Thus armed, BYU went out for the bloodletting against the pride of Wyoming.
To say that the university had always been the pride of Wyoming would be to stretch a point. Not many years ago, in fact, the state legislature appropriated more money for wolf bounties than it did for the college. But after World War II things began to improve dramatically, especially when a series of coaches named Bowden Wyatt, Phil Dickens and Bob Devaney came along to turn some of the country's worst football teams into some of the best. The latest in that rather prominent list is Lloyd Eaton, who learned the fine points of organizing a team from Devaney and who gets them across, some observers insist, with the aid of the Hallelujah Chorus. "I don't know if he got it from Billy Graham, or Billy Graham got it from Lloyd Eaton," said one Eaton assistant, "but when the coach talks, you expect thunder and lightning."
One of the things that Eaton learned early was that Wyoming has exactly 36 high schools with 11-man football teams, and if people are going to come roaring into Laramie for a Saturday shoot-'em-up he had better range far and wide for talent. Today no hamlet in the country is too remote to miss the gentle tap, tap, tap of Eaton and his staff. Typically, this year's squad was rounded up from 19 states, including Alabama, where Bear Bryant somehow overlooked Ron Billingsley, a 6-foot-8, 251-pound defensive end.
This year's Cowboys are a team born of disaster. Last season, fresh from having lost a heartbreaker and the conference championship to Arizona State the week before, they were humiliated by USC 56-6. Such a whipping can irrevocably undo most teams, but when the team is a good one—and Wyoming was good—it can also start its players thinking. "Never, never, never again am I going to get kicked around like that," thought Quarterback Rick Egloff then, and to a player the others had the same idea. The ferocity of last spring's scrimmages had the aging ladies at Ivinson taking a tight grip on their teacups.
This fall Eaton knew he had something good brewing. "Assets?" he said. "Yes, we have assets," meaning a defensive line that included Billingsley, Jerry Durling (known as the meanest man in the conference) and Mike Dirks, who weighs 225, a fact no offensive lineman he has faced believes. Eaton also had one of the fine now-you-see-me-now-you-don't running backs in the conference in Jim Kiick, and at split end was Jerry Marion, a whippet. The Philadelphia Eagles and Boston Patriots took a look at Marion when he was still a sophomore and said, "You belong to us."
No one did more to make Eaton think big, however, than Jerry DePoyster. "We expect to come back with something every time we cross midfield," said Eaton, marveling at DePoyster's kicking toe. Against Utah two weeks ago DePoyster warmed up with a 54-yard field goal, made good on another from 52 yards away, breezed in a modest 21-yarder and settled the Utes' hash but good with another 54-yarder.
But Eaton's hand was not entirely pat. What worried him most was his quarterback. The boy who was expected to get the call was Egloff, a hardy runner and a young fellow with a forceful personality. He was also thought to be totally incapable of completing a pass. Last summer, however, he stayed right in Laramie, throwing to anyone willing to shag for him. After 50 sessions Eaton told him: "Son, you're at least 50% better."
"Aw, Coach," said Egloff, "I'm better than that."
How right he was. In the opening game against Air Force, a team that boasted one of the fine secondaries in the country, Egloff completed 16 passes, good for two touchdowns and 195 yards, and, just to show that he had not lost the knack of running, picked up another 50 on the ground.
As for Wyoming's other supposed weakness, in the defensive backfield, Assistant Coach Burt Gustafson came up with four buzz bombs who are so good that just recently a professional scout called Wyoming's secondary not only better than Air Force's, but the best in the country.