legged Notre Dame backs lack the balance and moves to scurry away. Hit hard, they do. But run far, they don't. And then the Boilermakers, as if brought to life by the realization that Notre Dame was getting close, would apply the pressure to Hanratty and force him to throw the bad ball on a key down. Six times they reared up to stop Notre Dame inside their own 30-yard line when it meant something. A couple of times this defense, which is directed by a very agile middle guard named Chuck Kyle, came close to turning Hanratty passes into Purdue touchdowns. "If Hanratty has a chance to set up and throw off his right foot he's accurate," Kyle said after the game. "But if you press him he throws a wobbly ball." And then on occasion, even when' Hanratty threw well, Leroy Keyes was in the game on defense, and that was bad for Notre Dame. Keyes covered Jim Seymour quite tightly when Hanratty was restricted to only three or four seconds to release a pass. Leroy squirted in front of Seymour once and had a Hanratty pass in his hands with 85 yards of bright sunshine before him, but he jiggled it and dropped it. Had he managed that interception, it would have made the score 30-7 with the game not half over.
This was one of several opportunities Purdue missed to raise the score far higher than merely the most points ever run up on a Notre Dame team that was rated No. 1. It is true the Irish had some opportunities themselves. They would have had to in a game that produced more than 900 yards of total offense and 55 first downs. But Purdue had the most. The Boilermakers once moved 72 yards to the Irish eight and did not score, and they also were foiled at the Notre Dame 17-and 19-yard lines.
The game started out very much like the type of contest Poll Bowl fans expect. Purdue drove to a 3-0 lead, and Notre Dame, with its runners getting their best openings of the day, came back to go ahead 7-3. But Purdue immediately went 74 yards for the touchdown that made it 10-7, with Keyes doing the scoring from 16 yards away on a pitch to the left, a cut, a head fake and in—untouched.
About now you had time to remember something Phipps had said the day before the game. "The last team to get the ball may win," he had noted, reflecting on the 28-21 victory he engineered in 1967. But this was the moment Purdue's groaning defense decided to wake up. The front four guys, who have such names as Billy McKoy, Bill Yanchar, Dennis Wirgowski and Alex Davis, who range in weight from 210 to 272 and who have an average height of 6'4", started playing volleyball with the Notre Dame backs. Bop. Interception at the Irish 30. Three plays later: Keyes starting off on that same play to the left, and this time Notre Dame isn't going to let him run for a touchdown, no, by Ara, not again, so Keyes is lobbing a 17-yard scoring pass to Dillingham. Bop. Fumble at the Irish 41. Two plays later: Phipps to Dillingham. Another touchdown.
One more contribution from the defense later—another interception—gave Purdue the ball at Notre Dame's 31, and this time it took the Boilermakers just two plays to get in. Perry Williams did it from 18 yards out, using the same play Keyes scored on.
Purdue's offense is basic. Phipps stands in a pocket that wouldn't crumble if the National Guard went at it. His receivers just do a little hook or cross the middle and they are open and he hits them. Keyes runs a pitch either way. A bull of a fullback, Williams, is in there to butt people down straight ahead. And Jim Kirkpatrick, the other halfback, will come off tackle now and then. That's all. About four or five plays, but brilliantly executed with the power, speed and confidence of, well, pros.
The whole Purdue offense is built around Keyes and what he will do when he sets up as the deep back in a slot I or in an I formation with flankers and split ends. It is built around the threat of Keyes running a sweep to either side, a sweep on which he might go wide, cut inside or throw a pass. Keyes, who is 6'3" and 205, generally takes a quick pitch from Mike Phipps and lopes slowly out to the side, with some definite idea in mind of what he will do. But everything can change with the blocking, or the reaction of the cornerback. The play that he scored his first touchdown on sounds like a fouled-up computer trying to respond to the capital of Rhode Island. It is called X-Strong Left 21 Toss. Which means: Keyes runs left and either keeps or passes, but hopefully keeps. When Leroy started to his left, End Bob Dillingham took out the Notre Dame safety, and Keyes saw that Mike Phipps was going to handle the cornerback, so he cut inside, kind of wiggled, cut outside and went for the touchdown.
On Keyes's scoring pass to Dillingham only two minutes and 19 seconds later, Phipps spoke almost the same words in the huddle. X-Strong Left 21 Toss Pass. Leroy went ambling out to his left in the same fashion. But this time he hesitated a moment and then sent a high, rainbow pass over the dark blue Notre Dame jerseys that came down as if directed by a control tower into Bob Dillingham's outstretched hands.
