While Miami was having its national championship hopes doused by Notre Dame in South Bend (page 32), Howard Schnellenberger, who coached the Hurricanes to their first national title in 1983, was in Pittsburgh, where he picked up the most important victory of his six-year tenure at Louisville. The day before the game, Schnellenberger was so upset with the way his team was practicing that he bit the stem off his trademark pipe. However, on a bright and breezy Saturday afternoon in Pitt Stadium, the Cardinals put together a sharp, balanced effort, jumping out to a 27-6 lead in the third quarter before surrendering a couple of late touchdowns for a 27-20 victory that gave them a 6-1-1 record. "We almost let the Panther out of the cage," said Schnellenberger, puffing happily on the inch or so of pipe stem that remained.
The knock on Louisville is that Schnellenberger's smoke is infinitely stronger than the team's schedule. These are the same Cardinals, after all, who opened the season with a 10-10 tie at San Jose State and lost 25-13 to Southern Mississippi. But Louisville's road wins over Pitt and West Virginia are impressive, even though both schools are having subpar seasons.
Interestingly, considering Schnellenberger's reputation for producing quarterbacks during his years at Miami ( Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar, Vinnie Testaverde), this Louisville team has relied mainly on its outstanding defense. Against Pitt, for example, the key play of the game came when senior cornerback John Gainey intercepted an Alex Van Pelt pass in the third quarter and returned it 43 yards for a score to give the Cards a 17-6 lead.
Schnellenberger's current quarterback, senior Browning Nagle, has the size (6'2", 221 pounds) and arm strength that the coach likes, but the Cardinals lack the big-play receivers and breakaway runners who have characterized Schnellenberger's teams in the past. Against Pitt, Nagle directed methodical touchdown drives of 99 and 79 yards while completing 13 of 22 passes for 177 yards, despite some early hits that gave him a sprained right ankle, strained ligaments in his right knee and a separated left shoulder. "I was in pain," said Nagle. "It hurt like the dickens for a while, but very few injuries can keep me down."
Louisville's final three games are against 2-4 Western Kentucky, 1-6 Cincinnati and 3-3 Boston College, and the Cardinals can now envision a 9-1-1 regular-season finish and their first bowl appearance since 1977. "The stage is set for us to do something very dramatic," said Schnellenberger.
Well, maybe. Just how dramatic will depend on whether the poll voters and the bowl scouts are convinced that Louisville can compete with the nation's top teams. As proof that it can, Schnellenberger points out that the Virginia Cavaliers, currently the nation's top-ranked team, were lucky to get away with a 16-15 victory over the Cardinals last season in Charlottesville. "I'd give my left ear to play them again this year," Schnellenberger said. "We would have a legitimate chance to win."
RUN FOR THE ROSE BOWL
Iowa celebrated its big victory over Michigan by singing that old song The Hokey Pokey ("You put your right foot in, you put your right foot out..."), which made about as much sense as anything else that's happening these days in the zany Big Ten. The league race isn't even at the halfway point, and already Michigan, the preseason favorite, is an also-ran with a 1-2 conference record. The new leaders, each 3-0 in the conference, are Illinois, Minnesota, and, yes, those dancing fools from Iowa. And please don't spoil the fun by wondering how a team that lost 48-21 to Miami, as Iowa did on Sept. 29, or a team that got clobbered 56-0 by Nebraska, which happened to Minnesota on Sept. 22, can be anywhere near the top of the proud Big Ten.
Thank heavens for Illinois, which has won five games in a row after an opening 28-16 upset loss at Arizona. Last Saturday at Champaign, the Illini got five field goals from Doug Higgins and thus a 15-13 victory over a Michigan State team that was apparently still giddy from its upset of Michigan a week earlier. The game-winner, a 48-yarder with 42 seconds remaining, was set up by a 26-yard pass from Jason Verduzco to wide receiver Steve Mueller. The gritty Verduzco, playing despite an injury to his left knee, connected on 24 of 42 passes for 238 yards.