The streaks were at work again last week. Nick Eddy went 56 for Notre Dame, Lenny Snow went 40 for Georgia Tech, Harry Wilson went 37 for Nebraska and marvelous Mel Farr, the best of the best—according to the pros—must have gone those distances in height alone as he soared above the waning exhaust fumes of Los Angeles to help UCLA win another game. For the third straight Saturday the streaks helped college football move another racy stride away from the old sport, where everybody went crunch, wham, whoof, and then the bodies were removed so you could get a look at what happened. College games have taken on the appearance of track and field meets, featuring such stylish events as the 58-yard hurdles, the 37-yard steeplechase and the 13-yard hop, step and jump.
In football's changing vernacular, a streak is primarily a halfback, a fast halfback who can, hopefully, become a semi- Bob Hayes and, by his mere presence, preoccupy whole townships full of defensive players. So far in 1966 there is evidence of raw speed such as the college game has never had before. Not only speed, but size and toughness as well, and don't forget goal-line instinct. All of these things seem to be embodied in a group of halfbacks that had the pros delighted even before they started acting like old 77s or old 98s.
"It's true that speed's the name of the game now," says one pro scout. "Everybody wants a Hayes, because now it's who can run under the ball first. We used to look first for hands and moves. These days it's just speed. But the thing about a lot of this year's backs is that so many of them have it all—speed, size and toughness, too."
When the college game first entered its present era of high-geared offenses, a trend brought about by the I formation and then platooning, the throwers were showered with most of the glory and attention—the Joe Namaths, Don Trulls and John Huartes. First-rate quarterbacks are still very much in vogue, of course, as the headlines about UCLA's Gary Beban, Florida's Steve Spurrier and Notre Dame's Terry Hanratty certainly indicate. But the runners are catching up. Not only are defenses spread by the constant threat of the pass, often yielding holes in the line roughly the size of the mouth to the Carlsbad Caverns, but there are now the streaks to take advantage of them.
See last week's perfect examples. There was poor Northwestern all keyed up to watch the Terry Hanratty-to-Jim Seymour passing combination that a week earlier had destroyed Purdue. So what happened on the Irish's fourth play from scrimmage? Nick Eddy took a hand-off from Hanratty and streaked 56 yards to a touchdown that started a 35-7 landslide. In two games now Eddy has the 56-yard sprint against Northwestern and a 96-yard runback of a kickoff against Purdue.
Then there was poor Clemson. All day long at Atlanta the Tigers did a superb job of spoiling Georgia Tech's feared passing attack, but then, in the fourth quarter, with Tech trailing 12-7 and Clemson absolutely sure that Quarterback Kim King would have to throw if he expected to win, there went Lenny Snow, 40 yards in all, for the winning touchdown in a 13-12 comeback. That was Snow's second touchdown of the game and his seventh in three games.
"Of all the good runners," says another pro scout, "Snow is the one whose speed is the most doubtful. But he's got that something you can't coach in a kid—that smell for the end zone."
Nebraska's Harry Wilson had it last week, too, and just when Nebraska needed it. With less than four minutes left, Nebraska faced the utter humiliation of a 6-6 tie with Iowa State. A situation fraught with desperate passing possibilities, yes? But split went the defense, and scat went Wilson for 37 yards and the game-winning touchdown.
UCLA's Mel Farr had no such dramatic plays to make in order to keep his team unbeaten and among the strongest in the land, but he did have to be very good throughout the afternoon or tough Missouri would not have gone down 24-15. If Farr, a 6-foot-2, 208-pound senior, had done anything less than gain 87 yards from scrimmage, or catch three of Gary Beban's passes for 85 yards, or dive for two touchdowns, the Bruins would not have, won, and UCLA Chancellor Franklin Murphy would not have had such a grand time hopping around on the Bruins' sideline.
This was last week's big game for a lot of reasons. Both teams were 2-0, for one thing. Then there was that business of matching the Rose Bowl champion against the Sugar Bowl champion. And there was national TV. Most important, however, it matched one of the nation's best offenses against one of the nation's most respected defenses. UCLA might have Beban and Farr, or, as the L.A. writers most often referred to them, "The bomb and the home run in the dream backfield." But Missouri had its best secondary in years, plus its mammoth end, Russell Washington, who is 6 feet 6, weighs 270 and despises runners and passers.