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Terence Patrick Brennan, the child prodigy of football coaches, nibbled a hamburger and allowed as how his Notre Dame team is cruising down a bumpy road indeed. " Michigan State one week," he muttered with something like a fearful sigh, "and Oklahoma next. And we have to play 'em with sophomores."
Apple-cheeked 28-year-old Terence Patrick, who looks lean enough to suit up for the Oklahoma joust (and wishes he could), admits that his injury-ridden team is somewhat in the position of a stalled Volkswagen on the Union Pacific's main line. He can see Oklahoma coming, but he does not know what to do about it. As Brennan says: " Oklahoma may not be the greatest team in the history of college football, but then again it may. And they'll be out to prove it against us."
This is not to say that the handsome Brennan has given up. "Oh, we have plenty of plans," he points out. "Like defense, for instance. We're a raw team playing an experienced team and, under those conditions, defense is everything. A green team can beat an experienced team if it's willing to gamble—throw the long pass, try the old razzle-dazzle. But before you can get fancy, you've got to have the ball. And to get the ball you've got to have a good defense." The size of Brennan's problem will be apparent to the vast TV audience Saturday, when the Oklahoma-Notre Dame game will be on everybody's set.
For three weeks, Brennan has had Backfield Coach Bernie Witucki scouting Oklahoma, and Witucki has been filing some awesome reports. The gist of Witucki's information: good run, good block, good pass, good kick, good defense. "They may have a weakness," says Brennan, "but we sure can't figure out what it is. They use the split-T to perfection and, when you have veteran players running the split-T, you have a mighty thing indeed. Now they've started throwing in an unbalanced line and the single wing, and that's made them even tougher."
Brennan rates Wilkinson as a "great coach," but he also notes that Wilkinson has a few advantages going for him. "They have 17 men back from their first two teams of last year," his lament continues. "A team that went undefeated while it was still learning. They're now a polished unit, which means that if they could improve on an unbeaten record, they would. A team as good as Oklahoma is made even better by its own momentum. The regulars don't have to play 60 minutes of brutal football every game, and the reserves get a good practice session every Saturday. Why, Bud is lining up his next year's starting team in the middle of every season—he can afford to."
Brennan drained a glass of milk and lit a long cigaret.
"We have something going for us, too," he said. "For years, everybody's been talking about the psychological advantage other teams have when they play us. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain when they played us.... Oklahoma is in a funny position. If they lose or just barely squeak by, you'll hear that old story: ' Oklahoma builds its record against mediocre teams.' So they'll be out to beat us by 10 touchdowns... . That's the way we want it to be. I'm not saying we're confident, but we're not exactly depressed, either."
Brennan stubbed out his cigaret and headed for the practice field. "Say, wasn't that Terry Brennan?" a counterman asked. "Yeah," said another. "It shouldn't happen to such a nice guy."
A NEW PERSPECTIVE: OKLAHOMA
1 Football manikins—a completely new technique developed by SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S art department—here demonstrate three stages in one of the key plays of Oklahoma's explosive split-T offense, which Notre Dame will have to solve this Saturday. The play takes form as Quarterback Jimmy Harris (15), taking the ball from center, wheels and pitches out to Halfback Tommy McDonald (25), a brilliant runner and deft passer. The play poses a nearly impossible problem to the left corner back on defense (44), who cannot stop both pass and run.