The Cache Valley in northern Utah is known for its fine cheese. Unless a milking machine breaks down, the serenity of the lovely valley is usually undisturbed. But there have been a few raucous moments. A century and a half ago trapper Jim Bridger blew his top when he discovered that somebody had swiped his cache of furs, and more recently, after Utah State University officials decided to change the school's nickname from Aggies to Scotsmen and dress the marching band in kilts, the boos in Romney Stadium in Logan shook the antlers off half the deer in the Wasatch Range. The Aggies quickly became the Aggies again.
Last Saturday there was another explosion in the Cache Valley when Utah State, ranked second in the nation in passing offense, ran into intrastate rival Brigham Young University, which was ranked first. BYU Quarterback Marc Wilson was first in the nation in total offense, with an average of more than 272 yards a game. Utah State Quarterback Eric Hippie was second.
It was quite a confrontation and it drew a record crowd of 28,094 people to Romney Stadium. Sure, a crowd of 28,000 could be hidden in an upper corner of one section at Ann Arbor or Columbus, but Logan's population at the last census was only 22,000; the crowd broke the old stadium record by 6,500. It got its money's worth, too, even though the home team lost, as Wilson outpassed Hippie to lead BYU to a rousing 48-24 win.
BYU was lucky to have Wilson at all this year, because just before the start of fall practice he suffered an attack of appendicitis while on a pack trip into Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains. He thought it was the flu and when he came down out of the wild—on a horse rather than his own two feet—his ailment wasn't diagnosed for eight days, during which he threw a football around, played golf and passed the physical exam for his senior season with the Cougars.
As skinny as Ichabod Crane even when he is healthy, the 6'5" Wilson came out of the hospital emaciated, but still missed only a week of two-a-day drills. Despite his lost weight and lack of conditioning, he was pressed into service. He had already been redshirted a year, so BYU Coach La Veil Edwards put him in the lineup and redshirted his outstanding backup, Jim McMahon.
BYU has a Deepfreeze crammed with quarterbacks. Gifford Nielsen, now with the Houston Oilers, was going great in 1977 when he got injured; Wilson stepped in and threw seven touchdown passes in his first start. Wilson got hurt last year; McMahon stepped in and made first-team all-conference. Danny Hartwig, a quarterback who had enrolled at BYU the same year as Wilson, saw he might not play much and transferred to Cal Lutheran. Now pro scouts say he'll be drafted.
Although BYU loves to have Wilson pass—against Hawaii this season he hit 28 of 49 for 342 yards and three TDs—the Cougars can do other things, too. Homer Jones is one of the country's leading all-purpose runners and Eric Lane, a nephew of ex-Utah State star Mac Arthur Lane, can catch passes and run. And that's not all. Before last Saturday's game BYU had the best pass defense in the Western Athletic Conference and was in the top 25 defensively in the country.
"We've got so much teamwork," says Wilson, a good student who wants to be a lawyer. "In other years there was a division between the offense and defense, partly because of the publicity offense gets. We're together now."
Utah State's Hippie is as muscular as Wilson is scrawny. Like Wilson, who is from Seattle, Hippie is from out of state—Downey, Calif.—but he was not heavily recruited. A Utah State assistant coach on vacation happened to see him flinging the ball in a summer league and tabbed him as a prospect.
Last year he was the NCAA's 15th-best passer statistically and, despite the burden of an effete name, Eric Ellsworth Hippie proved adept at knocking down would-be tacklers on running plays.
"He's one of the best all-round quarterbacks I've ever worked with," says Aggie Coach Bruce Snyder. Earlier this season Hippie led the Aggies to a 48-48 tie with San Jose State, the highest-scoring draw in NCAA annals. In that circus, Hippie reached Utah State's two top receivers, James (Murph, the Sweetest Thing on Turf) Murphy and Ken (Bombzilla) Thompson, with seven passes apiece, which gained a combined 242 yards.
Behind Hippie, Utah State has Reserve Quarterback Craig Bradshaw, nicknamed "Laser Beam" because his flat, hard passes look as though they could pierce steel. Bradshaw, the younger brother of the Pittsburgh Steelers' Terry, transferred to Logan from Louisiana Tech. He got a chance to play against Colorado State after Hippie injured a shoulder and completed eight of 18 for 132 yards and two touchdowns.
"We have quality depth at quarterback," says Snyder. "Craig has been waiting in the wings very patiently for the last two years. I'm really happy he got the chance to show what he can do."
The BYU-Utah State showdown was augmented by a lot of traditional rah-rah. The winner would get the Old Wagon Wheel game trophy and would have a strong claim to the Beehive Boot (an 85-year-old leather boot attached to a piece of wood), the symbol of football supremacy in Utah, which calls itself the Beehive State. The Aggie band, which probably stashed its discarded kilts in Bridger's old hiding place so they'd be stolen for sure, wore typical collegiate marching garb, while an Aggie student on the sideline fed hay to the school's mascot, a bull named Gus (which stands for "Go Utah State!").
BYU, ranked in the Top 20 nationwide, showed why as it zipped to a touchdown on its first possession, Eric Lane going in for the score from the three. The Cougars moved ahead 14-0 when Wilson picked up 41 yards by hitting WAC indoor 60-yard hurdles champion Lloyd Jones on one pass play and 20 yards more on a scoring pass to the leaping Bill Davis.
At that point it looked as if BYU would win easily. Its defense was rushing Hippie hard and covering all his receivers. Then Hippie was hurt again, and again Bradshaw took over. He got the Aggies 66 yards in 10 plays, climaxed by a laser-beam touchdown pass to the well-covered Bombzilla Thompson in the end zone. The PAT brought it to 14-7, BYU.
But that was as close as Utah State was to get. Before the first half ended, Wilson's passes twice brought BYU close to the goal line and Lane twice carried the ball in. Utah State answered only with a Steve Steinke 40-yard field goal. The Cougars led 28-10.
In the second half, Utah State started to blitz and vary its defenses. That stopped BYU, a recovered Hippie passed the Aggies downfield and scrappy Tailback Rick Parros scored from the one to make the score 28-17. It still seemed anybody's game, maybe even a 68-68 tie.
But the Aggies' Stacy Colbert fumbled a punt, BYU's Dave Smith recovered on the Utah State 18 and two plays later Lane went in for his fourth TD. BYU 35-17.
Utah State closed the gap to 35-24 on a Hipple-to-Ken Brown pass, but the Aggie defense could not contain Wilson. Every time BYU got into a jam, it seemed as though Wilson would roll out and complete a 25-yard pass. Lane ran over for his fifth TD, a school record, and Wilson passed to Tailback Scott Phillips for the final score.
Thus BYU improved its record to 5-0, the best start in its 57 years of football, and now has a real shot at its first undefeated season. Game 11 at San Diego State on Nov. 24 looks like the biggest hurdle the Cougars will have to face before the inevitable bowl game.
In the Wilson-Hippie duel, Hippie, who had to scramble constantly and was one big bruise after the game, hit 19 of 30 passes for 182 yards and gained 11 more on the ground. But Wilson completed 19 of 25 for 372 yards, the ninth time he has gone over 300 yards in total offense. No other college football player has ever done it more than seven times. It is obvious that Ichabod Wilson didn't miss his appendix a bit.