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Dan Jenkins
October 18, 1971
Darrell Royal invented college football's most effective offense, but last week the Sooners made him wish he hadn't
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October 18, 1971

Oklahoma Wins The Wishbone War

Darrell Royal invented college football's most effective offense, but last week the Sooners made him wish he hadn't

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Oklahoma had joked about stitching "Hello" on the front of Greg Pruitt's jersey and "Goodby" on the back, and that might not be a bad idea now that the Sooners have finally beaten Texas in a football game that for more than a decade pretty much belonged to Darrell Royal and the merry riot makers of downtown Dallas. In a funny old way last Saturday's game still belonged to Royal because Oklahoma used his Wishbone offense to outstreak the Longhorns for a victory that might have been even more convincing than 48-27 if the Sooners had just pitched Greg Pruitt the ball more often. When Pruitt gets the football it seems to be a case of so long, how long you gonna be gone?

The Sooners not only won the State Fair Circus for the first time in five years—and for only the second time in the past 14—they did it in a way that humiliated the Longhorns. Running. Oklahoma just hauled off and ran and ran, all afternoon long, the way Texas had been doing it to everybody since Royal came up with the Wishbone T in 1968, coupled it with the triple option and turned rushing defenses into something bordering on ruins. Oklahoma ran so much that it set a record for points scored on a Royal team at Texas, and the 435 yards the Sooners gained on the ground was 125 yards more than any team has rushed on Texas in Royal's 15 years there.

All of this came against a Texas defense that was thought to be as tough and quick as ever, particularly against the run. It was also a defense that had certainly looked at more Wishbone T than any other, like every day in practice. "This doesn't matter much when the other side has one of those Corvettes and a guy who knows when to pitch it," said Royal. The Corvette, of course, was Pruitt, a gifted athlete from Houston who thinks of himself as the new Warren McVea. He said goodby to Texas for a stunning 216 yards on 20 carries, which figures out to almost 11 yards every time he put it in gear.

Pruitt, who went to Oklahoma as a split end and didn't make the switch to halfback until mideseason a year ago, was clearly the major difference in the two teams. Even when Texas had defenders waiting for him at the corners, Pruitt often zipped around them after taking the pitch from Sooner Quarterback Jack Mildren, who finally has an offense to suit his ability. Pruitt burned Texas with such journeys as 46 yards, 34 yards, 20, 17, 12, 10, and assorted fives and fours—and he looked each time like he might be going as far as the AstroTurf would stretch.

Through most of the first half it seemed that the final score might be 62-59 in favor of whichever team wound up with the ball last. Nobody could stop anybody. Both Royal and Oklahoma Coach Chuck Fairbanks were getting Wish-boned to death, and the fans might have been watching a tennis match, the way their heads were turning. The dizzy thing began like this: Texas pounced on a fumble and went 44 yards for a 7-0 lead. Well. Same old Texas. But Oklahoma quickly drove 69 yards and scored. Hmmm. A new Oklahoma. And then Texas quickly drove 80 yards and scored and it was 14-7. Yep. Same old Texas. But then Oklahoma just as quickly drove 69 yards and scored and it was tied again. Hmmm. Definitely a new Oklahoma.

This was all still in the first quarter of the game, and as Royal said on the sideline, "Everybody looks like they're running downhill out there."

One of the basic weapons of the Wishbone option offense is the late pitch to the trailing halfback. When the quarterback keeps the ball and turns upheld—or downhill—he always has a halfback trailing him, ready to take a lateral. When that back happens to be someone like Greg Pruitt, the enemy corners are in real danger.

Against Texas, Mildren worked the pitch to Pruitt with perfection, occasionally after he had already gained five or 10 yards himself. The Texas defense would finally swarm in on Mildren but, oops, out would go the ball to the streaking Corvette. Pruitt scored the first and third Oklahoma touchdowns on excursions such as that from short yardage but his next one (his eighth in four games) might have been the one that crippled Texas for good.

Not long into the second quarter the pattern of the game changed. With Oklahoma leading 21-14, it was Texas' turn to score but Texas fumbled instead on its 24-yard line and Oklahoma recovered. By now Pruitt already had gained more than 100 yards and Texas had stationed just about everybody but L.B.J., who was among the usual 73,000 in the Cotton Bowl, out there on the flanks to stop him. So Mildren faked a counter play and sent Pruitt bursting over right guard. Inside.

Pruitt sprang clean at the line of scrimmage and was suddenly confronted by Alan Lowry, Texas' best defender in the secondary. Pruitt simply dipped his headgear one way and sent his feet the other, cutting sharply to the right. Lowry didn't come within five yards of him, and Pruitt flashed 20 lonely yards for the touchdown that made it 28-14. Up in the press box Texas Publicist Jones Ramsey said, "I think that move gave me a head cold."

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