Terry Davis (seecover), the quarterback of unbeaten Alabama, is too small for the pros. His armand statistics are ungodlike and he has the countenance of a Norman Rockwellboy who thinks he might go cane-pole fishing after a while. But last week inBirmingham, the football capital of the South, Davis passed and ran and pitchedand faked and handed off, and just generally executed so thoroughly thathitherto undefeated LSU rarely knew what to expect from him. Alabama won 35-21,which leaves it sitting pretty, bowlwise and pollwise. Saturday night thestreets of Birmingham ran red with the school colors and the flushed faces ofCrimson Tide enthusiasts yelling "Hooo Lordy" and "Roll, Tide."Those bards who celebrate legendary Confederate quarterbacks must surely havewhipped together a "Ballad of Terry Davis" plus an aggressive bumpersticker or two. And after the game Coach Bear Bryant went so far as to say,"I don't know how you get consideration for that Heisman, or whatever itis, but Terry Davis hasn't lost a regular season game."
This, briefly, iswhat Davis did to LSU. Behind 7-0 in the second quarter, after LSU's own giftedquarterback, Bert Jones, had thrown a 21-yard touchdown pass, Davis faked ahandoff and tossed a 25-yard strike to Wayne Wheeler to tie the score. Early inthe second half he threw to Wheeler again for a 29-yard touchdown that putAlabama ahead 14-7. When LSU fumbled a punt minutes later, Davis swept end for25 yards and it was 21-7.
LSU came back tomake it 21-14 late in the third quarter, but it was here that Davis and Alabamareally took charge. Had the LSU defense been able to hold, the momentum of thegame would have shifted to the Tigers, but Alabama took the kickoff and nearlyran LSU back to Louisiana. Like this: Steve Bisceglia gained five. Biscegliaagain for 18. Joe LaBue for six. Bisceglia for four. Bisceglia two. Davis 37.Davis five. And Bisceglia, appropriately, for one and the touchdown. Eightrunning plays, 78 yards, 28-14, game over, essentially. In fact, Alabama sodemoralized LSU Coach Charlie McClendon that given a fourth down and three athis own 31 with about 4:50 left to play, his team still trailing by 14, hechose to punt, giving up any chance for victory. "I felt like I didn't wantit to be 50," he said later.
It must bepointed out that Davis did not quell the Tigers singlehanded. Jones standsthree inches and 25 pounds larger than the 6-foot, 179-pound Davis, but Davis'blockers average 250 pounds from guard to guard, and some say that John Hannahis the best lineman in SEC history. "They're tremendous size people,"says LSU Running Back Brad Davis, who ran well against them.
November 20, 1972
Terry Davis alsohad better receivers than Jones. The best one on the field by far was Alabama'sWheeler, who caught 112 yards' worth of Davis passes, including those twotouchdowns. The bulk of the Alabama offense was on the ground, however, andBisceglia, on the inside, and LaBue, on the outside, gained a little more thanhalf of the team's 335 yards rushing.
Give a littlecredit too—as if he needed it in Alabama—to Bryant, who installed the Wishbonelast year and since then has developed it to the point where its inventor,Darrell Royal, has picked up several refinements from him.
Last yearMcClendon devised a no-nonsense "one-track" defense to stop Alabama,which LSU did, holding the Tide's running game to 214 yards and one touchdown.Alabama had to come up with two field goals and a two-point conversion for its14-7 victory. This year McClendon set up essentially the same eight-man-frontdefense, and for half the game it seemed to work well enough.
"One man hasto go after the quarterback and another one after the pitch man on eachplay," said McClendon when explaining his one-track idea. "If you playhalfway in between you're usually just wrong."
The trouble is,old one-track does not offer much protection against the pass. Playing LSU lastyear, Alabama threw only three times with no completions. Bear Bryant has beensaying right along that Davis can pass well, but statistics like that hardlyenforce the notion. But in the first half last Saturday he threw 12 times, andwhen he completed three more passes at the start of the second half as Alabamawent ahead 14-7 LSU had to adjust its defense. At which point the Wishbonebegan to work in all its fury.
"This year'sAlabama team is a lot better than last year's," McClendon conceded afterthe game. "They know so much more about the game and about running theWishbone."
McClendon playedfor Bryant a long time ago at Kentucky, and the two are golf-playing friends inthe off-season. "You get your greatest pleasure defeating a friend,"McClendon says. "He'll respect you more if you win." McClendon hasbeaten Bryant only twice in the nine times their teams have met. "Threeyears ago in Baton Rouge," recalls Bryant, "we were getting beatenbadly and then came back and almost won. Sometimes Charlie gets so fired upyou've got to give him a saliva test. After that game he came over and said,'If you'd won I'd have killed you.' "
That was the yearthat McClendon's daughter met the Crimson Tide's plane on its arrival in BatonRouge and kissed Bryant when he disembarked. Bryant was pleased, but when LSUwon and McClendon told the press that his daughter had delivered "the kissof death," Mrs. Bryant wrote him to express her disapproval of the wholeaffair.
Saturday's gamewas a big nationally televised affair, held in the midst of a state ofwidespread uncertainty over which athletes and which universities were shapingup as Heisman Trophy and national championship probables. It was just such anoccasion that doomed the Heisman chances of Purdue's Mike Phipps in 1969, whenhe was intercepted five times on TV against Ohio State, and such a one thattarnished the image of already selected Pat Sullivan last year when Davis andAlabama ran Sullivan and Auburn off the field. This year it looked like anideal showcase for Bert Jones, who was coming off a heroic after-the-final-gungame-winning pass against Mississippi. But up popped Davis again, running andpassing and hogging the spotlight.
As for thenational championship, Alabama will need help if Bryant is to win his fourthtitle. The only other major undefeated teams are USC and Michigan, and there isno way the Tide can get at either of them. Should a No. 1 USC meet a No. 3Michigan in the Rose Bowl, the winner would undoubtedly be voted the title,regardless of what No. 2 Alabama does wherever it goes. To the Cotton Bowl andTexas, some people think, thereby avoiding Nebraska or Oklahoma and a toughergame. Terry Davis gave credence to the thought when he said after the LSU gamethat he personally would like to go somewhere other than the Orange Bowl to"get a change of scenery."
As for Bryant, heremained noncommittal. "The only time I think about the polls is whensomeone asks me," he said. And as for whether or not he would like a chancefor revenge against Nebraska: "I would like to play Virginia Tech."Alabama plays Virginia Tech this week. Can it be that Bryant is actuallyworried about Tech? Somebody ought to write a ballad about that.