Oklahoma had joked about stitching "Hello" on the front of Greg Pruitt's jersey and "Goodby" on the back, and that might not be a bad idea now that the Sooners have finally beaten Texas in a football game that for more than a decade pretty much belonged to Darrell Royal and the merry riot makers of downtown Dallas. In a funny old way last Saturday's game still belonged to Royal because Oklahoma used his Wishbone offense to outstreak the Longhorns for a victory that might have been even more convincing than 48-27 if the Sooners had just pitched Greg Pruitt the ball more often. When Pruitt gets the football it seems to be a case of so long, how long you gonna be gone?
The Sooners not only won the State Fair Circus for the first time in five years—and for only the second time in the past 14—they did it in a way that humiliated the Longhorns. Running. Oklahoma just hauled off and ran and ran, all afternoon long, the way Texas had been doing it to everybody since Royal came up with the Wishbone T in 1968, coupled it with the triple option and turned rushing defenses into something bordering on ruins. Oklahoma ran so much that it set a record for points scored on a Royal team at Texas, and the 435 yards the Sooners gained on the ground was 125 yards more than any team has rushed on Texas in Royal's 15 years there.
All of this came against a Texas defense that was thought to be as tough and quick as ever, particularly against the run. It was also a defense that had certainly looked at more Wishbone T than any other, like every day in practice. "This doesn't matter much when the other side has one of those Corvettes and a guy who knows when to pitch it," said Royal. The Corvette, of course, was Pruitt, a gifted athlete from Houston who thinks of himself as the new Warren McVea. He said goodby to Texas for a stunning 216 yards on 20 carries, which figures out to almost 11 yards every time he put it in gear.
Pruitt, who went to Oklahoma as a split end and didn't make the switch to halfback until mideseason a year ago, was clearly the major difference in the two teams. Even when Texas had defenders waiting for him at the corners, Pruitt often zipped around them after taking the pitch from Sooner Quarterback Jack Mildren, who finally has an offense to suit his ability. Pruitt burned Texas with such journeys as 46 yards, 34 yards, 20, 17, 12, 10, and assorted fives and fours—and he looked each time like he might be going as far as the AstroTurf would stretch.
October 17, 1971
Through most of the first half it seemed that the final score might be 62-59 in favor of whichever team wound up with the ball last. Nobody could stop anybody. Both Royal and Oklahoma Coach Chuck Fairbanks were getting Wish-boned to death, and the fans might have been watching a tennis match, the way their heads were turning. The dizzy thing began like this: Texas pounced on a fumble and went 44 yards for a 7-0 lead. Well. Same old Texas. But Oklahoma quickly drove 69 yards and scored. Hmmm. A new Oklahoma. And then Texas quickly drove 80 yards and scored and it was 14-7. Yep. Same old Texas. But then Oklahoma just as quickly drove 69 yards and scored and it was tied again. Hmmm. Definitely a new Oklahoma.
This was all still in the first quarter of the game, and as Royal said on the sideline, "Everybody looks like they're running downhill out there."
One of the basic weapons of the Wishbone option offense is the late pitch to the trailing halfback. When the quarterback keeps the ball and turns upheld—or downhill—he always has a halfback trailing him, ready to take a lateral. When that back happens to be someone like Greg Pruitt, the enemy corners are in real danger.
Against Texas, Mildren worked the pitch to Pruitt with perfection, occasionally after he had already gained five or 10 yards himself. The Texas defense would finally swarm in on Mildren but, oops, out would go the ball to the streaking Corvette. Pruitt scored the first and third Oklahoma touchdowns on excursions such as that from short yardage but his next one (his eighth in four games) might have been the one that crippled Texas for good.
Not long into the second quarter the pattern of the game changed. With Oklahoma leading 21-14, it was Texas' turn to score but Texas fumbled instead on its 24-yard line and Oklahoma recovered. By now Pruitt already had gained more than 100 yards and Texas had stationed just about everybody but L.B.J., who was among the usual 73,000 in the Cotton Bowl, out there on the flanks to stop him. So Mildren faked a counter play and sent Pruitt bursting over right guard. Inside.
Pruitt sprang clean at the line of scrimmage and was suddenly confronted by Alan Lowry, Texas' best defender in the secondary. Pruitt simply dipped his headgear one way and sent his feet the other, cutting sharply to the right. Lowry didn't come within five yards of him, and Pruitt flashed 20 lonely yards for the touchdown that made it 28-14. Up in the press box Texas Publicist Jones Ramsey said, "I think that move gave me a head cold."
