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Lots of folks felt that after the previous week's 58-0 loss to Southern Methodist, Rice's Owls might not give a hoot. "People expected us to die, but we told our kids to do the unexpected," said Coach Ray Al-born. The Owls did precisely that, shocking Baylor 24-10 as Randy Hertel completed 21 of 36 passes for 212 yards, Doug Cunningham made eight catches and Earl Cooper rushed for 104 yards.
Nothing quite that unexpected happened in the three other Southwest Conference tussles. Texas A & M zipped to a 7-0 lead over Arkansas with only 1:50 gone in the game at Little Rock, but the Aggies' upset hopes were soon crushed. Curtis Dickey rushed for 104 yards, but he lost two fumbles to the rugged Razorback defenders. Tackles Jimmy Walker and Dan Hampton hounded Aggie Quarterback Mike Mosley, sacking him eight times for minus 61 yards as Arkansas won 26-7. Ron Calcagni scored on runs of eight, three and two yards for the Razorbacks and Ben Cowins broke Dickey Morton's Arkansas rushing record, his 74 yards upping his career total to 3,361. Arkansas then accepted an invitation to face UCLA in the Fiesta Bowl.
Another bowl-bound team was Texas, which will take on Maryland in the Sun Bowl, unless Houston fumbles away the SWC lead by dropping both its remaining games, against Texas Tech and Rice. Should the Cougars stumble, the Longhorns will replace them in the Cotton Bowl against Notre Dame. Texas held Texas Christian to minus 33 yards rushing during a 41-0 rout, Russell Erxleben kicking field goals of 41, 24, 48 and 30 yards.
Bill Adams of Texas Tech also had four field goals, including a 53-yarder, as the Red Raiders held off visiting SMU 19-16. Tech's James Hadnot picked up 160 yards, giving him 949 in the last five games. In the end, however, it was Safety Ted Watts who made the victory possible with two big plays in the final four minutes. On a fourth-and-one from the Red Raider one, the Mustangs sent Dar-old Turner into the line, where he was stopped by Watts. Then, with 34 seconds to go, Watts intercepted a pass at his own 32, the fifth time Tech had picked off a Mike Ford throw.
North Texas State toppled Memphis State 41-24 as Sophomore Bernard Jackson ran for 158 yards to finish the season with 1,453.
1. HOUSTON (8-1)
"They were blitzing, so we thought we'd screw 'em up with runs to the outside by Darrin," said the nation's leading passer, Steve Dils of Stanford. And Darrin Nelson's rushing did indeed befuddle California in the 30-10 Stanford win. When Nelson, a sophomore, wasn't rushing for 177 yards and scoring once, he was pulling in four passes, one good for another touchdown. A model of consistency, Nelson wound up the regular season with 1,061 yards rushing (last season he had 1,069) and matched his 1977 total of 50 receptions. Dils hit on 19 of 33 attempts for 297 yards, thus ending the season with 2,943 yards on 247 completions in 391 attempts. He will complete his career with the Cardinals on Dec. 31 in the Blue-bonnet Bowl against either Georgia, Alabama or Auburn.
Arizona State's blitz was more effective than Cal's and was instrumental in a 44-22 triumph at Oregon State paying off with 11 quarterback sacks and 15 tackles behind the line. Mark Malone of the Sun Devils had 133 yards passing and 99 rushing, while freshman Gerald Riggs gained 157 yards on the ground and, like Malone, ran for three TDs.
Washington State's Jack Thompson connected on 17 of 28 passes for 290 yards to surpass Florida's John Reaves as the NCAA's alltime leader in career passing yardage with 7,571. Despite the Throwin' Samoan's efforts, Arizona hung on for a 31-24 win.