1. MICHIGAN (9-0)
2. NEBRASKA (9-0-1)
3. NOTRE DAME (8-0)
While Michigan and Nebraska were motoring onward in impressive fashion, beating Iowa and Kansas State by a combined score of 106—13, those other unbeaten monsters of the Midwest, Notre Dame and Ohio State, suddenly found themselves climbing toward No. 1 on their hands and knees.
All last week Ara Parseghian warned anyone who would listen that Georgia Tech's quick defenders were going to be tough to handle. Not too many people listened. The bookies made the top-ranked Irish a 27-point favorite. And in the subways the honorary alumni were saying things like "This is Ara's greatest team ever," and "Get off my foot, you dummy, what are you, a Texas fan?" Then they played and Notre Dame was lucky to escape with a 10-7 victory.
"We had to be good to pull this one out," said Parseghian in the same relieved tone that Xerxes must have used after Thermopylae. Like the Persians, the Irish moved well—until they got close. Twice Joe Theismann passes were intercepted, once a Notre Dame fumble wound up in Tech hands and three times Notre Dame field-goal attempts fell short. Finally, with 3:20 remaining in the third quarter, sophomore Scott Smith kicked a 34-yard field goal, and Notre Dame led 3-0. The advantage was short-lived. Shortly after, on a first-down-and-25 play, Tech Quarterback Eddie McAshan hit Larry Studdard with a 66-yard touchdown pass, and the stunned Irish were trailing 7-3 and facing a chilling 20-knot wind going into the last quarter. Things became even more bleak when Theismann drove the Irish deep into Tech territory only to have a pass stolen in the end zone.
Undaunted, Theismann kept pitching, and with less than 10 minutes to play he connected on a 46-yard pass to Ed Gulyas, who caught the ball while lying on his back at the Tech 34. Suddenly spurred, it took Notre Dame just six plays to score from there, with Denny Allan scrambling two yards behind the blocking of Larry DiNardo for the touchdown. Theismann finished the afternoon with 293 yards passing and running, giving him school records of 2,136 yards for the season and just over 5,000 for his career.
In Lafayette, Ind., with President Nixon watching on television, Ohio State huffed and puffed and finally blew Purdue down 10-7 by means of a 30-yard field goal with 2:04 to play, which did little for Woody Hayes' humor. "I think positively," he snapped at reporters who suggested that Ohio State no longer looked like, well, Ohio State. "You don't win with a negative attitude. You can call me boisterous, mouthy or whatever, but you don't talk down to my players. I don't, and I don't expect you to. If you want to write us off, that's your business. The old coach isn't going to, though."
With Purdue acting as though it were in another giant-killing mood, there were times when it didn't seem to matter what the old coach was thinking. Playing in a soggy combination of rain, sleet and snow, neither team managed so much as a first down for the first 10½ minutes. Then the Buckeyes drove 71 yards in six plays, sending Big Ten scoring leader John Brockington off right tackle for the final 26 yards and the touchdown. Twelve seconds later, just long enough for marvelous Stan Brown to grab the kickoff and run 96 yards, it was a 7-7 tie.
After that Purdue was either punchless or Ohio State was awesome defensively, depending, of course, upon which side of the stadium you were sitting. Purdue managed just three first downs, 54 yards rushing and 17 passing. But six times the Boilermakers found themselves with first downs inside the Ohio State 41, once as close as the 17, and six times they gave up the ball.
Early in the fourth quarter Purdue had moved to the Buckeyes' eight and was faced with a fourth and one. While everyone was waiting for the field-goal kicker to come charging onto the field, Purdue sent Brown straight into the middle of the Ohio State line. And he got zapped by Linebacker Doug Adams. No gain and no first down and no more opportunities would come Purdue's way. It was one of 17 straight times the Boilermakers had failed on a third or fourth down. With that kind of record, coach, why didn't you go for the field goal? "Well," said Bob DeMoss, "I thought we could make a first down." Oh.