Out in the western reaches of Texas, the city of Lubbock reposes in un-shaded isolation. A mecca for pickup trucks, cottonseed oil and dust storms, Lubbock also can boast of 3% unemployment, glutted bank accounts and some of the friendliest folks ever to order chicken-fried steak. However, neither Texas Tech with its elegant campus nor air as clear as Steuben glass has enabled Lubbock to shake its unsophisticated image, and the community itself may be to blame. Take last week, for example. Because undefeated, No. 6-ranked Tech had a home game against mighty Texas, Lubbock had a chance to polish its boots and show off before a large assemblage of visiting media people. So what did the local citizens do? Most of them acted as crazed as ranch hands who have been out in the West Texas heat too long.
The reason that Lubbock's lunacy hit a new bonkers level was Tech's 31-28 victory in a game that very nearly sent both coaching staffs and every one of the 54,187 spectators in Jones Stadium—including 1,500 manic souls who paid seven bucks apiece to stand—to the rubber room. Before it all ended with Longhorn Raymond Clayborn vainly trying to return a punt through a swarm of Red Raider tacklers, the lead changed hands five times. Tech twice came from behind to ensure its fans a Saturday night of raucous delirium that may last until the Cotton Bowl on New Year's Day.
The win gave the Raiders a 6-0 record and enabled them to take a big step toward their first Southwest Conference title. Tech now shares the league lead with Arkansas, a team it will meet at Little Rock on Thanksgiving weekend in a game that will not be a turkey. This impressive start is the Raiders' finest since 1938, and has come on the heels of last year's 6-5 performance and despite severe losses from the defensive unit through graduation. A preseason poll picked the Red Raiders to finish fourth in the SWC, and even the most deranged Lubbockites did not envision Tech going through October unbeaten.
Happily for Steve Sloan, the 31-year-old ex-Alabama quarterback now in his second season as Tech coach, the players are fanatical about proving the prognosticators wrong. Starting with the season opener against favored Colorado, which Tech won 24-7, the Raiders have gained converts and confidence with every game.
November 8, 1976
And they have done it with a lineup that is curious, if not downright zany. Sloan solved the problem of his inexperienced secondary with a pair of ex-quarterbacks. He switched junior Greg Frazier to safety and inserted Don Roberts, a senior, at the right corner. Together they have had five of Tech's 15 interceptions. Another defensive change put Harold Buell, a 214-pound linebacker of so-so accomplishment, at defensive end, where he may become All-Conference. Among the Red Raiders' biggest plays against Texas was Buell's second-period sack of Quarterback Ted Constanzo that resulted in a 15-yard loss and took the Longhorns out of field-goal range.
Before the Texas game Quarterback Rodney Allison, who likes to begin a lot of his sentences with, "I feel that...;" was considered a weaker passer than injured Tommy Duniven, a senior with whom he shares the position. "I don't feel I'm a first-class passer," Allison said on Friday, "but I feel like I can throw. I feel I can offset the passing with my running. I'm throwing 50%. I feel if I can do that and throw for 100 yards a game, I'll get the job done."
Allison need never downgrade his arm again. Against the Longhorns he completed 10 of 11 passes for 87 yards and, despite leg cramps, carried the ball 25 times for 106. In the third quarter, after Texas had taken a 21-10 lead, he capped an 80-yard drive with a five-yard touchdown run. And when the game ended, he was the first player to race across the field to shake the hand of Texas Coach Darrell Royal.
Sloan and the Raiders also are endowed with an unusual placekicker named Brian Hall. Hall leads the nation with 10 field goals in 13 attempts (his longest went 46 yards against Texas A&M), and he has kicked 21 extra points without a miss. His 34-yard field goal in the second quarter ultimately proved to be the margin of victory over Texas. All of which would be nothing short of spectacular, even if Hall did not kick with an artificial leg.
But he does. As the result of a childhood farm accident, Hall's right leg ends a few inches above his non-existent ankle, and he wears a prosthesis that reaches to his knee. "As long as there is glue," says Hall, "I'll never have shin splints."
On Friday, when 6½ inches of snow fell on West Texas and threatened to turn Jones Stadium into the Slush Bowl, Hall was asked how cold weather might affect his showdown with Texas' Russ Erxleben, the country's No. 1 all-round kicker. "The only thing I'm hoping is that it will be cold enough to hurt his toes," Hall said. "It sure won't hurt mine."
Nonetheless, it was a break for Tech that the temperature was climbing toward the 60s by kickoff time, because it gave Allison ideal conditions for unleashing the Raiders' passing attack. Royal always has looked askance at the forward pass, and he had little reason to change his opinion in the first period when Tech's Larry Dupre, son of L. G. (Long Gone) Dupre of Baltimore Colt fame, intercepted Mike Cordaro's errant toss and returned the ball to the Texas 13. Three plays later the Red Raiders took a 6-0 lead as Billy Taylor fired into the end zone from the one.
With 7:20 to play, Taylor also scored the game's last touchdown, a carbon copy of his first, after Allison had taken three shots at the goal line from the two and had gained only a yard. "We were so close we didn't want to risk a fumble on a hand-off," said Allison. "I thought I'd made it the first time, and I know I did on the second." But Allison already had made his contribution to the 76-yard drive by running for 22 yards on a busted third-down pass play.
The Raiders' other touchdown came on a tackle-breaking, 15-yard run by Larry Isaac, who picked up 91 yards to surpass Donny Anderson's Tech career rushing record of 2,280 yards in 526 carries. Isaac now has 2,347 yards on 471 carries.
Texas had suffered a serious blow at the end of the first quarter, when Earl Campbell, its 231-pound fullback, was sidelined with a strained left hamstring. Campbell had savaged the middle of the Tech line for 65 yards on seven carries, and without him, Texas was forced to try running outside. The Tech defense concentrated its pursuit in that direction, often forcing Tailback Johnny (Lam) Jones out of bounds before he could turn upfield. The Raiders did not do as well with Jimmy Johnson, a 171-pound freshman who scored three touchdowns, one on a 60-yard sprint. Constanzo, who replaced Cordaro at quarterback in the first period, got the other Longhorn score on a two-yard run.
"We're no rolling ball of butcher knives, but we're a pretty good team," Royal had said of his Longhorns before the game. He is right. Texas is good, but Tech has shown it is better, and no one is more startled—or happier—about that than the erstwhile linebacker, Buell. "If I had thought about it last summer, I would have been surprised to think we'd be unbeaten this far along," he said. "But as each game progressed, we began to see we have a good team here. It's a different kind of team, sort of like the Miami Dolphins and their No-Name Defense. We don't have any big names, but everybody works as a team. I don't know how this came about—it's a psychological kind of thing—but we've got something here that's exciting."
For bucolic Lubbock, it's been downright mind-bending.