The college football season can sneak up on you. One minute you are mowing the lawn, fixing the screen door, trying to quick-start the barbecue grill and enjoying all the other delights of summer. The next you are right out there amid the bedlam of cheerleaders, coaches, linebackers, scalpers, alumni and parking-lot picnickers. Last Saturday it was launch time again and in Knoxville, Tenn. 57,000 orange-jacketed fans showed up to check out Tennessee against UCLA.
The game illustrated one thing: about the only sure way to beat Tennessee is to put Condredge Holloway in the hospital. UCLA did that. But it failed to keep him there. Holloway charged out of the emergency room and back onto the field in time to twist his way through the UCLA defenders like a man skittering across ice floes, a performance he climaxed with a 12-yard run late in the game, landing on his head as he hurdled three men at the goal line. Thanks to the Holloway heroics, the Volunteers were able to tie the Bruins 17-17, a result that both teams agreed was unsatisfactory, but a lot better than a loss.
Like inflation, Tennessee never seems to have an off year. The Vols have won at least eight games, played in a bowl and been in the Top 20 every season since 1965. UCLA also was in the Top 20 last year, but when the Bruins came to Knoxville last week they had a new coach, Dick Vermeil, and the uncertainties such a change can cause. The inheritor of a program that had lost only five games in two years, Vermeil admitted he felt like a man on the face of a cliff—still a few feet from the top but a long way from the bottom.
Vermeil was made more jittery by the lack of experience in his offensive back-field. Quarterback Mark Harmon and Running Backs James McAlister and Kermit Johnson were gone. John Sciarra, who shared time with Harmon in 1973, was back to call the signals, but Sciarra had a new set of signals to call. Going along with the trend, Vermeil has installed the Veer, which now is as fashionable as hair sticking out the back of helmets.
Tennessee also had switched to the Veer, mostly to exploit the many talents of Holloway. And right off, the Tennessee quarterback showed what he could do. Before the fans had settled back in their seats, the Volunteers were on the scoreboard. After returning the kickoff Tennessee ran a routine dive play that gained four yards, then lined up without a huddle. Holloway dropped back and arched a long pass to sophomore Split End Stanley (The Steamer) Morgan, who ripped past the surprised Bruin secondary, pulled in the ball and scored. The play covered 74 yards and a year.
Tennessee Coach Bill Battle admitted later that the deception stemmed from a similar play Alabama pulled on the Volunteers last season, the Crimson Tide striking on an 80-yard touchdown pass on its first play from scrimmage. That led to a 42-21 Alabama victory, and Tennessee went on to lose three of its last six games. "The Alabama play hasn't been far from my mind since," said Battle.
Later in the period Tennessee was driving again when its transmission fell out. Holloway, the All-Southeastern Conference quarterback last year, was dropped hard after a short gain and suffered a shoulder injury that thrust sophomore Pat Ryan into the breach. Ryan had never played a varsity game.
Despite gaining very little yardage after Holloway was taken to University Hospital for shoulder X rays, Tennessee led 10-3 at halftime, holding UCLA to a field goal in the final six seconds after stopping three Bruin plunges inside the 10-yard line.
Tennessee held again early in the second half. Sciarra, who amassed 390 yards of total offense during a fine afternoon, got loose on a 71-yard run to the two. Four times the Bruins rammed the Vols' goal-line defense and each time came up with nothing. On the final try the stubborn Sciarra was swarmed upon by seven Tennessee players at the goal line. But UCLA scored on the next play when the fidgety Ryan fumbled and Tackle Rick Kukulica recovered in the end zone for a touchdown that tied the game at 10-all. It was one of 13 fumbles the two teams suffered, each losing three.
Holloway, meanwhile, was hurrying back to the stadium, assured that his shoulder was not badly hurt. "It was a pretty slow ride going out," he said. "But after I found out I could play, I asked them to speed it up on the way back." Late in the third quarter, he walked up to the surprised Battle on the sidelines, tapped him on the shoulder and said, "I'm ready to play."