Temperatures were summer-warm and trees still green, but the season began as scheduled last weekend. When it was over, this much was known: Pittsburgh's Tony Dorsett still knows how to run, San Diego State's Craig Penrose still knows how to pass and Joe Paterno's Penn State still knows how to win. Barely. Houston, however, may never get accustomed to playing on a wet field in the Astrodome.
Dorsett had to navigate through the slop himself as Pittsburgh cruised past Georgia 19-9 in rainy Athens. Trailing 7-6 after three quarters, the Panthers rallied to win on Dorsett's running and some quick thinking by Punter Larry Swider. Dorsett picked up only 17 yards in the first half but finished with 104 in 15 carries after sparking two fourth-period touchdown drives. Swider, meanwhile, became a hero by giving away two points. Following a poor snap deep in Panther territory midway through the final quarter, Swider carried the ball back into the end zone instead of merely falling on it at the five. This shortened Pitt's lead to 12-9 but gave the Panthers a free kick out of the danger zone. The move drew praise from Coach Johnny Majors. "I've never seen anybody think that quick in my life," he said. "I could say I'm really smart and take credit for the idea, but he did it on his own. It could have been the key play of the game." Majors was less pleased when Swider tried the same tactic last year in a loss to North Carolina. "I got caught on the two-yard line and it cost us a touchdown," Swider recalls.
The game had one other interesting twist. Georgia Running Back Kevin McLee, who is from Pennsylvania, scored the Bulldogs' only touchdown, while Panther Quarterback Robert Haygood, a Georgian, produced 96 yards of total offense.
When Penn State included Temple on its 1975 schedule nine years ago, a lot of people, including Joe Paterno, thought it was a joke. The Nittany Lions were challenging the Top Ten while Temple was playing a college-division lineup of Kings Points and Gettysburgs. In recent years, however, the Owls have been winning against a major-college schedule with such regularity that even Paterno had to admit last week, "Temple has done a great job rebuilding its program, and it should be a good series for both schools."
For the opening game, Paterno was concerned about an injury to Tailback Jimmy Cefalo and the fact that this is the youngest squad he has ever coached. His counterpart at Temple, Wayne Hardin, liked the way the game was shaping up. For one thing, his mother had flown in from California, and she had never seen her son the coach lose. Further, after a pair of 9-1 and 8-2 seasons, Hardin was not at all uncomfortable at the prospect of playing mighty Penn State. "You go back to when this game was scheduled," he said. "It would have been a 100-point spread, right? At least 60 points. Now I hear spreads of 14 and 15. I'm thinking, "Well, that's progress."' As Saturday night's contest in Philadelphia showed, the Owls have almost progressed past Penn State.
On the very first play from scrimmage a record Owl crowd of 57,112 gave a hoot as Bob Harris rambled 76 yards on a draw play for a touchdown. Temple, in fact, did everything pretty well, outrushing the Lions 183 yards to 114, outpassing them 219 to 87, outkicking them three field goals to two, but not, alas, outscoring them. Penn State won when a 66-yard punt return by Woody Petchel set up Duane Taylor's second touchdown, a three-yard burst with 3:46 remaining. A two-point conversion play, following two earlier failures, made the score 26-23 and allowed the Lions to take a precautionary safety in the final seconds for a 26-25 victory.
"This is the worst," moaned Temple Middle Guard Joe Klecko afterward. "I have never taken a loss this hard before." "All you can do is put one down in the loss column," said Don Bitterlich, who kicked field goals of 19, 40 and 37 yards, "but it kind of hurts."
"You have to play football three ways," said Hardin. "Offense, defense and kicking." It was the last of the three that was Temple's undoing. Not only did Petchel set up the winning touchdown with his punt return, but Rick Mauti produced another score with a 100-yard kickoff dash. The Lions' Chris Bahr, a pro soccer player, was getting his own kicks with two field goals, including a school-record 55-yarder.
The Atlantic Coast Conference got off to a good start, winning three outside games with ease and showing unexpected strength in the fourth. Maryland trounced Villanova 41-0 as Quarterback Mark Manges set a school record with touchdown passes of 25, 46, 38 and 41 yards. He was 13 of 18 for 280 yards, making him the top performer in the Terrapins' first opening-game win in a decade. "A game like this helps our confidence and morale," said Manges. "We proved to ourselves we could move the ball and stop others."
Manges also figures he did a good turn for his coach, Jerry Claiborne. "He's a worrier," the sophomore said. "You can see that because he's lost a lot of hair the last couple of years. I hope to be able to stop that."