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1. PENN STATE (10-1)
Bear Bryant, who many Southerners believe is capable of walking on water, stomped all over Auburn. After his Crimson Tide clobbered the Tigers 48-21 in Birmingham, Bryant added a zinger: "Two or three plays gave them cheap touchdowns." The first of those "cheap touchdowns" came when sophomore Tailback Joe Cribbs scampered 85 yards with 3:01 left in the first quarter to put the Tigers ahead 7-0. Another came with Alabama leading 28-7 in the fourth period, the Tigers' sophomore quarterback, Charlie Trotman, passing to freshman Split End Byron Franklin for a 74-yard TD.
Alabama did not score until the second quarter, but once the Tide got rolling it was relentless, gaining 322 yards on the ground and 193 through the air. Quarterback Jeff Rutledge, who has seldom rushed for much yardage, racked up 102 yards in 15 carries as the Tigers keyed on his trailing backs and forced him to keep the ball rather than pitch it out. Rutledge also completed nine of 13 passes for 193 yards, two of them going for 30 and 42 yards and touchdowns. The latter throw was hauled in by Split End Ozzie Newsome, who latched onto four passes. Newsome established a Southeastern Conference record with a 20.29-yard average for his 102 catches in four seasons. Fullback Johnny Davis lugged the ball 104 yards on 20 carries for the Crimson Tide, and scored on a 12-yard run.
"A year ago on this Saturday we were going for the national championship," recalled Tennessee Coach Johnny Majors, whose Pitt Panthers closed out their 1976 season with a victory over Penn State. This time Majors and his Volunteers were meeting Vanderbilt in what was dubbed the "Basement Bowl," because the two teams were the only ones who had gone all season without a triumph in SEC competition.
When it was all over, Commodore Coach Fred Pancoast said of his 42-7 setback, "It was like a bad dream." Making it a nightmare was Jimmy Streater, a 165-pound sophomore quarterback. In the second quarter Streater scored touchdowns on runs of nine and one yards and passed 51 yards to Jeff Moore for another six-pointer. Streater scored once more on a three-yard run in the fourth period.
Vandy's Mike Wright, the conference's leading passer, completed only five of 12 passes for 43 yards. Tennessee's defense, led by Linebacker Greg Jones, forced six Commodore turnovers. Jones hounded Vanderbilt throughout the afternoon, making 19 individual tackles, assisting on six others, stealing a pass and recovering a fumble.
SEC teams won two of three games against non-conference opponents. A runback of a blocked punt helped Florida knock off Miami 31-14 in a Saturday night tussle in the Orange Bowl. Blocking the kick was Nose Guard Scott Hutchinson. Scooping it up and returning it 64 yards for the touchdown was End Mike Dupree.
After Tailback Charles Alexander of Louisiana State had carried the ball eight times against Nebraska and eight more times against Texas A&M in his first two games as a freshman in 1975, he had a net gain of only one yard. "I put my arm around his shoulders after each of those games and said, 'Charlie, things are going to get better,' " said Coach Charles McClendon.
Indeed, things were much better for Alexander during a 66-7 wipeout of Wyoming in which he scored three touchdowns and gained 231 yards in 43 carries (an SEC record). That left the fleet tailback with three-year totals of 26 touchdowns and 2,863 yards. Alexander, who did not start a game until this season, concluded his junior year with 17 touchdowns and 1,686 yards. A 24-yard run on his final carry enabled him to bump Oklahoma State's Terry Miller out of second place in the national rushing derby behind Earl Campbell of Texas. Alexander also finished the season with 104 points (he had a two-point conversion in addition to his TDs) to erase Steve Van Buren's 1943 team scoring mark. Wyoming's Myron Hardeman set a Cowboy record by winding up the season with 1,149 yards as he rushed for 120 against the Tigers.