There are two things that a man can depend on down in Itta Bena or Yazoo City, where the heritage is Faulkner and life can be either magnolia sweet or red-dust sour. He knows if his daughter is beautiful he will send her off to Mississippi—Ole Miss, it has to be called—and have her sing Girl Scout songs on the sorority-house steps and try to grow up to be Miss America, as two Ole Misses have in the past eight years. And if his son has a broad back and a strong heart he will send him to Ole Miss, too, to let him work under Johnny Vaught and join a winning football team. As a result, there is not an autumn spectacle in the whole state of Mississippi that can rival what Ole Miss offers—its potential Miss Americas and its victorious football weekends.
Head Coach Johnny Vaught has guided Mississippi on its winning way for 20 years, since the time, in fact, when he was promoted to the top job from that of line coach and noticed a tailback named Charlie Conerly throwing passes on the sidelines. There was a stretch, to be sure, when Vaught helped himself by playing half a football season against real teams and the other half against such innocents as Chattanooga and Tampa, but those days are gone. The Southeastern Conference is the toughest in the country this year, and Mississippi and Kentucky are the only teams that must face up to seven SEC opponents.
Two of Mississippi's games come on consecutive Saturdays against last season's SEC co-champions, Georgia and Alabama. This is the kind of prospect that could make a coach work—or weep—all year. Instead, Vaught decided that this summer he would take the first vacation he can remember, and off he went to Hawaii for two weeks—which says something about what he thinks of his team. "I feel better about this season than I have about a lot of others," he says. "We have plenty of boys back, and we have won the conference in the past with worse teams than we had last year."
This may be true, but last year's team was no winner in Vaught's eyes by the lime it had suffered a sluggish and embarrassing 19-0 loss to Texas in the Bluebonnet Bowl. It looked fat and lazy, and one of the reasons this year's team may be considerably better is that the fat showed so obviously. What Vaught did was cut off the cornbread in Miller Hall, the athletic dormitory, and order his boys to lose a quarter ton of blubber—about 10 pounds per man. As a result, his blue-eyed, square-jawed sons of Yazoo City don't fit last year's uniform pants anymore, but the tempo of the football they are playing is considerably faster. That solved problem No. 1.
Problem No. 2 was that even though Vaught had seniors falling over seniors in spring practice—the offense has eight starters back, the defense seven—he did not have a quarterback. At least he did not have a quarterback like Jake Gibbs or Glynn Griffing, who could operate within the Ole Miss system. What is needed is speed, ability to throw going either way and lots of nerve on the option play. Bruce Newell, a high school quarterback who was converted into a safety man, then last season reconverted to quarterback, is willing and is stronger than Gibbs was, but he is not quick enough. On roll-outs he tends to linger at the line. However, as a drop-back passer he is fine. He completed more than half of his 101 passes last season, and he does have experience. Backing up Newell is a mystery man, sophomore Terry Collier. He is faster than Newell, but he was injured in the spring, so had no real opportunity to show his ability. Regardless of how good he is, the chances are that he is not going to see much action. The SEC is not a good circuit for sophomore quarterbacks.
Both Don Street and Bobby (Monk) Wade, two seniors, will work at fullback. Street, the better of the pair, was slow recovering from an injury two years ago and played fitfully last season. He is a sprinter but had trouble breaking away. His longest run was 40 yards. Wade is a 5' 9�" ball of muscle who carried 153 times in 1966, averaging four yards per attempt. At wingback is Bill Matthews, while at tailback is the only nonsenior in the starting backfield, junior Stan Hindman.
Up front Vaught has six of seven starters back, and they are six reasons why he felt he could go to Hawaii. One is Michel Haik, a soft-spoken split end who led the team in pass receiving (20 catches for 267 yards) and should better that easily if the passes get to him. Haik, at 200, is the little man in the Rebel line. Everyone else weighs at least as much as he does, Vaught's diet program notwithstanding.
When you have a defense as good as Mississippi's, which was ranked third nationally and gave up only 4.6 points per game, you would not ordinarily change it, but Vaught has decided to. "I think that the offenses have caught up with the 5-4 defense," he says, "so we are going with a 6-2." Former Middle Guard Jimmy Keyes, an All-SEC choice, moves to wide linebacker and Mac McClure goes from linebacker to end. At right tackle for the third straight year is Jim Urbanek, Mississippi's best player and a man the pros get trembling wallets over. At 6'4" and 240 pounds, he moves laterally as quickly as most linemen move forward. Dan Sartin, who will be starting his third year at guard, Bruce Dillingham, in his third year at halfback, and Jerry Richardson, a first-string left end last year, show the kind of experience that Ole Miss foes must contend with.
Vaught divides last season into three parts: before Alabama and Georgia, Alabama and Georgia, and after Alabama and Georgia. He got out of that with an 8-2 record, the two losses being the obvious ones. This year he has the same schedule, but Georgia must come avisiting down to Oxford. This means one of those big football weekends at Ole Miss—and perhaps a rousing upset as well.
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