Surprisingly, both the Rose and Sugar Bowl games could well turn on passing, though Alabama, Ohio State and Southern Cal traditionally have been known for their running games. Nowhere is the matchup more exciting than in the Rose Bowl where USC's All-America senior, Paul McDonald, and Ohio State's phenomenal sophomore, Art Schlichter, match wits and arms.
During the 28-year reign of Woody Hayes, Buckeye fans only had heard rumors that a football could be thrown. Now they know it can, Schlichter having completed 94 of 179 passes for 1,519 yards and 13 touchdowns. Though he's a sophomore he already has all the Ohio State career passing records. Predictably he has the perfect attitude for a thrower. "Know what you do if you miss a pass?" he says. "You try to complete the next one." Ah, life is so simple when you're 19. And when you have on hand a receiver like 6'1", 180-pound Flanker Doug Donley, whom Schlichter describes as "the fastest white guy I've ever seen."
Donley, who was spotted in a recruiting film while the Buckeye coaches were watching another player, is called White Lightning by his teammates. He and Schlichter practice constantly during the summer. "Art knows what kind of pattern I'll run," says Donley. "He knows when I'm going to run an out or come back on a post. At first when we worked out, we had to think about it. But the more we did it, the more it became natural, instinctive. I don't think about catching the ball." He just does it, having grabbed 33 this year for 690 yards and five touchdowns.
Schlichter and Donley may have started to learn each other's moves back in high school when they guarded each other in a 1977 district playoff basketball game. "We argue about how many points I got," says Schlichter, who played for Miami Trace (Ohio) High. "I think it was 19. He says he held me to six." Sniffs Donley, who performed for Cambridge (Ohio) High, "I'm sure he didn't get double figures against me." In fact, Schlichter had 17 points, Donley got nine. Donley's team won.
But Schlichter has become a winner at Ohio State since he stopped throwing interceptions—21 in '78 vs. only five in '79. The main difficulty for the Buckeyes is that their tackles—both offensively and defensively—are a little small. If USC starts pushing them around, which it should, Ohio State players will have to be content with humming a few bars of Wait 'til Next Year.
If Schlichter's passing has been attracting more attention, mostly because it's such a novelty in Columbus, the passing of Southern Cal lefthander McDonald has compiled even glossier numbers—153 completions out of 240 attempts for 1,989 yards and 17 touchdowns. He, too, had only five interceptions. Helping to make McDonald, an academic All-America (3.69 average) who majors in accounting, look awfully good is little (5'8", 155 pounds) Kevin Williams, who has made 23 catches this year—incredibly, seven of them for touchdowns.
The two are now known as the Bug and the Brain. But when Williams, White's teammate at San Fernando High, arrived at USC, his reputation was for driving coaches buggy with his bad hands. Even McDonald says, "I never thought he'd make it." Practice has changed that. "I have a number of flat-out speeds," says the now-surehanded Williams, "and that tends to confuse defensive backs." His slowest pace is blazing and it goes up from there, which is why McDonald exults, "No one can cover Kevin one-on-one."
One big advantage for the McDonald-Williams connection is the presence of Heisman Trophy-winner White. For if a team thinks too much about stopping the pass, White will destroy it. In fact, if the opposition concentrates exclusively on the run, White might wreak havoc, anyway.
Southern Cal is more vulnerable against the pass than Ohio State, because neither its secondary nor its cornerbacks have been brilliant this season. "Our offense is the best I've ever been around," Robinson says, "but our defense has not been able to snuff people out like some of ours in the past."
When it comes to scoring defense, Alabama leads the nation, having allowed only 5.3 points (and 180.1 yards) per game. But the Tide, too, has a potent passing combination in Quarterback Stead-man Shealy and Split End Keith Pugh, who says, "When a ball is thrown, I consider it mine." Twenty-five times this year it has been, and one of his two touchdowns was a crucial score against Auburn when the Tide was struggling.