KANSAS vs. PENN STATE
Pepper Rodgers of Kansas is a man of zesty spirit, given to learned, though effervescent, discourses on the value of surprises in football—surprises that include quick kicks, deep passes on third and one, pregame somersaults in public and the sour singing of Jingle Bells on his TV program. Joe Paterno of Penn State is a wingding gambler who will stake life, limb, home, country—and, last year, victory over Florida State in the Gator Bowl—on such madmen's bets as running on fourth and one deep in his own territory with a 17-0 lead.
Thus, it was inevitable that when Pepper Rodgers carefully appraised this year's Orange Bowl meeting between his Jayhawks and Paterno's Nittany Lions, his drawled verdict was: "If I had to make a guess, suh, I'd say this just might turn into a wild game."
Good guess, Pepper. But let us all be assured that the brand of wildness unleashed in Miami will be both artfully designed and masterfully executed. For Penn State (10-0) and Kansas (9-1) are two of the best-balanced and least-frenzied teams in America this year. Penn State's rough and cocky defensive crew has given up only 10.6 points a game. It has forced an impressive 49 ball turnovers—25 interceptions, 17 fumble recoveries, two safeties and five blocked punts. "They have a knack for coming up with the big play," says Paterno. "They like to exploit a situation." Indeed, the Lion defense—led by Tackles Mike Reid and Steve Smear, All-America Linebacker Denny Onkotz and a secondary that is one of the fastest in the game—has set up or scored 145 of Penn State's 339 points this season. Yet, surprisingly, these impressive defenders average only 203 pounds per man, smallest among the Top 10 teams.
December 23, 1968
As for the offense, Joe Paterno says, "I imagine we'll be freewheeling it against Kansas." Quarterback Chuck Burkhart's throwing arm has never been considered a significant part of the Lions' offensive arsenal, but he has completed 87 of 177 for 1,170 yards. A Terry Hanratty he's not. But he does have All-America Tight End Ted Kwalick, 6'4" and 230 pounds of superior athlete, a man so spectacular that Joe Paterno says, without emotion: "Kwalick has the ability to be the greatest tight end that ever lived." Then there is Penn State's rushing attack, which gained 2,739 yards. The Lions' running backs are quick, tough and beyond discouragement. Halfback Bob Campbell had a knee injury last year and a shoulder separation early this season; yet in his first game back, a 28-24 win over Army, Campbell rushed for 104 yards, scored two touchdowns and made a punt return of 46 yards. Against Syracuse he ran for 239. Don Abbey, down with a knee sprain during much of the early season, came back to offer enormous power at fullback, and Charlie Pittman, who carried the load while Campbell and Abbey were hurt, scored 14 touchdowns and averaged 5.2 yards per carry. The offensive line is led by Dave Bradley.
Much of the sunflower dazzle in Pepper Rodgers' Kansas coaching reputation has radiated from his brilliance as a master of the offense—Kansas this year averaged 38 points and 442 yards total offense per game. But the Jayhawk defense is far from being inept. The defenders did give up 175 points, but 93 of those came during fourth quarters—long after most of Kansas' victories were in the bag. The defense is enormous—especially compared to Penn State's—with such fine performers as All-America End John Zook (235 pounds), Tackle Karl Salb (275), End Vernon Vanoy (260), Linebacker Emery Hicks (232) and Guard Al Jakobcic (215).
Still, the main reason that Kansas wound up with its best season since 1908 is its offense—the "Rip City Boys," as Pepper Rodgers calls his backs. The leader is Bobby Douglass, a southpaw quarterback who rushed for 495 yards and completed 84 of 168 passes for 1,316 yards and a dozen touchdowns. Watch closely and you will see Douglass take an odd backward step just as the ball is snapped. Some people believe this tips the play. Rodgers, who taught Douglass the step as a split-second saver, says, "The only thing that step tips off is that he is going to run, pass or hand off."
Douglass can fire his very hard passes at two able receivers, Split End George McGowan or Tight End John Mosier. When he hands the ball off, it will be to a back-field that made better than five yards every time it rushed. Fullback John Riggins, a sophomore, averaged 6.2 yards, and tailback Don Shanklin averaged 6.3 and is a quick-kick threat. John's older brother, Junior Riggins, a tailback, averaged 6.3, too.
In view of Kansas' size and its slightly superior offense—in passing, particularly—it would seem the No. 6 Jayhawks have the edge over No. 3 Penn State. But it is a tiny edge in what will be a night of fireworks in Miami.
