Rick Leach, an 18-year-old Michigan freshman, was faced with a situation last Saturday that should have turned his Adam's apple into a grapefruit. Before 104,578 people packed into Michigan Stadium, he started at quarterback against undefeated fifth-ranked Missouri. Here he was still humming the tunes from his high school senior prom and now he was supposed to lead the Wolverines (No. 14 in the UPI poll) out of the wilderness and back into the promised Top Ten. It did not help that Michigan had suffered its second straight home-field tie the week before and had been booed by its fickle fans. And it was not propitious that the last invader to win at Michigan Stadium—back in 1969—was Missouri.
In this situation, Coach Bo Schembechler decided to deliver a commandment to Leach and the rest of his young team. "I told them that the only person they have to please is Bo Schembechler," he said later. "If they please me, I don't care a bit what anybody in the stands says."
Please Bo is just what they did. Leach stayed as calm as if he were sailing a Frisbee in the park with nobody watching but the squirrels. He carried the ball 13 times on quarterback options and broken pass plays, averaged 7.5 yards a carry, scored a touchdown and survived a tackle that nearly caved in his sternum. The defense, led by Middle Guard Tim Davis, bottled up Missouri most of the afternoon and Michigan won handily 31-7.
Leach, who was all-state in football, baseball and basketball at Southwestern High in Flint, Mich. and a member of the 1974 national champion Connie Mack baseball team, was drafted 11th by the Philadelphia Phillies last summer. He was told he would have been picked in the first round but he had let it be known he was going to Michigan, where his father and uncle played on the Wolverines' first national championship baseball team in 1953.
"This kid was just born to compete," says Schembechler. "It's something inside him. He always wants a little tougher challenge."
Schembechler himself got a bit of a challenge from the press in the days leading up to the game. Prodded about the boos, he bristled a bit, and the Detroit Free Press quoted him as saying, "You can see all the crying going on, but you don't see the players crying and you don't see the coaches crying. You see the fans crying...and, frankly, we don't give a damn about the fans."
Not give a damn about all those thousands of boosters who pack Michigan Stadium! Free Press sports columnist Joe Falls, who wrote a biography of Bo, jumped on the quote with both feet: "When is my boy Bo Schembechler going to be able to accept some adversity? Every time something goes wrong, or doesn't go his way, he begins crying like a baby."
The oddsmakers, who certainly knew about Michigan's 37-game unbeaten streak at home, established the Wolverines as eight-point favorites even before word got out that Missouri was flying in without its best runner, Tony Galbreath, who had re-injured an ankle against Wisconsin the previous Saturday. There were Michigan pessimists, however, who feared that Mizzou's junior Quarterback Steve Pisarkiewicz would pass the Wolverines crazy, just as Stanford's Mike Cordova had two weeks before.
Michigan had practiced and played in chilly, rainy weather most of the young season, but Saturday was sunny and bright. It got sunnier and brighter yet when Michigan took the opening kickoff and, behind the running of Leach, Fullback Rob Lytle and Tailback Gordon Bell, marched for a touchdown in 13 plays. Three times in the series Leach carried for eight or more yards. Lytle scored from the one, the kick was good and the Wolverines led 7-0.
It wasn't so simple after that. Leach's left-handed passes were not finding receivers, and early in the second quarter a rollout pass was intercepted. He was hit hard just as he threw and did not play again in the half. Junior Mark Elzinga, who had started ahead of Leach in the Baylor game, came in. Just before half-time, Elzinga, Bell and Lytle moved Michigan from its own 20 to the Missouri 23, from where little Bob Wood kicked a 40-yard field goal. It was his eighth in four games and tied the school season record.
Missouri opened the second half by battling to the Michigan 29, but a fumble ruined the drive and Michigan scored the next two times it had the ball, Lytle on a 19-yard run through a huge hole and Leach 12 yards up the middle on a broken pass play. Leach was an effective runner all afternoon, but his passing—one completion in five attempts, plus an interception—is not going to petrify future opponents.
Michigan led 24-0 at the end of the third quarter, and it was time for Schembechler to test another freshman, Tailback Harlan Huckleby. That name makes it sound as if he should be fishing from a raft on the Mississippi. Instead, Huckleby is a high-speed sports model developed in Detroit. He ran the 220 in 21.5 at 15, the 100-yard dash in 9.5 at 16 and was the state high school champion in both events.
"I want to tell you, he's fast," Schembechler said early in the week. "He's about the fastest we've got."
So when Huckleby took a pitchout and started careening around left end at the Missouri 11, and the Mizzou cornerback raced straight in instead of drifting to the sideline for a less difficult angle, Schembechler chuckled and thought, "I don't believe he knows how fast this kid is."
Before you could say Harlan Huckleby, he turned the corner and zipped in for Michigan's fourth touchdown. Missouri's second-string quarterback, Pete Woods (his mother was the first woman editor of The Michigan Daily), tossed a five-yard touchdown pass with 1:09 to go to avoid a shutout.
It was Schembechler's 100th head-coaching victory and his reward was to be thrown fully clothed into the shower, which was not a bad place to be after the heat down on the Tartan Turf of the stadium.
"We're not a great team yet," he said, smiling and dripping. "We're a young, struggling team. We'll get better as the season goes along. We just need time to do it."
You've got seven weeks, Bo. Then Ohio State comes to town.