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"O.K.," said Tagge. "You've earned yourself a rest now."
USC is deep and still losing. Everybody keeps looking at all those big, fast Trojans and marveling at their ability, but now Coach John McKay's team has started off doing what it did too much of last year—failing to win the close ones. In 1970 the Trojans lost four games even though they whomped Notre Dame and Alabama and tied Nebraska.
"We lost four times but we were four plays away from a perfect season," said McKay last winter. "We'll be better."
The Trojans may well be that, but they have started off in a very bad fashion to prove it. Last Friday night a better Alabama team than USC saw a year ago turned up in the Los Angeles Coliseum and triple-optioned USC's defense to the tune of a 17-10 shocker, giving Bear Bryant his 200th victory as a head coach on the eve of his 58th birthday.
"We're on our way back," said the Bear.
There is no reason, of course, why Bryant should not be more comfortable with option football than he ever was in that era of pitch-and-catch he had been forced to play. Alabama has a new quarterback, Terry Davis, who can work the wishbone T quite well, and Bear has a couple of quick, hard-running backs in Johnny Musso and Joe LaBue. Against USC, Davis worked the option to perfection, and Alabama ripped off a 17-0 lead before McKay could get his defense to settle down.
"I tried to convince our team that Alabama was 200% better than the team we beat 42-21 a year ago," said McKay. "I also tried to convince our men that Bear enjoys revenge. But they took it to us and we were found wanting."
All was not gloomy for the Trojans. They fought back with repeated drives and produced another running star in Lou Harris, who gained 116 yards. USC might easily have won or at least tied the game with its second-half effort had it not been for a fumble at the Alabama eight-yard line and a crucial penalty which nullified a first down at the Alabama 16. McKay is two plays away from a perfect season already.
So a question suddenly arises: If USC isn't the team on the West Coast, can it possibly be Stanford again? Without Jim Plunkett? Well, it is far too early to say, naturally, even though six Pacific Eight teams were beaten over the weekend. But Stanford apparently has a post-Plunkett quarterback who might work out just fine. He is Don Bunce, who hung around for a fifth season waiting for Plunkett to take his Heisman Trophy to New England.