We've stepped up to the Pac-10, and that means playing with the big-boys," said Arizona State Coach Frank Kush before the Sun Devils' first game ever against No. 2-ranked Southern California. When it was over, the Sun Devils showed that when they stepped up they hadn't stepped out of their class. Final score: Arizona State 20, USC 7.
That night game was a fitting climax to a Saturday filled with disaster and close calls for many of the nation's top-ranked teams. Altogether, half of the Associated Press' Top 20 were losers. Half of the 20 teams had been undefeated; only four of them remained so Sunday morning. Among the latter were No. 3 Penn State and No. 4 Arkansas, both of which had the weekend off. And of the four Top Ten teams that did win, only one, No. 8 Nebraska, had an easy time of it.
Before leaving the WAC to join the Pac-10 this season, Kush had said, "Yeah, it will be nice to be in a bigger puddle. But you run into fewer big wins, hoping maybe to knock off a USC or a UCLA every five years." Clearly, Kush was apprehensive.
The Trojans, on the other hand, were confident. And why not? They had beaten highly regarded Alabama, then dumped Michigan State 30-3, thereby avoiding one of those poll-dropping letdowns after a big game, and were raring to go after a week off. They had brought 3,000 of their fans, plus their 270-piece marching band, to Tempe. Few among them were daunted by Steve Hicks' 40-yard field goal that gave the Sun Devils a 3-0 halftime lead. Surely the swift, massive and talented Trojans would get rolling in the second half.
October 22, 1978
Surely, they did not. Instead, it was the Sun Devils, directed by junior Quarterback Mark Malone, who were on the move throughout the last two quarters. Backing them up were their rooters, who were scoring their own victory by drowning out the USC fans' "A-S who?" catcalls with chants of "U-S what?"
With 5:48 of the third period gone, Malone capped a 38-yard drive, following Defensive End Bob Kohr's recovery of a Paul McDonald fumble, with a one-yard plunge into the end zone. The kick was good to make the score Arizona State 10, USC 0. Before the third period was over, Malone made it 16-0 by passing 16 yards to John Mistier, and Hicks tacked on the extra point. An interception by Cornerback Kim Anderson, the first of two he made, had set up the score. By the time the game ended, Malone had completed 14 of 22 passes for 167 yards and had rushed 19 times for 139 yards.
Arizona State's defense was equally impressive. In addition to Anderson's interceptions, Kohrs recovered three of USC's four fumbles. So well did Kohrs and his cohorts perform that USC gained only 70 yards. Charles White, who was second in the country in rushing with an average of 152.5 yards a game, struggled to 59 yards in 18 carries.
It was not until late in the fourth quarter, after the Sun Devils had gone ahead 20-0 on another field goal by Hicks, that the Trojans got on the scoreboard. A 31-yard pass from Paul McDonald to Dan Garcia with 33 seconds left enabled USC to stretch its scoring streak to 123 games. That hardly mattered to the state-record crowd of 71,138, which was delighted that Arizona State had proved it could play in a bigger puddle and not come out with mud in its eye.
The week's largest crowd—105,132 at Michigan Stadium—came to see the latest version of one of college football's ever-popular great traditional intrastate rivalries: No. 5 Michigan (4-0) vs. un-ranked Michigan State (1-3).
However, since Coach Bo Schembechler took over at Michigan, that rivalry has paled. After losing to the Spartans in 1969, his first season at the helm of the Wolverines, Schembechler had vowed, "I'll never lose to Michigan State again." Down through the years, Bo made those words stand up. His dominance of the Spartans was so complete that early last week Schembechler dared say, "A pure passing team can't beat us." Summing up the prevailing attitude of the Wolverines were these words from a Michigan official. "It's like the twerp next door dropping by the bully's house for his annual beating, and the whole neighborhood coming out to watch."
With the whole neighborhood watching, the twerps slugged the bullies 24-15. Like USC, Michigan had been a 14-point favorite, and also like the Trojans, the Wolverines fell behind and never recovered. Michigan State zipped in front, leading 17-0 at halftime, Morten Andersen having booted a 38-yard field goal and Alonzo Middleton having scored twice, first on a 10-yard pass from Ed Smith and then on a one-yard run.
