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Sports Illustrated OCTOBER 26, 1981
THE TAILBACK FOR THE SMU Mustangs is averaging 234.3 yards and nearly four touchdowns per game, and he never gets tired. Peruna the pony runs up and down the field each time SMU scores and has been exhausted lately. No wonder: SMU is 6-0 and alone at the top of the Southwest Conference. No SMU pony has had to work as hard since 1947. And even Doak Walker, as great a back as he was, got tired sometimes.
The SMU tailback is only a junior and not merely a probable first-round draft pick, but two first-round picks. That's because the SMU tailback is two tailbacks: juniors Eric Dickerson and Craig James.
Just six games into the season Dickerson has 812 yards and 14 touchdowns, which makes him the leading rusher in the SWC as well as the top scorer in the country. James has 594 yards and eight touchdowns, and he is already the third-best rusher in SMU history. Dickerson is fourth on that list, only 34 yards behind. And, if they continue at this rate, they would be the 12th pair of 1,000-yard rushers in NCAA history. And yet the two backs have been on the field together for just a few plays all season; SMU coach Ron Meyer swears he doesn't even notice which one of them is out there.
In Meyer's system, whoever starts stays on the field as long as SMU has the ball. On the next offensive series, the other goes in. This shuttling continues throughout the game, except when one of them gets his tear-away jersey ripped off. Then he's replaced until he gets a new shirt on. For example, during a 38-22 trampling of Houston last week, James had to change his jersey eight times. Here he was in the third quarter, just getting warmed up, when off came the shirt. Out he went for a quick change, and Dickerson took a pitch from quarterback Lance McIlhenny and darted around right end for a 31-yard touchdown.
"We like it like this," James says. "Eric or me, it doesn't really matter who it is. What one of us does, the other does as well. And we don't get beat up."
"We're getting what we want out of them," says Meyer. "Forty-six carries per game from our tailback! And every single one of them is from a rested tailback."
Of course there is a chance that Dickerson and James will share the same backfield. If they don't against Texas or Arkansas or Texas A&M—and they might, Meyer lets on with a wink—they probably will when the All-Southwest Conference team is chosen.