Asked later about his nifty little dance step, Pruitt said, "It was just something that came to me in midrun."
Texas had the alibi that it was a fairly damaged team physically even before the game started. Quarterback Eddie Phillips was still slowed by an injured hamstring and was not supposed to play. Phillips would not have played, in fact, if Donnie Wigginton, his backup, had not been injured in the third quarter. Even so, Eddie was slow, hardly himself.
But Oklahoma was not at full strength either. Joe Wylie, the other halfback, who is almost as effective as Pruitt, did not play. And Oklahoma lost Raymond Hamilton, its best defender, in the first quarter. It was a standoff on the alibis, therefore. What the injury to Wigginton did, however, was spoil a pretty good fairy tale had he stayed in the game and kept up what he had been doing. Like running for two touchdowns, of five and 44 yards, and keeping Texas in the track meet.
Wigginton is a little guy who hung around to play for a fifth year, even though he's married, his wife is expecting, Phillips was ahead of him at quarterback and West Texas State offered him a coaching job last spring in the hope he would help the team install the Wishbone T.
Until a couple of weeks ago against Texas Tech, when he got his first chance to start and led the Longhorns to a 28-0 victory, the biggest thrill in Donnie Wigginton's football career had come two seasons ago when he reached up and caught a high snapback and then placed the ball down for Happy Feller to kick the extra point that beat Arkansas 15-14 in that season's game of the century.
But it was Wigginton who managed to shove Texas back into the Oklahoma game by driving the Longhorns 55 yards to the touchdown that narrowed the gap to 28-21. This was a big score, for it reminded Oklahoma that Texas could still move the ball. And even though the Sooners got a field goal just seconds before the half to make it 31-21, the second half was going to decide the game, because you knew the defenses figured to improve.
The game turned in Oklahoma's favor for good in the third quarter. The Longhorns got a big break when they recovered a Sooner fumble at the OU 24, but Texas couldn't score. An offsides penalty was damaging, and then Wigginton got his ribs separated.
Oklahoma celebrated the stopping of Texas by driving methodically 80 yards for the touchdown that made it 38-21, removing most of the doubt. The Sooners did it with what was an unusual weapon for them—the pass.
Mildren hit his only toss of the day in the drive (he tried just two and the other was intercepted), and it was a beauty, a high 40-yarder to his old high school buddy from Abilene, Jon Harrison, who slid out of bounds at the Texas seven-yard line. On the next play Mildren ran the keeper and scored standing up. In that moment Jack Mildren, holding up the football in the end zone while cannons went off and the blare of Boomer Sooner echoed through downtown, must have felt true ecstasy.
This, after all, is the same Mildren who was the most wanted recruit in Texas in 1968 and who led a number of colleges a frenzied chase (SI, Sept. 9, 1968), before settling on Oklahoma.
For a season and a half, Mildren had been a big disappointment. Chuck Fairbanks was trying to run the I formation and a form of the Veer, and Mildren simply didn't throw well enough. Just before the Texas game a year ago, however, Fairbanks switched to the Wishbone, which would allow Mildren to use his best tools, his running and his savvy.
Although the Sooners lost that game 41-9, Fairbanks was encouraged. He had found the offense he wanted. The next thing he found was Pruitt, who would become a halfback. The Sooners won five of their last seven regular-season games and wound up 7-4-1—and they were still learning the attack.
"We know it now," said Mildren. "It comes natural for us. If I do my job right, and read the option right, we can move it on anybody. And what makes us different from Texas is our speed. They mainly have power, but we've got the jets."
The lead jet, Greg Pruitt, now has 629 yards in four games, and Oklahoma is averaging well over 400 yards Wish-boning it. The Sooners also are averaging 41.5 points a game, and Chuck Fairbanks has whipped both USC and Texas with shocking ease.
What this adds up to is quite a football team, maybe the fastest in the land, and a serious contender for the national title that Mildren has been yearning for. There are still two big problems, Colorado, which is this Saturday, and Nebraska, which comes on Thanksgiving Day.
"I wish I had time to relish beating Texas," said the mild, good-natured Chuck Fairbanks. "It's been a long wait, and I always said if we ever found out how to do it, I'd bottle it and sell it. But we've got Big Eight problems now."
Darrell Royal said, "Maybe not. They're the best team we've played in years, and if they can keep that Corvette running...."