TEXAS vs. TENNESSEE
Gilbert, Worster, Koy and Street. It might work. Give it a little age, though, and a little reflection. And especially give it a Cotton Bowl victory, and then try it. Gilbert, Worster, Koy and Street. Sure. Right in there with Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden, with Davis, Blanchard, Tucker and McWilliams, with Albert, Kmetovic, Gallarneau and Standlee—with all the legendary back-fields. This is mainly what the University of Texas has going for it against Tennessee in the Cotton Bowl, the Fleeing Foursome: Chris Gilbert, Steve Worster, Ted Koy and James Street, who may have gained more ground yardage than any four backs ever. Gilbert, a senior halfback, enjoyed his third straight 1,000-yard season (an NCAA record in itself) with 1,132 yards, while sophomore Fullback Worster rammed for 806 yards, junior Halfback Koy, a younger brother of Ernie (Ted wants to be a sports-writer and sold a story during the season to The Football News), slashed off tackle for 601 yards, and Quarterback Street, while adding the passing that Texas has lacked, ran away from his sideburns for 340 more on keeper plays.
In all, Coach Darrell Royal's backfield, operating from a new formation he calls the Wishbone T, heaped up a formidable 2,879 yards on the ground, and with Street's passes mixed in, the Longhorns became the highest-scoring Texas team in 50 years, averaging 34.4 points per game.
From the moment Royal replaced Bill Bradley at quarterback with Street, a baseball pitcher, Texas started making the scoreboard blink. It wasn't in time to save the Longhorns from a tie and a loss in their first two games, but it was in time for Street to lead Texas to an 8-1-1 season and a co-championship in the Southwest Conference. On the way Texas beat Oklahoma (26-20) and SMU (38-7), the Bluebonnet foes, flogged Arkansas, a Sugar Bowl team, by more than the score (39-29) indicated, and gradually fought its way up to No. 5 in the nation.
On the morning after Texas beat Baylor for its sixth straight, Street, a handsome athlete with mod sideburns, came strolling through the training center as Royal and his defensive coach, Mike Campbell, sat nearby.
"I guess," said Royal, "we'd better say something to James about getting a haircut."
To which Campbell replied, "Yeah, either that or let ours grow out like his."
No one cared to bother Street much about anything. Threatening to become the best quarterback Royal has had, Street makes the whole attack work. Shifty, smart, good arm and confident, he wasn't discovered quicker because he was injured for five games last year and then he missed spring training while pitching Texas to the conference baseball title. The triple-option play, which is the heart of the Texas offense, is a natural for Street's faking, his running, his guile and his arm. Often Texas will use what is known as a full-house backfield, but with Worster a step closer in, thus forming the Wishbone, or Y, effect. Worster is up close because he starts quickly and hits hard, and as the option develops his proximity to the scrimmage line limits the reaction of the defense. Street then either gives to Worster, gives to Koy, keeps, pitches out to Gilbert or throws to one of his good ends, Cotton Speyrer or Deryl Comer.
In view of all this it would seem that the oddsmakers are a little low in favoring Texas by only seven over Tennessee. If Texas could monopolize the ball against Arkansas, which it did, then it surely ought to be able to do so against the Vols, who are much like Arkansas. One thing that would greatly help the Vols would be for them to find a running game of their own to complement Bubba Wyche's passes and thereby keep the ball a while. But if Richmond Flowers is shut off wide, and if Richard Pickens is denied the middle, the Vols must throw. Throw they can, and well, with Wyche, cool and strong, aiming steadily at End Ken DeLong or Flowers, whose speed can keep anyone occupied—and Texas can be passed against much better than it can be run against. But Coach Doug Dickey's team, as spunky as it is, has scored inconsistently and depended too much on its defense. Nor has the Vol defense, led by two fine linebackers, Steve Kiner and Jack Reynolds, faced a team with the offensive firepower of Texas. In short, Tennessee will lose a scoring battle if it comes to that.
The final ingredient is the bowl tendency of the two teams. Texas usually plays well in bowls; Tennessee does not. The Longhorns have won four of their last five trips into postseason play, beating two especially talented Southeastern Conference teams in the process—the No. 2-ranked Mississippi team of 1961 and Alabama's Joe Namath-No. 1 outfit of 1964. Tennessee, in the meantime, has a 3-8 record in the Rose, Cotton, Sugar and Orange. The Fleeing Foursome should make it 3-9.
ALABAMA vs. MISSOURI
For those sated by the highest-scoring college football season ever, this is the game to watch. Alabama (8-2) allowed only 10.4 points a game, Missouri (7-3) only 12.6, and their face-off at Jacksonville figures to end 1-0. Coach Bear Bryant of the Crimson Tide has had teams with more impregnable defenses and teams with slicker offenses and he will have to be at his inventive best to win this game—but he probably will.
