Far from being rivals fighting for the football, James and Dickerson are in fact close friends. Last Wednesday they did some late-night partying together and showed up the worse for it at practice on Thursday. "Our annual weekly night on the town," said a somewhat hurting James. Dickerson is easygoing and forever joking; James is the perfect blue-eyed Mr. Wonderful every Texas momma would love to have for her debutante daughter. Bad news for the debs: In March, James will marry SMU coed Marilyn Arps, whom he has dated since his days at Stratford High in Houston.
Because Dickerson has emerged as a Heisman Trophy candidate—especially after his 241-yard show against Houston a week before the Texas game—the Dallas press has been trying to uncover signs of jealousy between James and him. James had been attributing his lower numbers to bad luck: "I'm running better than ever," he would say. "Eric just seems to be in for the long drives, and I get in for the short ones." And to penalties: "I've had 200 yards called back, and that's no exaggeration." But last week he told the
Dallas Times Herald, "Because I don't go in and complain, because I don't go in and cause an uproar with the coaches, maybe they think they can walk all over me." This made the coaches sit up and take notice, because James's is one ego no coach would want to see bruised. Still, there was little the staff could do because James had indeed been getting his regular turn at tailback. However unlucky James may have been so far this season, there was—and is—no ill will between him and "Dick."
For his part, Dickerson says he refuses to "get caught up in [the Heisman] limbo, because then if I don't get it, it will be such a disappointment." Besides, he likes James, and he likes alternating. "Oh yeah, sometimes when you're really hot you'll think, 'Damn! I wish this was my series.' But alternating is better for both of us and definitely better for the team. Look, late in the game I'm always fresh and Craig's always fresh. The defense is tired. They don't alternate tackles, guards and linebackers."
Not that Texas wouldn't have if it had had the personnel. Last year the Longhorns beat the Mustangs 9-7 on three field goals. The game was sort of a romp in the playground for Kenneth Sims, who, not incidentally, became the first-round draft pick of Meyer's Patriots. " Sims tossed me around like I was a baby," says Dickerson, who was held to 38 yards, his only sub-100-yard game of the year. James got only 56, his second-worst performance of the year. This time around, Texas' defense would be doing not only without Sims, but also without two starting tackles sidelined with injuries. Even so, one could hardly call this Texas unit a no-name defense. Names they have. Mossy and Jitter (Cade and Fields), Fred Acorn and Robert Smothers, a boy named June (Linebacker June James) and a tackle named Tony Degrate. "When he gets mad he really plays and we call him Degratest," says DeAyala. "When he has a bad game we call him Deworst."
Though the Texas defense was young and thin, it did well to hold Dickerson to 118 yards on 19 carries and James to 57 on 17. But the Express took its toll on Texas, anyway. Collins isn't about to entirely change Meyer's system of alternating the two, but several weeks ago he had taken to putting both of them in the backfield together in goal-line situations, and SMU was seven-for-seven in scoring close-yardage touchdowns. On Saturday, Collins went with the loaded backfield for all three downs on SMU's first possession of the game, and continued to use it off and on thereafter. It's a strange-looking arrangement. Call it the Cock-I'd formation—an equilateral triangle with freshman Reggie Dupard, the third tailback, making an appearance in the fullback position, Dickerson or James in the normal I-back position, and the other member of the Pony Express off to the right or left, between the I-back and the fullback.
Still, through the first quarter SMU got nowhere running the ball. Then, just as the second quarter started, on third-and-two from the SMU 31, McIlhenny pitched to Dickerson, the I-back, on an option right. James, who also loves to block, of course, took out Safety Jerry Gray and Dupard cracked inside on Acorn, opening up a hole large enough for Dickerson to streak through and go untouched until he was caught by Acorn 60 yards downfield, at the nine. Three plays later Dickerson slammed over for the game's first touchdown. Jeff Harrell's 30-yard field goal in the third quarter looked like all the insurance points SMU would need in what appeared to be another crunching defensive battle.
In the fourth quarter, though, Longhorn Defensive End Ed Williams caused McIlhenny to fumble as he was sprinting out on an option play, and Texas recovered at midfield. SMU had been anticipating that Quarterback Robert Brewer would eventually try to get the ball to speedy Flanker Herkie Walls. But Brewer hadn't been able to do it through the air, so now Texas ran what looked like its end-around for Walls, a play the Mustangs had prepared for. Only this time it was a fake, which SMU wasn't prepared for. Longhorn Tight End Bobby Micho got behind Safety Blane Smith downfield on a coverage mixup and Brewer hit him for a 51-yard touchdown. A few moments later, Tailback Darryl Clark went 24 yards with an option pitch to set up Raul Allegre's 41-yard field goal, and before you could say hook 'em, the game was tied up at 10-10.
Now the Mustangs were pressing, and here was where all the pregame intimidation would show if it was going to. On third-and-nine from his own 21, McIlhenny was forced to pass for only the seventh time. "I was scared to death," he would say later of the moment when he realized that his throw, intended for Bobby Leach, was heading straight into Fields' hands at the Longhorn 35. But they don't call him Jitter for nothing. "I thought he had the ball and was going the other way. He apparently thought the same thing," said Leach. The next Leach knew, the ball was jittering right off Jitter's shoulder into Leach's hands, and he won a footrace against Gray and Fields into the end zone with the freak touchdown for a 17-10 SMU lead with only 7:37 to play.
The Longhorns were disbelieving but not ready to roll over. On the next series Texas had a second-and-19 on the Mustangs' 44, but the wide-open Walls dropped a bomb and the drive died.
McIlhenny soon found himself with another third-and-long, from the Texas 33. This time he threw a balloon ball to Jackie Wilson for another SMU touchdown to make it 23-10. Texas came back with a 51-yard drive that ended with a two-yard Brewer pass to Walls, who somehow picked the ball off in a swarm of Mustangs to make the score 23-17 with 1:50 to go.