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To achieve this the defense will have to be nastier to opponents than in 1972 (202 points), but Houston counts on the offense to grab back what the defense gives away. Head Coach Bill Yeoman is the father of the "Houston Option," a Veer-type attack that stresses an explosive running game and presaged the Wishbone T that has been so successful at Texas, Oklahoma and elsewhere. This year the Veer promises to be even more of a Wehrmacht. "We'll be a threat from anywhere on the field," boasts Yeoman. Behind a good offensive line there is a backfield bursting with reasons why. The runners will be Marshall Johnson, successfully switched from split end last year; Leonard Parker, injured all season after gaining 125 yards in the opener; Reggie Cherry, five yards a carry last year; and freshman Jeff (The Jet) Bergeron, a Texas high school star who scored 67 touchdowns for Port Neches-Groves and drew drooling scouts even to his phys ed classes. The backfield ringmaster will be senior Quarterback D.C. (stands for D.C.) Nobles, who had only seven of 209 passing attempts intercepted last year. Nobles is a good student, married and the father of three children, and 12 pounds heavier than he was in '72. "Last year D.C. was 168 pounds of milk shakes," says Yeoman. "This year he's 180 pounds of muscle."
Now the question is whether the defense, somewhat inexperienced aside from its 10 returnees, can prove that it, too, is made of muscle instead of milk shakes. If it is, Houston should be 9-2, perhaps 10-1, and highly rated.
Gone is Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers. Gone is Outland Trophy winner Rich Glover. Gone to the athletic director's chair is Bob Devaney, who coached the Corn-huskers to successive national championships before slumping to fourth place in the polls last season. But the Huskers are far from goners. There to keep them from sinking into oblivion will be a coach who teaches Sunday school, a left-handed quarterback from Las Vegas and a monster named Wonderful.
Filling Devaney's ripple-sole, walk-on-water shoes is Tom Osborne, a tall, handsome nonsmoker, nondrinker who was formerly Devaney's offensive coach. Despite the losses from last season, Osborne admits his offensive line "may be as good as any we've ever had." Best of those linemen is Daryl White, 6'4" and 247 pounds of tackle who is as immovable as if he were cemented in place. A better run-pass balance and a strengthening of talent at the vital I back slot will make for a rampaging offense. Tony Davis will try to do some Johnny Rodgers, while Fullback Maury Damkroger will handle the short yardage. There to keep the scoring at a 30- to 40-point-a-game average is Dave Humm, a junior from Las Vegas who completed 153 left-handed passes last year.
Defensively, the soft spots are soft only in comparison to the contingent that yielded just 8.1 points a game in 1972. Who is going to push around John Dutton, a 6'7", 248-pound tackle? The defensive backfield has been fortified considerably. And for a monster the Huskers will go with either Terry Rogers, 5'11" and 196 pounds, or with a 6'4", 211-pounder of multiple talents and the honest-to-goodness name of Wonderful Monds. Wonderful, a transfer from Indian Hills ( Iowa) Community College, is one of the fastest of the Huskers, and after stealing a pass during the spring game he flashed 91 yards for a touchdown.
No small wonder, either, is Osborne, 34, who 11 years ago became an assistant coach for no salary but all he could eat at the training table. Equating religion with football he says, "My faith has enabled me to realize there's more to life than athletics." To which the 76,500 folks who have bought out all Husker home-game tickets are more inclined to say "Oh, yeah" than "Amen." To a large extent, Nebraska football and religion are synonymous, and as long as the Huskers win, the fans will feel their prayers have been answered.
"Doggone!" shouts Tennessee's superwholesome boy wonder, Coach Bill Battle, in moments of anguish. "Dad Jim! And gol darn!" Thus does the air turn baby-blue before his anger. Fortunately, there have been few occasions for such outbursts from this youthful prodigy: since he became coach in 1970, Bill Battle's record has been a dazzling 31-5-0. Indeed, Battle's Tennessee is undefeated against teams from 49 states and the District of Columbia, but against Alabama it is 1-2 and against Auburn it has lost three doggone straight games. "Everywhere I go," says Battle, "people keep asking, 'When you gonna beat Auburn or Alabama, Bill?' "
This may be the year. The offense is the backbone of it all. It will be led by the powerful tailback, Haskel Stan-back, who set a school rushing record with 890 yards, and by the small (5'11", 175 pounds) slippery natural-scrambler quarterback, Condredge Holloway, a junior who was confined to the pass pocket last year more than he liked. Holloway skipped spring practice in favor of playing baseball, an astonishing omission at a school so football-directed as Tennessee. "It may have helped," says Battle philosophically. "The team moved real well behind the other two quarterbacks, and I think that got Condredge's attention." The offensive line, led by sophomore Guard Phil Clabo (6'6", 270 pounds) and senior Tackle Gene Killian, is strong, and the team's pass receiving should be improved by two sophomore ends, Darrell Culver and John Yarbrough.