Bryant won't mind if Missouri tests End Mike Ford, an All-America, or Middle Guard Sammy Gellerstedt, a sophomore whose 5'8", 195-pound size is a very clever disguise. And any Missourian who thinks that Linebackers Mike Hall, Bob Childs and Wayne Owen are underfed had better beware, for they simply measure up to Bryant specifications: quick, lean and mean.
Bryant has worked overtime, however, fixing blowout patches for his deep defenders, who are vulnerable to the long pass, and it is interesting that Missouri's Terry McMillan can unload such passes. McMillan's No. 1 target will be Mel Gray, a 9.3 speedster who has the legs to get him to the right spot but hands that sometimes betray him once he is there. He showed much improvement toward the end of the season, however.
Tiger Coach Dan Devine has a more diversified offense than Alabama, and he will probably augment it by interchanging two men at tailback: Greg Cook, who led the team in total yards rushing (693), and Jon Staggers, the No. 1 pass catcher.
As for the Tiger defense, Ends Elmer Benhardt and Bill Schmitt, Tackle Rocky Wallace and Guard Carl Garber are strong enough to keep Alabama Quarterback Scott Hunter hustling. This is important, because Hunter has a strong arm and cannot be allowed undue time to throw. Former Tide Quarterback Steve Sloan, who now coaches the Alabama passers, says, "For just raw arm, Hunter is as good as Namath." Hunter this year completed 104 of 190 attempts for 1,298 yards and broke team passing marks held by Namath, Kenny Stabler and Sloan. End George Ranager and Flanker Donnie Sutton are receivers who can come up with big gainers, but to do so will have to outfox two good Missouri defensive backs, Butch Davis and All-America Safety Roger Wehrli, who is the country's best punt returner as well.
The best guess is that Bryant will have Hunter peck away at the weakest part of the Tiger defense—the so-so linebackers—with a barrage of short passes. Then, when that strong Tiger line begins pressing its pass rush, look out for the draw plays to runners Ed Morgan and Pete Moore. Is this a point-a-minute approach? Hardly. But a point an hour might be enough for Alabama to win its 12th bowl game in 21 tries.
OKLAHOMA vs. SMU
SMU scores touchdowns as fast as Bob Hope spouts one-liners. Alas, Hope, who recently became SMU's first Homecoming King, cannot help the Mustangs once they get on the field, and the SMU defense could surely use help against Oklahoma, for it is young and error-prone. But as bad as Coach Hayden Fry's Mustangs may look on occasion, they surprised even themselves with a 7-3 record and are far from hopeless. They have a way of rearing up when least expected. Offensive Tackle Terry May might stop a Sooner drive singlehandedly. Or Safety Jim Livingston, who had eight of the team's 22 interceptions, might come up with a few more.
To get the SMU offense rolling, Chuck Hixson, who was the nation's top passer with 265 completions, will have to take advantage of the Oklahoma linebackers. One of these, Steve Casteel, is excellent, but the other two, Don Pfrimmer and Gary Harper, are roamers and may give Hixson a chance to hit 'em where they ain't. Hixson will be throwing to a pair of fine receivers, Jerry Levias (80 receptions for 1,131 yards) and Ken Fleming (53 for 588 yards). Since Oklahoma's defensive backs are not the best, Hixson, whose forte is the short pass, might resort to more long passes than usual to test them.
Few teams came on as strong in the late weeks of the season as Oklahoma. Sooner Tailback Steve Owens, who is 6'2" and 205 pounds, was fourth in the country in rushing, and if his blockers do not clear a path for him he is strong enough to do the job himself. Quarterback Bob Warmack is a clever manipulator who set Big Eight career records for passing and total yardage. His favorite receiver is Wingback Eddie Hinton, who caught 60 passes for 967 yards. Also functioning well in the Oklahoma backfield is Fullback Mike Harper, who is most frequently, and effectively, used as a blocker for Owens.
What transformed the Sooners—they lost three of their first five games and gave up 133 points—into winners was not the development of their backfield, however, but the switching by Coach Chuck Fairbanks of 217-pound End Steve Zabel from offense to defense. With Zabel on defense, the Sooners allowed only 64 points in their last five games, all of them victories. SMU is one of the country's most exciting teams, but when Hixson is all through, Owens and Oklahoma will probably wind up their New Year's Eve in the Astrodome with touchdowns to spare.