SI Vault
Dan Jenkins
September 20, 1971
The college football season began with Nebraska, Ohio State and Stanford showing no mercy, while Alabama said happy birthday to Bear
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September 20, 1971

Off Like Champions

The college football season began with Nebraska, Ohio State and Stanford showing no mercy, while Alabama said happy birthday to Bear

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If Michigan's coach, Bo Schembechler, had not scored a touchdown himself on that famous old play, the Statue of Rules, it might have been impossible to tell that a new season of college football had come veering into the hearts, minds and linebackers of America last week. A year had passed, but hardly anything looked different. Nebraska was still deep, powerful and red, Woody Hayes still had a fullback and a taste for high scoring, Stanford still had a quarterback, USC was still heavy on talent and light on luck, and LSU proved it could still lose an opener when everyone least expected it. And although a lot of schools had new coaches who were wearing the caps and whistles of saviors, they did the same old thing. They lost.

All in all, Schembechler's act was the most fascinating of what has come to be known as football's "early week," which began last year when an 11th game was added to many schedules. Michigan had one of the tougher and more vital first games, against Northwestern, a serious Big Ten contender, a fact that had Schembechler grumbling all spring. "The pros have six exhibitions to get ready," he said, "and we have to open with this." The Wolverine coach was obviously alert to winning the game with whatever device was necessary—and as it developed he had a part in doing so.

Here is the playlet: Michigan holds 7-0 lead early in third quarter even though Northwestern looks more physical and hints it might take control at any moment. Michigan tries field goal from midfield. Kick is short but Northwestern jumps up and slaps ball down in end zone, "goaltending." Northwestern Back Jack Dustin trots off field, happy. Michigan End Bo Rather falls down on ball, happier. Schembechler runs on field and calls touchdown, Michigan. Officials scratch heads. Schembechler quotes rules. Officials scratch heads again. Schembechler quotes rules again, slowly and specifically. Officials learn rules and Michigan now leads 14-0.

"I thought the play was over," said Dustin. But it was a live ball, all right, just as if someone had fumbled a punt in the end zone. And later on it was a live 21-6 Michigan victory—a victory that goes a long way, even in fresh September, to setting up another Wolverine-Ohio State climax in the Big Ten.

Gone were the Rex Kerns and Jack Tatums at Ohio State, but nobody missed them last Saturday in Columbus. Woody Hayes had his usual earthbound attack, a "robust" running game, as it is labeled, and he got the usual 52 points against poor Iowa, which would permit him to sleep well. It was 52-21, a new experience for Iowa Coach Frank Lauterbur, who had been accustomed to whipping folks at Toledo.

Yes, Woody had a whole new cast last week, even if his act was the same. For starters, here came Don Lamka, who had spent two years on defense behind Jack Tatum, to run the quarterback option for 100 yards and four touchdowns. And here came John Bledsoe, a solid fullback who had played all of three minutes last year, to hammer away for 151 yards and two touchdowns. Altogether Woody's Buckeyes rushed for 402 yards, a figure that is as robust as ever.

In another stimulating area of Midwest football, there were those who felt Nebraska might have some real trouble with a harsh opener like Oregon if Bob Devaney's Cornhuskers were anything less than they were a year ago, or if, perhaps, they were still celebrating all the No. 1s they inherited after the bowls. Oregon was not without weapons and had beaten some goodies last season, such as USC and Air Force.

The weather was hot in Lincoln, approaching 100� on the artificial turf, and all of those 67,437 red-clad Nebraska fans might have made it seem even hotter to Oregon. But the Cornhusker football team provided the worst heat. In relentless fashion it simply marched along 34-7, featuring some familiar stars, like Quarterback Jerry Tagge and I-back Jeff Kinney, who got 124 yards despite hay-fever troubles. The Cornhuskers indicated they would do as much from the beginning. They drove 80 yards after the opening kickoff, but fumbled into the Oregon end zone. So they quickly got the ball again and drove 67 yards and scored. A 147-yard touchdown drive, in other words.

Tagge, the co-captain, let there be no question about who was running the team. On that first drive, Kinney, having carried the ball three or four times, asked Tagge to stop calling his number and give him a rest because his hay fever was bothering him.

"Get in the huddle and play football," said the quarterback. Whereupon he called Kinney's number and Kinney ran 22 yards.

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