Temperatures were summer-warm and trees still green, but the season began as scheduled last weekend. When it was over, this much was known: Pittsburgh's Tony Dorsett still knows how to run, San Diego State's Craig Penrose still knows how to pass and Joe Paterno's Penn State still knows how to win. Barely. Houston, however, may never get accustomed to playing on a wet field in the Astrodome.
Dorsett had to navigate through the slop himself as Pittsburgh cruised past Georgia 19-9 in rainy Athens. Trailing 7-6 after three quarters, the Panthers rallied to win on Dorsett's running and some quick thinking by Punter Larry Swider. Dorsett picked up only 17 yards in the first half but finished with 104 in 15 carries after sparking two fourth-period touchdown drives. Swider, meanwhile, became a hero by giving away two points. Following a poor snap deep in Panther territory midway through the final quarter, Swider carried the ball back into the end zone instead of merely falling on it at the five. This shortened Pitt's lead to 12-9 but gave the Panthers a free kick out of the danger zone. The move drew praise from Coach Johnny Majors. "I've never seen anybody think that quick in my life," he said. "I could say I'm really smart and take credit for the idea, but he did it on his own. It could have been the key play of the game." Majors was less pleased when Swider tried the same tactic last year in a loss to North Carolina. "I got caught on the two-yard line and it cost us a touchdown," Swider recalls.
The game had one other interesting twist. Georgia Running Back Kevin McLee, who is from Pennsylvania, scored the Bulldogs' only touchdown, while Panther Quarterback Robert Haygood, a Georgian, produced 96 yards of total offense.
When Penn State included Temple on its 1975 schedule nine years ago, a lot of people, including Joe Paterno, thought it was a joke. The Nittany Lions were challenging the Top Ten while Temple was playing a college-division lineup of Kings Points and Gettysburgs. In recent years, however, the Owls have been winning against a major-college schedule with such regularity that even Paterno had to admit last week, "Temple has done a great job rebuilding its program, and it should be a good series for both schools."
For the opening game, Paterno was concerned about an injury to Tailback Jimmy Cefalo and the fact that this is the youngest squad he has ever coached. His counterpart at Temple, Wayne Hardin, liked the way the game was shaping up. For one thing, his mother had flown in from California, and she had never seen her son the coach lose. Further, after a pair of 9-1 and 8-2 seasons, Hardin was not at all uncomfortable at the prospect of playing mighty Penn State. "You go back to when this game was scheduled," he said. "It would have been a 100-point spread, right? At least 60 points. Now I hear spreads of 14 and 15. I'm thinking, "Well, that's progress."' As Saturday night's contest in Philadelphia showed, the Owls have almost progressed past Penn State.
On the very first play from scrimmage a record Owl crowd of 57,112 gave a hoot as Bob Harris rambled 76 yards on a draw play for a touchdown. Temple, in fact, did everything pretty well, outrushing the Lions 183 yards to 114, outpassing them 219 to 87, outkicking them three field goals to two, but not, alas, outscoring them. Penn State won when a 66-yard punt return by Woody Petchel set up Duane Taylor's second touchdown, a three-yard burst with 3:46 remaining. A two-point conversion play, following two earlier failures, made the score 26-23 and allowed the Lions to take a precautionary safety in the final seconds for a 26-25 victory.
"This is the worst," moaned Temple Middle Guard Joe Klecko afterward. "I have never taken a loss this hard before." "All you can do is put one down in the loss column," said Don Bitterlich, who kicked field goals of 19, 40 and 37 yards, "but it kind of hurts."
"You have to play football three ways," said Hardin. "Offense, defense and kicking." It was the last of the three that was Temple's undoing. Not only did Petchel set up the winning touchdown with his punt return, but Rick Mauti produced another score with a 100-yard kickoff dash. The Lions' Chris Bahr, a pro soccer player, was getting his own kicks with two field goals, including a school-record 55-yarder.
The Atlantic Coast Conference got off to a good start, winning three outside games with ease and showing unexpected strength in the fourth. Maryland trounced Villanova 41-0 as Quarterback Mark Manges set a school record with touchdown passes of 25, 46, 38 and 41 yards. He was 13 of 18 for 280 yards, making him the top performer in the Terrapins' first opening-game win in a decade. "A game like this helps our confidence and morale," said Manges. "We proved to ourselves we could move the ball and stop others."
Manges also figures he did a good turn for his coach, Jerry Claiborne. "He's a worrier," the sophomore said. "You can see that because he's lost a lot of hair the last couple of years. I hope to be able to stop that."
