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On a weekend filled with upsets, there were strange scores and last-ditch victories. SMU, crushed 42-0 by Illinois the week before, tied and almost beat Purdue, the nation's top-ranked team. Pittsburgh rolled up 48 points but was hardly in the game, giving up an inglorious 63 to West Virginia. Alabama, Ohio State, Stanford and Texas Tech were all losers with less than two minutes to play, all winners at the end. If anything was normal it was the playing of Texas Western's Billy Stevens, whose sensational passing has become routine
It stands to reason that nothing molds a first-rate college quarterback like experience. In a matter of moments he must read defenses, call plays, fake hand-offs, keep track of four receivers breaking eight ways and then hit the free man with the football while dodging tackles quickly enough to stay alive. To learn this takes time. There are exceptions, of course. Ron Vander Kelen, a senior quarterback at Wisconsin in 1962, learned so much in 90 seconds of play as a sophomore and junior that in his final year he was able to lead his team to the Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl. Similarly, John Huarte, a senior quarterback at Notre Dame last year, somehow transformed himself into a canny veteran after only nine minutes of previous game experience, and gained for Notre Dame recognition as the nation's No. 1 team and for himself the Heisman Trophy.
Now comes Billy Stevens, a tall sophomore quarterback at Texas Western, who has suddenly blossomed in the El Paso desert and become the nation's most effective and exciting passer. Stevens counts in his football scrapbook only six high school games, five of them as an undistinguished running halfback, plus three games with a ball-control Texas Western freshman team for which he threw only 45 passes. But last week—in his third consecutive varsity game—Stevens put on the kind of long-range aerial display that has kept Texas Western undefeated (they failed to win a game last year) and has packed 51,000 people into El Paso's Sun Bowl in two games as against 55,000 for five games last year. Stevens completed 18 passes for 309 yards and two touchdowns as Western downed New Mexico State 21-6.
Stevens, who comes from Galveston, Texas, is physically well suited to play his role as a forward-passing phenomenon. He is 6 feet 3 inches tall, weighs 190 pounds and uses the same modified side-arm motion once employed by another sweet-passing Texan, Sammy Baugh. But this kind of talent can amount to nothing without the right kind of team, and the right kind of team has been provided by Texas Western's brand new coach, Bobby Dobbs, a tall, robust, urbane man of 42 who thinks that football should be entertainment and that entertainment is a long forward pass. Dobbs, whose brother Glenn teaches a similar philosophy as head coach at Tulsa, was raised by the conservative Earl Blaik at Army, for whom he played fullback and later served as assistant coach. As head coach at Tulsa from 1955 to 1960, Bobby Dobbs was very much a ball-control man, but he changed during his four years as coach of the Calgary Stampeders in the Canadian pro league. North of the border they play with 12 men on each side, have only three downs to make a first down and always keep the ball in the air.
"The Canadian League opened my eyes to how entertaining football can be," says Dobbs. "I'll never go back to ball control again. When I came down here I planned to put in a passing game. It was what I wanted and what I knew best. I was just darned well going to dig up the right personnel."
First, a quarterback. Stevens turned out to be the right one after a week of spring practice. "He had a good arm," says Dobbs, "and could throw the ball hard. He was tall enough to see over the defensive line and he had great temperament. Billy was as mature as any 19-year-old you could find anywhere."
Stevens' lack of early playing experience had been due to a series of disasters, not a lack of ability. As a high school sophomore he had been smashed down as he dropped back to pass, suffering a dislocated vertebrae in his back. The injury kept him idle through the fall of his junior year as well. Then a broken collarbone and an appendectomy kept him out of action until his last five games as a senior, which he played at halfback. He came to Texas Western only because one of his high school coaches pleaded with the college to give him an athletic scholarship.
Armed with a passer, Dobbs's next need was a line to protect him. "This was so important that I robbed seniors from the defense to give me the experience to protect against stunting defenses," says Dobbs. From tackle to tackle, Texas Western now has five rugged seniors who average 6 feet 1 inch and 220 pounds.
Finally, Dobbs had to find people to catch the passes. Texas Western has two receivers who have made Stevens' statistics look even better by a series of acrobatic catches and dazzling long runs. One is Split End Bob Wallace, a 6-foot-2 sophomore who weighs 200 pounds, but can sprint 100 yards in 9.7 seconds and catch anything within reach of his long fingers. Last year Wallace was a freshman at Phoenix Junior College, but when he heard that Dobbs was installing a pro-type passing attack at Texas Western, it was bye-bye Phoenix. Wallace has caught only 12 passes so far, but six of them have been for scores.
The other and most favored of Stevens' targets is Flanker Back Chuck Hughes, a bony junior from Abilene whose lean, hard body (5 feet 11, 165 pounds) and mean, competitive scowl call to mind the gunslingers of the old Southwest. When he leaves the huddle and trots toward his offensive post, Hughes's hands flop limply from the wrist as if about to fast-draw a Colt .45. Hughes is all zigs and zags, running his patterns and running the ball. He returns punts and kick-offs, as does Wallace, and has caught 22 passes for 666 yards (30 yards a catch) and seven touchdowns.