But being behind was nothing new for Michigan, which in previous weeks had trailed Notre Dame 14-7 and Arizona 17-14 before winning. If anything, the Wolverines were a second-half squad, having outscored the opposition 77-0 in the final two quarters in the past four weeks. This time, though, Michigan's scoring was limited to a pair of three-yard runs, Rick Leach going over in the third quarter and Russell Davis in the fourth. But in between had come an 11-yard Michigan State scoring pass from Smith to Mark Brammer.
Michigan State's dominance was more conclusive than its nine-point victory indicated; it gained 496 yards (248 each on the ground and through the air), the most any team has amassed against the Wolverines since 1961. While Smith was on target with 20 of 36 passes, Leach made good on only five of 15 and had three picked off.
Asked to assess the consequences of Michigan's defeat and Ohio State's 27-16 loss to Purdue, Schembechler said, "What this means is that college football is getting more balanced."
"Is that so bad?" a reporter asked.
"It's very, very bad," Bo replied.
The Houston Cougars would disagree. The Cougars were an eight-point underdog against sixth-ranked Texas A&M for their Southwest Conference game in the Astrodome. The unbeaten Aggies were third in the nation in rushing defense (allowing 79.7 yards a game), eighth-best against the pass (80.5 yards), second in overall defense and third in points allowed (21 in four games); on offense they were second in rushing (397 yards), third in total yardage per game (485.7) and second in scoring with 170 points.
The two teams had one common opponent, Memphis State, which lost 58-0 to the Aggies but beat the Cougars 17-3. On top of that, Houston, though 3-1, had barely scraped past Baylor the week before and had outscored its opponents only 92-81.
But the two teams were playing football, not comparing statistics. Houston scored on five of its first seven possessions. Two of its touchdowns came on passes by Danny Davis, one a 43-yarder to Eric Herring, the other a 10-yarder to Willis Adams. Randy Love tallied twice on runs of one and 16 yards, and Emmett King scored on a 12-yard jaunt. At the half, the Cougars led 33-0. And that's where the score stayed.
Texas A&M gained but 187 yards, as opposed to 331 by Houston, and lost three fumbles, including one at the Houston one-yard line. Curtis Dickey, whose 148.5-yard rushing average was the third best in the land, was limited to 25 yards in 14 cracks.
Although undefeated in four games, ninth-ranked Pittsburgh found itself in the novel position of being expected to lose by five points to a team that was un-ranked and 2-2. That team, though, was Notre Dame, the oddsmakers apparently feeling that playing on South Bend's hallowed turf would work wonders for the Irish. It did.
Notre Dame scored first on a one-yard burst by Jerome Heavens, but the next 17 points were scored by the Panthers. Quarterback Rick Trocano picked up the first six on a three-yard run, and Mark Schubert added a field goal to put Pitt in front 10-7 at the half. Its lead was extended early in the fourth quarter when Trocano went in from four yards out. That's when Jerome Heavens and Quarterback Joe Montana got busy.
Taking advantage of a Pitt defense that was geared to stop his long passes, Montana shredded the Panther zone. In less than seven minutes, Montana, who during one stretch hit on seven straight passes, had the Irish ahead 19-17. The touchdowns came on an eight-yard pass to Kris Haines and a one-yard plunge by Montana himself. Then, after Pitt lost its third fumble of the game, Montana teamed up with Vagas Ferguson on a three-yard touchdown pass play that sealed Notre Dame's 26-17 victory.
Linebacker Bob Golic contributed to the Irish triumph by being in on 22 tackles and Heavens ran for 120 yards in 30 carries. That brought Heavens' career rushing total to 2,363 yards, enabling him to supplant George Gipp as the top runner in Notre Dame history.
Lest anyone think that all the favorites lost or that balance is rampant, it should be noted that St. Thomas beat Macalester 28-0 in a Minnesota Intercollegiate Conference game. That came as no surprise to the Scots, who have been outscored 304-27 in six games this season and who tied an NCAA record with this, their 39th consecutive setback.