Maryland's 575-to-100-yard statistical advantage would save the hair on any coach's head, but it left Villanova's Dick Bedesem scratching his. "We underestimated Maryland's talent," he admitted.
North Carolina State overcame four turnovers with outstanding defense to defeat East Carolina 26-3. "It was as poor a performance as we've had since I've been here," said Wolfpack Coach Lou Holtz. Pointing to himself, he added, "The offense was a team effort, starting here." On offense, the best showing was by Fullback Johnny Evans, who scored twice and gained 81 yards in 19 carries. Although the defense held East Carolina to 49 yards in the second half, Holtz was not completely pleased with its performance, either. "We had one goal—to hold them scoreless," he said. "Thus we failed."
James Betterson's 92-yard return of the opening kickoff led North Carolina to a 33-7 defeat of William & Mary. The Indians were no better at kicking than they were at kick coverage. A fumbled snap and two blocked punts set up one of Tom Biddle's two field goals and two Tar Heel touchdowns, including Better-son's second.
Wake Forest gave SMU surprising trouble before losing 14-7. Mustang Defensive End David Headstream, recalling SMU's 56-10 embarrassment of the Deacons three years ago, said "Wake Forest was a lot better than I thought." Deacon players, who have won only two games the last two seasons, agreed. "We're 200% better," said Fullback Clark Gaines, who ground out 124 yards.
SMU may have been looking ahead to highly rated Florida, playing like anything but a 13½-point favorite. "They were better than we were in a lot of cases," admitted Coach Dave Smith. The Mustangs wasted some fine running by Quarterback Ricky Wesson, David Bostick and Wayne Morris by fumbling. Even so, their two first-half touchdowns held up.
Two other Southwest Conference teams also won, defending champion Baylor 20-10 over Mississippi and Houston 20-3 over Lamar. The Bears' first opening-game victory in nine years was also the Rebels' first opening-game loss in the same period. Baylor's Cleveland Franklin and Pat McNeil excelled, scoring a touchdown apiece and running for 140 and 135 yards respectively. "There'll be a whole lot of games like this one for Pat and me from now on," said Franklin confidently. To win, Baylor had to overcome the loss of Quarterback Mark Jackson, who suffered a shoulder separation in the second quarter. Looking to the rest of the season, Coach Grant Teaff said, "We'll find a way to win. Nobody ever said it would be easy."
Nor was it easy for Houston, which led Lamar by only 6-3 in the fourth quarter before scoring drives of 65 and 61 yards put the game away. John Housman scored both touchdowns on short plunges and led all ballcarriers with 99 yards. The wet field was a result of using detergent to erase the Astrodome's baseball lines. The play of both teams, with 195 yards in penalties and five turnovers, was as sloppy as the field. "We were too tight," said Coach Bill Yeoman, "but if I had my choice I'd rather work out of being too tight than being too casual."
Because of a quirk in the schedule, Mississippi State was the home team when it went to Memphis State. The Bulldogs also played like a team with a home-field advantage, winning 17-7 as Bruce Threadgill passed for one touchdown and ran for another. Memphis State Coach Richard Williamson apparently paid the winners' defense a compliment when he called it "salty."
Only five of the weekend contests were among conference brethren. Two of them came in the Mid-American, where Central Michigan stomped Western Michigan 34-0 and Ball State topped Eastern Michigan 24-14.
Central Michigan won in its debut as a major-college school following its NCAA Division II national championship last year. Tailback Walt Hodges showed the way with 137 yards in 24 carries, his 12th straight game of more than 100 yards. Another junior, Earl Taylor, gained 134 yards and scored two touchdowns in Ball State's victory. Four years ago Taylor was considered the second-best high school back in Ohio behind Archie Griffin, but he spent his freshman season playing defense at Miami of Ohio. He did not play football in 1973 and missed last year when he transferred to Ball State. The game will not count in MAC standings, however, since Eastern Michigan does not play enough league opponents to compete for the title.
Wichita State and New Mexico State got a leg up on their Missouri Valley neighbors by defeating West Texas State 13-7 and Drake State 14-10. Two fumbles deep in West Texas territory set up the field goals that made the difference in the Shockers' victory.
Fresno State bombed Cal State-Fullerton 49-7 in the PCAA opener, while league favorite San Diego State was blitzing Texas-El Paso of the WAC 31-10. Craig Penrose completed 17 of 31 passes for 281 yards and one touchdown as the Aztecs tried only 31 running plays. Five players shared in San Diego State's scoring, including Mel Jacobs, whose 86-yard punt return broke the game open in the second period. The Aztecs outgained the visitors 412 yards to 194.