"I remember the first time I ever got to sit in the big barber chair without the booster," Georgia Tech Coach Pepper Rodgers was musing recently. "That was the biggest thrill in my whole life. Still is." With that kind of outlook, one is left to wonder where Pepper ranks his Christmas Day matchup with Purdue in Atlanta. It's a pick-'em game, in which neither team figures to be scalped or even trimmed badly.
The credit for the Yellow Jackets' surprisingly strong showing this season goes to freshman Quarterback Mike Kelley and Running Back Eddie Lee Ivery. Kelley knows how to play a hot hand, whether it's his own passing or Ivery; when the latter got the ball 26 times against Air Force, he responded by rushing for an NCAA single-game record of 356 yards. But Georgia Tech may be psychologically down after a one-point loss to Georgia in its final regular-season game.
Purdue likewise is deflated. In midseason it appeared that the Boilermakers, behind the passing of sophomore Quarterback Mark Herrmann, might be Rose Bowl bound. But there followed a 24-24 tie with Wisconsin and a 24-6 loss to Michigan, and the trip to Pasadena was off. What enabled the Boilermakers to come so close to the Big Ten title was that Coach Jim Young found some support for Herrmann. In his freshman season, Purdue gained almost twice as much yardage passing as rushing, but Herrmann also threw 27 interceptions. This year, running backs John Macon, Mike Augustyniak and Russell Pope—who also led the Boilermakers in receptions with 33—came on strong, and the run/pass ratio was closer to 50-50. And Herrmann, who no longer figures he has to throw a bomb on every play, was intercepted only 10 times.
Young has built the formidable Purdue defense, which gave up only 9.9 points a game, around junior Keena Turner. The 215-pound defensive end had 24 tackles for losses and was the team's MVP.
Purdue will have to be alert, though, or Ivery will leave it for dead if an ankle injury doesn't slow him down or even keep him from playing. He set Tech's single-season rushing record of 1,562 yards. But the Yellow Jacket offensive line has been inconsistent and, on defense, Tech is vulnerable to passing. That should light up Herrmann's life.
Clemson (10-1) vs. Ohio State (7-3-1)
On the sidelines, it's experience vs. youth—Ohio State's 65-year-old Woody Hayes matching wits with Clemson's 30-year-old Danny Ford. Hayes has 33 seasons and 238 victories under his belt. Ford has no wins, or even games, under his.
In fact, Ford didn't become a head coach until Dec. 4, when Charley Pell resigned to take the job at Florida after coaching Clemson to a 10-l season and its first Atlantic Coast Conference title in 11 years. Ford, the offensive line coach and assistant head coach, stepped into Pell's job—and into the Gator Bowl.
On the field, it's also experience vs. youth—Clemson's star senior Quarterback Steve Fuller against Ohio State's exciting freshman Quarterback Art Schlichter. Fuller has run and passed for 182 yards a game, calls 70% of his plays at the line of scrimmage and was twice named ACC Player of the Year. Give Clemson the edge, especially because Fuller will be throwing to Jerry Butler, who hauled in 54 passes for 864 yards this season. At tailback is Lester Brown, who gained 1,006 yards rushing despite having carried the ball only 19 times in the first three games; he gives Clemson balance.
Most years Ohio State would be heavily favored over an ACC foe, but this season the Buckeye defense has been uncustomarily shelled, even by so-so teams like SMU and Baylor. And the offense lacks its usual steamroller fullback and lights-out line play, as evidenced in losses to Penn State and Michigan, in which Ohio State scored a total of three points in eight quarters. Clemson had one offensive lapse, a 12-0 defeat by Georgia, but the Tigers averaged 35 points against everybody else and scored four touchdowns against Maryland, which is more than anybody else did, including Penn State.