SI Vault
Douglas S. Looney
October 05, 1981
USC capitalized on the rushing of Marcus Allen and fast and loose ball handling by Oklahoma to pull out a last-minute victory
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October 05, 1981

Them's The Bounces

USC capitalized on the rushing of Marcus Allen and fast and loose ball handling by Oklahoma to pull out a last-minute victory

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But with 2:52 to play in the first quarter, Oklahoma Fullback Stanley Wilson fumbled at the USC 23. That was a double whammy because it prevented the Sooners from driving in for a second score—and a 14-0 lead—and gave the ball to the relieved Trojans, who weren't having much luck in pegging down all those permutations. The Trojans promptly tied the game at 7-7 when Allen ran over the left side of his line, was sprung by Guard Bruce Matthews' block, and sailed, glided and flew 27 yards for the TD. That the Trojans' score had been set up by a fumble was to be typical of the game. Oklahoma fumbles. A lot. Always has. If you revel in predictability, watch the halftime close-order drills—not the Sooners. "Our backs don't protect the ball. They spin out, hurdle, jump, twist—and sometimes drop the ball," says Johnson.

But when the 'bone is good, it can be unstoppable. The Sooners emphasized this on the first series of the second quarter when they blitzed USC with a 14-play, 74-yard TD drive, Wilson scoring from the one. Moments later Mike Keeling kicked a 27-yard field goal for a 17-7 Oklahoma lead.

Once again, however, an Oklahoma fumble—this one the fault not of the wishbone but rather of freshman Elbert Watts, who flubbed a fair catch at the Sooner 35—gave USC the ball, and the Trojans marched right down the field for a TD, closing the gap to 17-14 just 42 seconds before the half. Allen saved that drive on a fourth-and-two at the 32 when he bolted around left end for 11 yards. Three plays later, a two-yard pass from Quarterback John Mazur to Flanker John Kamana got the TD.

The Trojans were grateful to be close because they knew they hadn't played well. As USC Defensive Coordinator R.C. Slocum told his troops at halftime, "O.K., what we're going to do is come out and win the second half." To this end, he changed his secondary coverage, shifting the emphasis from containing Sooner Halfback Buster Rhymes (who had been held to 44 yards) to tackling the quarterbacks "who were killing us." Or as Slocum put it, "I really believe you've got to scratch where you itch."

While the USC defense scratched better in the third quarter, the offense just itched. The Trojans got to the Oklahoma 27, 24 and 37 on their first three third-quarter possessions, but failed to put any numbers on the board.

And when Oklahoma's backup quarterback, Darrell Shepard, ran seven yards for a touchdown to make the score 24-14 with only 13:08 to play, the Trojans seemed dead. But the 6'2", 202-pound Allen soon pumped life into USC by charging for nine yards around right end. That, in turn, seemed to awaken Mazur. Faced with a third-and-nine, the left-handed quarterback hit Split End Jeff Simmons up the middle for 17 yards. Moments later, on fourth-and-six at the Sooner 33, Simmons ran the same pattern for a 17-yard gain. And with a third-and-17 on the 19, Mazur hit Simmons again, this time for 16. Allen crashed for three yards and the touchdown, and Oklahoma's lead was 24-21. This was all heady stuff for Mazur, who is a sophomore. "I'm still just feeling my way into the game," he says. "But every time I came to the sidelines, Coach Robinson was smiling at me, so I just smiled back."

Oklahoma was no longer smiling. With 6:32 to play, it was reduced to just hanging on, which was exactly what it didn't do, literally or figuratively. Another fumble, this one on a pitch from Shepard to Halfback Alvin Ross, botched one play ("Without the fumbles, we would have had more success," said Switzer, in a world-class understatement), and suddenly Oklahoma was fourth-and-one on its own 40. Switzer elected to punt, even though his Sooners, when they weren't fumbling, were ripping off" huge chunks of yardage against the uncertain Trojan defense; for the game Oklahoma averaged 5.6 yards per rush and gained 307 yards. "If a team's good enough to take it 80 yards, it deserves to win the game," said Switzer, explaining his decision to punt. "That's percentage football, and I'll never second-guess that decision."

USC took over at its 22 with 4:30 on the clock. Naturally, it was Allen who set the tone, carrying the ball three of the first five plays for 42 yards. However, his third effort—for 18 yards—was called back because of a holding penalty on Tight End Fred Cornwell. "It wasn't blatant," Cornwell said, "but I knew if we lost, a lot of the blame would be mine."

On the sidelines, Robinson pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and quickly drew a pass route for Simmons, one that would take him outside rather than inside, where he had been heading all afternoon. "It was just like we used to do on the sandlots," said Simmons. "Draw a play, then go run it." It worked, for 26 yards to the Sooner 33, but Simmons took a vicious hit and was knocked cold. "I saw the ball coming," he said, "and the next thing I remember was smelling salts under my nose."

And then Mazur, facing more crises than Days of Our Lives, looked at a fourth-and-one on the Sooner 24 with only 59 seconds to play. He ran it himself for two yards. With 25 seconds to go and a third-and-10 on his hands, Mazur threw to Split End Malcolm Moore for 15 yards to the Sooner seven.

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