On scoreboards across the nation there was ample evidence that college football was continuing its trend toward wide-open, try-anything offenses. In contests involving at least one Division 1-A team, points per game so far this season average 39.8, and if the point production goes up as the season goes on, as is usually the case, the NCAA foresees this as being the fourth-best scoring year in its history.
A major reason for the upswing is an increase in passing yardage. Last season's per-game average of 269 yards through the air was a 22.1-yard improvement over 1976 and the biggest such gain since 1958. This season's average is up to 271.
Steve Dils of Stanford has helped boost both the scoring and through-the-air figures. Dils was a jayvee quarterback as a freshman in 1974, was redshirted the next season, was in on one play in 76 and sat out all but two games last year when he played behind Guy Benjamin. Now in control of Coach Bill Walsh's aerial circus, Dils has been passing with metronomelike consistency and leads the country with 171 completions in 264 tries (.647), 1,972 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Five of Dils' scoring strikes came last week as Stanford romped 43-27 at Washington State. Altogether, Dils passed for 430 yards. That broke the Pac-10 single-game record and Dils' total offense of 438 yards surpassed the conference record of 416 set in 1969 by Jim Plunkett. Even when in a pickle, Dils came through. Once when he was about to be sacked, he simply underhanded the ball to Fullback Phil Francis, who picked up 14 yards.
Augmenting the attack was the running of 5'9", 170-pound Darrin Nelson who, although only a sophomore, became the Cardinals' alltime rushing leader. Nelson's 95 yards in 15 carries brought his season yardage total to 725, his career yardage to 1,794. He also has caught 88 passes in less than two full seasons for 860 additional yards.
Almost lost in the flurry of Stanford statistics were the deeds of State's Jack Thompson. The Throwin' Samoan earned some fine numbers of his own: 24 completions in 34 tries for 274 yards and two touchdowns. Together, the two teams amassed a staggering 1,133 yards in total offense.
Despite outgaining UCLA 241 yards to 18 through the air, California failed to score. The flaw in the Golden Bears' aerial assault (they completed 23 of 52 passes) was 10 interceptions, a Pac-10 record. Substitute Cornerback Brian Baggott stole two of those passes and returned each for a touchdown, weaving 61 and 62 yards. Baggott's first score was part of a 28-point second-period spree that helped the Bruins salt away a 45-0 victory that left them atop the conference with a 4-0 record.
Oregon State felt its best chance for springing an upset at Southern California was to hammer away at whoever was serving as the Trojan center. Having lost its first four centers via injuries, USC did, indeed, seem vulnerable. No. 5 was Ray Peters, a converted nose guard who had never played over the ball until forced to do so the week before at Arizona State, where USC was toppled from the unbeaten ranks. To prepare for Oregon State, Peters "worked every minute I could from eight in the morning until midnight" with Quarterback Paul McDonald. So well did Peters do his jobs of snapping and blocking that he was awarded the game ball after the Trojans had whipped the Beavers 38-7. With the aid of Peters' blocks, USC rushed for 350 yards, 154 of them by Charles White, who carried 22 times and scored on runs of 41 and 14 yards.
Washington Coach Don James said sophomore Fullback Toussaint Tyler would get his first starting assignment when Oregon came to town, and so he did. And gained 151 yards. The most impressive of Tyler's 17 carries was a 55-yard scoring run that topped off the Huskies' 20-14 victory. Added to that were 37- and 40-yard field goals by Mike Lansford, and the running of Joe Steele, who gained 126 yards and scored on a 16-yard gallop.