It was before the game, and Jack Mollenkopf thought he was joking. He stood in the middle of Purdue's Ross-Ade Stadium with his hands in the pockets of his overcoat and a 20-mile-an-hour northwester blowing in his face. He said to Duffy Daugherty of Michigan State that the offensive team ought to get the wind advantage at all times and that the punting team, ho ho, should always have to kick into the mouth of that terrible wind. This was the biggest game of any year at Purdue, with a homecoming crowd of 62,113 trying to fit into the stadium under an eerie Indiana sky bloated with rain clouds. Even kidding, Mollenkopf could not have prepared himself for a worse nightmare if he had washed down a piece of pineapple upside-down cake with a glass of orange juice on top of a chocolate mousse and hopped right into bed.
The nightmare did not begin until the third quarter. Then Mollenkopf's quarterback, Bob Griese, renowned as a maker of miracles, punted four times into that northwester. Griese was backed up against his own goal line, and each time he kicked the ball it looked as though it were attached to his foot by a string. The punts went for 17 yards, 18, 25 and, most prodigious of all, 30 yards. Each was agonizing. Before the quarter was over few were the people in Ross-Ade Stadium who did not know that Purdue's hard-chiseled 10-0 lead was in jeopardy.
Few, also, were the people who did not grieve that the year that was supposed to be Purdue's—the year of a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl invitation—might be ended, the Boilermakers' heaven being definitely in the sweet by-and-by and not, as the fraternities had proclaimed fervently, on this earth. For undefeated Purdue the houses on West Lafayette's fraternity row had wrapped themselves in banners that said bravely, "Everything's Coming Up Roses!" and, "Here Lie the Rose Bowl Dreams of MSU, Died on the Day They Met Purdue." In fits of superanalysis, the local sportswriters had said, " Michigan State is a running team and Purdue is famed for its passing, but Michigan State is deemed to have a better passing team to complement its rushing than Purdue has running to complement its passing," and, "Our final advice [for Purdue] is to get out in front and improve your position."
Purdue's players may not have understood the complementing bit, but they knew how to get out in front—no matter that Michigan State was ranked second in the country. They went ahead on Griese's 20-yard field goal in the first period. They improved on it to 10-0 and they dominated the first half. With the added protection of an unbalanced line that Mollenkopf had put in especially for Michigan State, Griese completed 13 passes on sprint-outs and rolls to the strong side, eight to Split End Bob Hadrick, who surely must have two sets of everything—arms, legs, eyes. Fullback Randy Minniear, sliding off and to the outside of the pinching State line that had ground the bones of Michigan and Ohio State fullbacks before him, was a steady gainer and once broke for 23 yards, longest run of the year by a Purdue back.
And the stunting, submarining Purdue line—Jim Long, Jerry Shay, Pat Conley and other flesh-eaters like them—shut off the Michigan State offense at every turn. So what is this business about a 10-0 lead being shaky?
Well, it is the old business of football and the curious initiatives and subtle nuances that cause trends. The initiative and therefore the course of the game had subtly passed to Michigan State in the desperately windy third quarter that eroded Griese's poise.
And then there was that basic of the game the coaches call "field position." Michigan State became a classic exponent of field position in the second half. Only six of the 65 offensive plays run in the second half were begun in State territory, and all six were begun by the Spartans. Purdue never got beyond its own 42 in the third quarter, never beyond its own 25 in the fourth. It never once got out of the three-down area, because it had to start from its 15-yard line, its 34 and then its 20, 9, 17 and 16, in that order.
Michigan State, on the other hand, gained possession five times in Purdue territory, usually after one of those low-comedy punts. When its offense was unable to dig out, Purdue's fast-moving defense expended energy beyond its capacity and began to flag, only a little at first and then noticeably in the fourth quarter. That was when the great slashing power of Michigan State's fine running backs—sophomore Bob Apisa, the 212-pound Hawaiian puncher Coach Daugherty disguises as a second-string fullback, and Halfback Clinton Jones—began asserting itself.
Where once they had tried to run outside of Long, who had contained them well, the Spartans now struck inside on dives and slants. No frills. Man-to-man stuff. Spartan linemen gap-blocked viciously, attacking the first men they could hit, whether they were on the line or not. Apisa and Jones were now inspired; they consistently broke tackles, as many as three on a carry, and at the end of a 50-yard drive Apisa made a swan dive from no more than an inch out into the end zone.
A two-point conversion pass by Quarterback Steve Juday cut Purdue's lead to 10-8 with nine minutes and 46 seconds to play. But Purdue had the wind at its back in the fourth period, and conditions favored it to regain the initiative. Nightmare indeed. "The play that killed us," Mollenkopf called the kickoff that followed.