Few major athletic events are so apt to satisfy contestants and partisans as totally as Oklahoma's victory over the University of California last Saturday. The Oklahoma players were delighted with a score—27-13—that seemed to justify their preseason rating as the first or second best college team in the country. Some 6,000 Oklahoma fans, who occupied enough of California's 81,000-seat Memorial Stadium to suggest that John Steinbeck's Okies of the 1930s have graduated to better days, enjoyed their chauvinistic moment among their new neighbors. The California team and coaches were pleased not to have suffered more severely at the hands of a better team, and their supporters accepted this point of view without protest.
California, following a mediocre 1953 record, was an experiment being built around two thoroughly tested items—Quarterback Paul Larson and Center Matt Hazeltine, a couple of candidates for All-American consideration this year. Oklahoma aimed to prove their machine as good as last year's. California hoped their 1954 experiment would not blow up in the lab.
As the pattern of the game began to take shape toward the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second, it was not the unknown ingredients in the Cal experiment that went wrong. All of a sudden Quarterback Larson, the unpredictable gambler, began to throw craps instead of naturals. When a fine punt by Oklahoma's Buddy Leake set California back on its own 10-yard line, Larson tried to gamble his team out of trouble. Calling passes but figuring to run his way out of trouble in an emergency, Larson discovered he couldn't bamboozle a wise Oklahoma line that was charging him much too hard. In jig time Larson was flat on his back on his own three-yard line. Fullback Tom Kramer kicked out weakly to his own 33, and five plays later Oklahoma was in command by seven points.
Bud Wilkinson, Oklahoma's tall, young (38), silver-haired coach, allowed later that the turning point of the game was a California fumble in the middle of the third quarter while Oklahoma's lead was only 7-6. "In fact, if Cal hadn't made mistakes I imagine we wouldn't have won," Wilkinson was generous enough to say.
But it was Oklahoma's opportunism and skill that made the fumble pay off. Putting the ball in play from their own 13, they executed a perfect example of the split T's most fearsome weapon—the optional lateral-forward pass. Quarterback Gene Calame drifted to the right, threatened the California end, then lateraled to Halfback Buddy Leake, who was cruising outward on the five-yard line. Leake threw a long forward to End Max Boydston, who was in high gear on his own 40. Boydston easily outran his pursuit for a touchdown play that covered 87 yards, jumped the Oklahoma lead to 14-6 and ended any serious or hopeful doubts about the outcome.
On the whole, the California attitude was well summed up by Captain Hazeltine at a booster rally after the game: "Playing teams like Oklahoma is good experience. I think we've got a real good ball club. I advise you all to go right out and buy your train tickets to the Rose Bowl."
OKLAHOMA USES the split T, a system of attack precisely as effective as the quarterback who runs it. In Gene Calame, Oklahoma has perhaps the most skillful split T operator in college ball today, a deft ball handler who is especially adroit handling the key "optional play" in which, scooting laterally behind his line, the quarterback must decide in a split second, as the play develops, whether to keep the ball himself or lateral it wide to a flanking back. Here, in the second quarter of California game, with ball on California 7-yard line, 1 Calame (No. 31) sidles out towards his own left end. 2 He elects to cut inside California's right end, Jim Carmichael (No. 89), who has floated out well with play to guard against possible lateral from Calame to his halfback, Bob Herndon (No. 36), shown trailing the blocker, Bob Burris (No. 40). 3 and 4 Bolting over tackle, Calame drives for the goal line, goes over and then fumbles (irrelevantly, since the whistle had blown) after scoring the first of Oklahoma's four Calame-directed touchdowns. After the game, 5 Gene was hoisted high on the shoulders of his appreciative teammates.