The college football season can sneak up on you. One minute you are mowing the lawn, fixing the screen door, trying to quick-start the barbecue grill and enjoying all the other delights of summer. The next you are right out there amid the bedlam of cheerleaders, coaches, linebackers, scalpers, alumni and parking-lot picnickers. Last Saturday it was launch time again and in Knoxville, Tenn. 57,000 orange-jacketed fans showed up to check out Tennessee against UCLA.
The game illustrated one thing: about the only sure way to beat Tennessee is to put Condredge Holloway in the hospital. UCLA did that. But it failed to keep him there. Holloway charged out of the emergency room and back onto the field in time to twist his way through the UCLA defenders like a man skittering across ice floes, a performance he climaxed with a 12-yard run late in the game, landing on his head as he hurdled three men at the goal line. Thanks to the Holloway heroics, the Volunteers were able to tie the Bruins 17-17, a result that both teams agreed was unsatisfactory, but a lot better than a loss.
Like inflation, Tennessee never seems to have an off year. The Vols have won at least eight games, played in a bowl and been in the Top 20 every season since 1965. UCLA also was in the Top 20 last year, but when the Bruins came to Knoxville last week they had a new coach, Dick Vermeil, and the uncertainties such a change can cause. The inheritor of a program that had lost only five games in two years, Vermeil admitted he felt like a man on the face of a cliff—still a few feet from the top but a long way from the bottom.
Vermeil was made more jittery by the lack of experience in his offensive back-field. Quarterback Mark Harmon and Running Backs James McAlister and Kermit Johnson were gone. John Sciarra, who shared time with Harmon in 1973, was back to call the signals, but Sciarra had a new set of signals to call. Going along with the trend, Vermeil has installed the Veer, which now is as fashionable as hair sticking out the back of helmets.
Tennessee also had switched to the Veer, mostly to exploit the many talents of Holloway. And right off, the Tennessee quarterback showed what he could do. Before the fans had settled back in their seats, the Volunteers were on the scoreboard. After returning the kickoff Tennessee ran a routine dive play that gained four yards, then lined up without a huddle. Holloway dropped back and arched a long pass to sophomore Split End Stanley (The Steamer) Morgan, who ripped past the surprised Bruin secondary, pulled in the ball and scored. The play covered 74 yards and a year.
Tennessee Coach Bill Battle admitted later that the deception stemmed from a similar play Alabama pulled on the Volunteers last season, the Crimson Tide striking on an 80-yard touchdown pass on its first play from scrimmage. That led to a 42-21 Alabama victory, and Tennessee went on to lose three of its last six games. "The Alabama play hasn't been far from my mind since," said Battle.
Later in the period Tennessee was driving again when its transmission fell out. Holloway, the All-Southeastern Conference quarterback last year, was dropped hard after a short gain and suffered a shoulder injury that thrust sophomore Pat Ryan into the breach. Ryan had never played a varsity game.
Despite gaining very little yardage after Holloway was taken to University Hospital for shoulder X rays, Tennessee led 10-3 at halftime, holding UCLA to a field goal in the final six seconds after stopping three Bruin plunges inside the 10-yard line.
Tennessee held again early in the second half. Sciarra, who amassed 390 yards of total offense during a fine afternoon, got loose on a 71-yard run to the two. Four times the Bruins rammed the Vols' goal-line defense and each time came up with nothing. On the final try the stubborn Sciarra was swarmed upon by seven Tennessee players at the goal line. But UCLA scored on the next play when the fidgety Ryan fumbled and Tackle Rick Kukulica recovered in the end zone for a touchdown that tied the game at 10-all. It was one of 13 fumbles the two teams suffered, each losing three.
Holloway, meanwhile, was hurrying back to the stadium, assured that his shoulder was not badly hurt. "It was a pretty slow ride going out," he said. "But after I found out I could play, I asked them to speed it up on the way back." Late in the third quarter, he walked up to the surprised Battle on the sidelines, tapped him on the shoulder and said, "I'm ready to play."
Holloway completed his first pass, but the drive stalled and Sciarra took the Bruins 80 yards in 12 plays for a go-ahead touchdown, the score coming on a leaping grab in the end zone by Norm Andersen, who cut between three Tennessee defenders.
Now it was Holloway's turn again and in short order he had the game tied once more. Running or passing the ball on each of the final six plays, he led the Vols down the field to his own diving touchdown. "With my shoulder hurt, I wasn't about to try and run over anybody," he said.
But if Holloway could be the architect of comebacks, so could Sciarra. The UCLA quarterback, in a race with the clock, quickly marched his team into Tennessee territory where, with 14 seconds left, Brett White tried a 40-yard field goal that would have meant victory. The kick was wide to the left and White clapped his hands in dismay as he watched it hook away. So ended the big opener at Knoxville; a rather upsetting tie.
Even more upset was the University of Houston, whose hopes for a banner year were shredded 30-9 by rebuilding Arizona State. "It was the most remarkable game since I've been here," said State Coach Frank Rush, who was kicking off his 17th season. "I was awed."
Giddy must have been the word for the Sun Devil Stadium crowd of 50,227 and the 1,000 additional fans who watched the game on closed-circuit television in a nearby gymnasium. Remarkably, an offense that has been gnawed to the bone by graduation losses picked up where it left off last year. And then some. Sophomore Halfback Freddie Williams broke loose for a 69-yard touchdown in the first quarter and capped a 73-yard second-period dash with a four-yard touchdown run.
The Cougars drove 72 yards for a score after the second-half kickoff but that only served to arouse the Arizona State defense to get it back. With interest. Late in the third period Cornerback Bo Warren intercepted a lateral and went 17 yards for a touchdown. Barely a minute later Sun Devil Linebacker Bob Breunig picked off Marshall Johnson's fumble at the Cougar 27 and rumbled on in.
Afterward Arizona State's defense was the toast of Tempe. "They won it for us," said Quarterback Ray Alexander obligingly. And Kush granted the defenders "90% of the credit."
North Carolina State, the best team in the Atlantic Coast Conference last fall, opened its season against Wake Forest, the worst. At halftime the Wolfpack was ahead by only 3-0 and State Coach Lou Holtz was fretting. "I knew I'd be run out of town by sunset if this kept up," he said. Fortunately for Holtz, it didn't. Quarterback Dave Buckey passed for two touchdowns and ran for one and N.C. State posted a 33-15 victory. Much of the problem, Holtz believes, was the ACC innovation of a sixth official. After being whistled for 115 yards in penalties—compared to Wake Forest's 30—Holtz complained, "He feels he's got to justify being there, so he calls everything. We will run the fans away with this."
In other important games Syracuse defeated Oregon State 23-15, Memphis State edged Louisville 16-10, Richmond nipped Villanova 14-13, Miami of Ohio trounced Eastern Michigan 39-0 and Tampa beat Chattanooga 28-0.
The Syracuse victory marked Frank Maloney's debut as coach. The former Michigan assistant called all the plays from the sideline and—√† la Michigan's Bo Schembechler—only three of them were passes. But one, for nine yards, was good for the touchdown that evened the score at 7-7 and sent the Orange on its way. Maloney's favorite play was a hand-off to Ken Kinsey, who carried 38 times for 169 yards.
And the season even had its first—and last?—rainout. The threat of Hurricane Carmen forced the cancellation of the Tulane-Mississippi game in New Orleans. They will try again later.