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Nor would knowledge alone be sufficient. Early in the week a South Carolina scout, noting the Cougars' improvement from a 6-4-1 season of last year, admitted, "Then they had weaknesses we might have taken advantage of, but not now. They're a complete team, and it can get pretty distressing to see their yardage build up on that big Astrodome scoreboard."
South Carolina had another problem: it could not get a good line on the Houston players. The Cougars went only one strong half in their opening win over Rice, and an attempt to scout their final intrasquad game last spring had been even less telling. "When we got there," Dietzel recalls, "Nobles was on the sidelines signing autographs for kids. Then we found out why. In the last two scrimmages before that one his offensive team had twice scored more than 70 points. They were hiding him."
The Cougars' passion for yardage and points was burning hot last week. As they moved swiftly downfield in their first possession it looked to be the second rout in two nights at the Astrodome. The Gamecocks had watched the first one—and they seemed to be headed toward the same fate as Bobby Riggs. They were offering a four-man defensive front, and Houston took quick advantage of it by marching close enough for a field goal and a 3-0 lead. But the South Carolina Veer also showed early form under Quarterback Jeff Grantz, a sophomore with valuable Veer experience from his high school days. He broke off a 41-yard run to set up a tying field goal and led his team to another three-pointer and a 6-3 lead early in the second quarter. The Gamecocks were winning the minor skirmishes, but even then it was obvious they were in trouble. The Houston defense, which practices against the Veer every spring because that's all there is on campus, was eliminating the inside running option and South Carolina's lack of outside speed was showing. That left it up to Grantz, who Dietzel had said was the best athlete he ever had at quarterback, and all Grantz could do with consistent effectiveness was pass. So much for the triple option.
Houston, meanwhile, was just starting to mobilize. In the second period Parker gained 39 yards in five straight carries as Tackle Ken Baugh and Guard Everett Little pounded the Gamecocks' defensive left side. Then the versatility of the Veer and the ball handling of Nobles came into focus. Nobles took the snap, stuck the ball into Parker's stomach and, as the defense converged, took it right back and went outside for 11 yards. Two plays later Nobles scored from the three in the same fashion.
Late in the half the Cougars scored again, a Nobles 36-yard screen pass to Larry Jefferson setting up a five-yard TD run by Parker. Now it was 17-6, and the rout appeared to be on. But 14 seconds later it seemed a game again as South Carolina's Jay Lynn Hodgin took the kickoff and streaked 93 yards to make the score 17-13.
The touchdown gave the Gamecocks a psychological lift but did nothing to open up their running game—or deter Houston's. Parker was once again the workhorse on a 70-yard scoring drive that began the second half. Cherry covered the final distance on a pitchout from the 10, and Houston led 24-13.
Still South Carolina fought back, that enthusiasm Yeoman had worried about refusing to fade. The Gamecocks scored a touchdown early in the fourth quarter when Hodgin went over from the four, but the 46-yard drive was costly, for Grantz went out with a severe shin bruise. Houston added another field goal to secure a modest 27-19 victory.
Houston's supremacy in the statistical battle of Veers was far greater than the score suggested. The Cougars gained 430 yards to South Carolina's 260 and were nervy in their execution. Three times in the fourth quarter they spurned fourth-down field goals to go for the first down, twice succeeding. "It's been a while since I saw a finer team," said Dietzel as he walked out of the Astrodome. "They manhandled us up front, and I couldn't tell you which running back I liked best."
True to Cherry's prediction, he had rushed for 102 yards and Parker 135, and Nobles had totaled 145 on runs and passes both.
"Experience with that Veer means a lot," D.C. grinned. "If those fellows work on it a year or two they can be as good as we are."