Almost from the beginning, Quarterback Terry Davis, a 173-pound junior, took to the triple option as though he had been commanding one all his life. He is not fast, but he has quick feet and he thrives on running. "We're going to win with him because everybody has confidence in him," said Musso. Davis will never be a great passer, but he can throw short well enough to keep the defense alert, and that is all Bryant expects.
USC, ranked high and bristling with talent, was Alabama's first test, and the Tide went in a solid 11-point underdog. Trojan Coach John McKay had heard Bryant was toying around with the Wishbone, but he didn't believe it was for real. It was. USC kicked off and six plays later Musso went 13 yards to score. Before USC could recover, Alabama led 17-0, and, as in the old days, 17 points was plenty. USC got 10 back but no more, and the football world said, "Oh, oh, The Bear is back." Except in the South.
"I didn't know he'd been away," said Shug Jordan, Auburn's head coach. "He's only been to 12 straight bowl games."
Tennessee's Bill Battle was equally surprised. "I didn't realize he had gone anywhere. He's just back to coaching his kind of game—jaw-to-jaw, hard-nosed football. And now he has the players for it."
Southern Mississippi was next to feel the sting of what a Mississippi State scout called " Bryant's meat grinder." Bryant played 68 people and won 42-6.
Then Florida, a preseason top-20 candidate, fell 38-0. Alabama's secondary of Steve Higginbotham, Steve Williams, Dave McMakin and Steve Wade keyed a defense that picked off five Florida passes.
"You can give a lot of the credit for our secondary to Bill Oliver," Bryant said. "He taught us some new techniques and gave our people more confidence." A starter on Alabama's 1961 national champions, Oliver joined Bryant's staff last spring.
After the win over Florida, Alabama, which had been left out of most of the preseason consideration, jumped to fifth and seventh in the two wire-service polls. Bryant was pleased but cautious, knowing that Mississippi would be coming in next, and that teams such as Tennessee, Houston, LSU, Miami and Auburn would follow. If you can find a tougher schedule than that, send flowers.
"We've come a long way," he said, "but it's still too soon to.... " Someone once asked Bryant what was left after winning three national championships. "A fourth," he snapped without hesitation. "And then a fifth. And a sixth."
Late Saturday afternoon, Mississippi, third in the SEC in passing and last in total defense, arrived in Birmingham, unbeaten in three starts. From the beginning the Rebels knew they were in for a rugged afternoon. With its big forward wall led by Hannah and Krapf opening huge holes, Alabama took the opening kickoff and muscled to the Mississippi nine before losing its third fumble of the year. On its second move against Ole Miss, the Tide banged down to the seven before settling for a 25-yard field goal by Bill Davis. On the first two drives, Musso carried the ball eight times for 41 yards. "We just weren't getting the ball to him enough," Bryant said. "Of course, it's a problem. We'd rather have him carrying the ball, but at the same time we'd rather have him blocking. On our first drive against Florida, we go to their six in 12 plays and Johnny hasn't seen the ball yet."