RECORD: 11-1 ALL-AMERICAS: BARRY KRAUSS LB; MARTY LYONS, DT. THE TIDE'S DEFENSE GOT TOUGH WHEN IT COUNTED AND SHUT DOWN UNBEATEN PENN STATE IN THE SUGAR BOWL
ON THE DAY before his Sugar Bowl showdown with Penn State, Bear Bryant breakfasted in his hotel suite high above New Orleans on an egg-and-bacon sandwich and coffee in a Styrofoam cup. Between swallows the Bear said that if there was one thing you could be sure of about his Alabama defense, it was that you couldn't be sure of his Alabama defense. It had been great at times and unsound at times, and that's "not recommended" when you play the No. 1 team in the nation, one that had not lost in 19 games.
Bear noted that the Tide defense had been hurt a lot. That it had been particularly slowed in the secondary by those injuries, and by, well, being slow in the secondary. And that it was about to go under the gun against a quarterback, Chuck Fusina, whom Penn State coach Joe Paterno called the best passer he's ever had. The situation fairly cried out for a dedicated pass rush, and "rushing the passer is the thing we do worst," said Bryant.
As for the Alabama fans who were establishing themselves as No. 1 in whoops and hollers on Bourbon Street, Bryant said he wished they'd be quiet until after the game.
Well, Bear, you can come down now and join the party. And bring the defense with you. On second thought, have them bring you.
In as thorough a demonstration of defensive scratch-and-harry as you'll ever see, the Tide not only shut Fusina down, but it also rushed him to distraction. The result, in a game so pressure-filled that the crowd of 76,824 never seemed to stop yelling, was a 14-7 Alabama victory that should bring Bryant a fifth national title.
The stunting, blitzing Alabama defenders suffocated the Penn State running game, holding the Nittany Lions to minus yardage in the first half and a net plus-19 overall. When Fusina handed off, ends Wayne Hamilton and E.J. Junior, tackles Marty Lyons and Byron Braggs, middle guard Curtis McGriff and linebackers Rickey Gilliland and Barry Krauss took turns stuffing his runners like a sausage. When Fusina tried to pass, these same gentlemen generally clogged his sinuses and sacked him five times for a total loss of 70 yards. When he did get the ball upfield, there was that slow, small and underesteemed secondary of Don McNeal, Allen Crumbley, Murray Legg and Jim Bob Harris, picking off passes, four in all.
The Alabama offense, though having what would ordinarily be called a fine day against the No. 1 defensive team in the country, had misfired often enough to have taken only a touchdown lead into the fourth quarter. But once again the defense came up big: A rocklike goal line stand (in which Krauss was briefly knocked cold) stopped Penn State on the one-foot line, and the Lions never threatened again.
Bryant said afterward that Alabama "could have beaten any team in the country" that day. The Bear went on to say that he could not recall ever being prouder of a team, and if they wanted his vote for No. 1, they had it.