It is all a beautiful combination for Purdue. Notre Dame found, as others might, that when it doubled up on Keyes, Dillingham caught the passes. When it concentrated on forcing Keyes to run, he would throw. And when it kept him from throwing, he would run. It found that Phipps can throw the ball exactly where orders from the bench tell him to, and that other Purdue backs can run, particularly when Keyes is split far out on the flank as a combination passing target and nerve shredder.
Purdue Coach Jack Mollenkopf, a 62-year-old throwback to earlier days in the business, says that the explanation for this imposing combination of system and athletes—indeed for Purdue's emergence as a consistent power these last few seasons—is as simple as X-Strong Left 21 Toss. Organization, says Jack. He loves his staff, which can coach and recruit equally well, and he lets it do most of the work. Bob DeMoss, for example, is totally in charge of the offense, plotting it in workouts and then calling the plays for Phipps from the bench. And Purdue has learned something about recruiting. First: cover the whole country. Get a Leroy Keyes from down in Newport News, Va., a Mike Phipps from Ohio, a Jim Kirkpatrick from North Carolina and a Chuck Kyle from Kentucky.
Nor does it hurt anything that Purdue happens to have a university president, Frederick Hovde, who would gleefully relish running interference for Leroy Keyes. Hovde is a frequenter of Purdue practices, watching intensely and chatting with Jack Mollenkopf when the coach happens to be on the sidelines instead of up in the tower where he spends most of his time silently surveying all. Hovde has gone around saying such things as, "The coaching staff does the best job of teaching of anyone on the faculty," and, "If Jack Mollenkopf goes, I'll go with him."
Since Mollenkopf has never really been regarded, until lately, as one of the Big Ten's coaching pillars, this attitude of Hovde's has not harmed his confidence, sense of security or relationship with his staff. "You have to have that kind of man behind you," Mollenkopf says. "He trusts me, and I trust my assistants. Trust 'em and depend on 'em. They are the best in the country."
"We have changed our philosophy a little, too," says Mollenkopf. "We used to look at a kid who hit hard and say, There's a headhunter. He's our kind.' But now we look for two things: speed and potential size. Fast ones that will grow. It doesn't do any good to be a head-hunter if you can't catch the head."
So Purdue is maturing. You remember how Purdue used to be, an in-and-out team that came up with a Len Dawson or a Dale Samuels. The Boilermakers sprang the big upset occasionally, but were rarely a Big Ten winner and never in the Rose Bowl. Then Mollenkopf found Bob Griese a few seasons back, and Purdue was challenging. It just missed the Big Ten title with Griese, but it did get. into the Rose Bowl finally. And then last year, with these Goliaths coming up in the line and Keyes and Phipps, it just missed being No. 1 by blowing a couple to Oregon State and Indiana. Keyes, for one, says Purdue will not blow one this time.
"We got the manpower and the depth and the attitude. We can be a great team. I've thought all along that this could be the best team in Purdue's history," Keyes was saying in South Bend. "We don't break up chairs in the locker room or pound on the lockers before a game. We just know we can do the job," added Phipps.
Purdue did the job against Notre Dame because it is a far stronger team than the Irish, who are too inexperienced on defense and still lack the breakout runner. Parseghian felt Purdue was a fine team before the game, and he certainly felt so afterward. "They're really-skilled," he said. "They have that knack for making the yardage they need." Which is true. On third down and long or third and medium, Purdue had the play all afternoon. No less than five times Phipps succeeded in such situations.
"And we don't," Ara added. "A passer like Phipps can hit his receiver just at the right time, and he did it all day. We'd be an eyelash away, but Dillingham or Keyes would catch the ball. They're poised and powerful. And I'll have to say again that I haven't seen a back who can do so many things as well as Keyes. I'm glad we've seen the last of him."
Everybody is goofy over Keyes in the Midwest, of course. Mollenkopf was saying over and over, in a voice he would have liked for all Heisman Trophy voters to hear, "By golly, if a player anywhere can do more, I'd like to know where he is." USC thinks he is in California, of course, and that his name is O. J. Simpson. Since Purdue beat Notre Dame there was plenty of reason for Purdue people to think they might win the Big Ten and go to the Rose Bowl, where Keyes and Simpson could meet.
Leroy Keyes thought about that, while explaining that he had not really played very well against the Irish. "I'm not on it yet," was the way he put it, slipping into his glen-plaid suit with vest and closing up an attaché case like a banker. "If we're fortunate, and if we don't have any letdowns and make it to California, that would sure be good. I'd like to play against Simpson. I think it would be something to see."
So Leroy Keyes winds up being a quintriple threat. Run, throw, catch, defend and make understatements. But that's how it is when you're a calm, casual Boilermaker spending a few hours in funny, familiar old South Bend.