There was so much hee-hawing about what a difference a Veer makes that for a while last week even South Carolina believed it had a chance against Houston. Following a 4-7 season during which a cabal of critics parked a moving van in front of Paul Dietzel's home, the Gamecock coach decided to, O.K., clean house. Out went the old offense and defense and in came seven new assistant coaches from exotic places like Florence State University and Walhalla High School. The veteran team enjoyed renewed vigor, and the rewards were immediate. South Carolina and its new Veer opened with a 41-28 upset of Georgia Tech, the finest moment a Dietzel team has enjoyed in seven aggravating years.
Now Dietzel was taking his Veer offense to the very place it was first used, Houston, and trying to beat the coach who developed it, Bill Yeoman.
"I'd drawn it on paper and practiced it in the spring of 1965," said Yeoman last week. "But I didn't have the guts to go to it until midseason when it looked as if we were all about to be fired."
In the seven complete seasons since, the Cougars have finished in the Top 20 six times, have produced five 1,000-yard runners and have won three total-offense titles and two rushing championships. While defensive coaches sought an honorable peace, offensive coaches came as pilgrims to Yeoman's door. Yeoman discussed the offense in detail and put his play book on the open market for $10 a copy. Since 1969 it has found its way onto more than 1,000 bookshelves.
But as South Carolina was to learn last Friday night in the Astrodome, trying to beat Houston with the Veer is like challenging Betty Crocker to a bake-off. Dietzel admitted he could not match the Cougars' personnel but he felt he had an equalizer that even Yeoman was wary of—enthusiasm. "I don't like those kinds of teams," said the Houston coach, "and South Carolina is sky-high."
While the game would superficially be Veer against Veer, the Houston offense actually is much more complicated than that. South Carolina would use the basic Veer play, quarterback handing off to fullback up the middle, keeping it himself or pitching to a halfback. But Houston was offering much more.
"The success of our offense is no longer just the triple-option play," says Yeoman. "A team must prepare to stop it, but we'll seldom run it more than 20% of the time. What we have is an entire Veer offense that includes draws, counters, screen passes—a lot of things. The triple option no longer has the surprise value it once had, so if a team can cut off those options you need other things to go to."
In Quarterback D.C. Nobles—if you don't believe D.C. is his first name he'll whip out his birth certificate to prove it—Houston has a player perfectly suited to Yeoman's offense. He is quick of hand, strong of arm, fast of foot and blithe of demeanor. Not only that, he is the second best chess player in Lufkin, Texas. The best, he says, is the man who taught him, there being no others. D.C. is further distinguished by his appraisal of Houston's future when it begins competing for the Southwest Conference title in 1976. "The trips won't be as good," he allows, "but the Cougars will see an awful lot of the Cotton Bowl."
Nobles' backfield help is deep and effective and no less confident. There is, for instance, Fullback Leonard Parker, who is built like a guard and runs like a tackle with a bad knee. Unfortunately, he has a bad knee, though he refuses to admit it. And there is Reggie Cherry, who claims there is nothing so difficult about succeeding a long line of Paul Gipsons and Robert Newhouses because what the Veer did for them it can do for him.
"If South Carolina tries to defense us with a four-man front the way they did Georgia Tech, we'll run all over them," said Cherry. "Every back we have will gain 100 yards. You can't leave the inside wide open. I mean, if they got the Veer, they should know that."