Oklahoma 7, USC 7

September 29, 1973 | at Los Angeles | Attendance 83,986

Born in Crossett, Arkansas, Barry Switzer grew up the son of a bootlegger who had spent time in prison for his activities, earned a football scholarship to the state's university and played four years under coach Frank Broyles, where he was a center and linebacker for the Razorbacks and was one of three captains of the '59 team that claimed the Southwestern Conference title and Gator Bowl title. After graduation in '60 and a brief stint in the U.S. Army, Switzer returned to his alma mater in Fayetteville as a coach. Two years later, when Jim Mackenzie was hired away from Broyles to restore the pride at Oklahoma, Chuck Fairbanks and Switzer joined his staff as assistants. When Mackenzie tragically died before the '67 season, Fairbanks was promoted to head coach, and Switzer moved up to offensive coordinator. In that position, early in the '70 season, he had persuaded Fairbanks to junk their ineffective passing offense and copy Texas' successful wishbone option attack, perfecting it a year later into the most-feared attack in the country and setting NCAA records.

When Fairbanks left Norman, having posted a 52-15-1 record in six years at the helm, to become head coach of the NFL's New England Patriots, 35-year old Switzer was named Oklahoma's 17th head coach on January 29, 1973. He took over a Sooners team that had finished ranked second in the final poll's each of the last two years, but had lost a lot of talent, as 11 players had been selected in the NFL draft. Switzer also inherited a program that the NCAA had placed on two years' probation for recruiting violations, the most serious arising from an assistant coach knowingly accepting a false high school transcript for quarterback Kerry Jackson, whose usage in three conference games had also cost Oklahoma their Big Eight title.

In Switzer's second game at the helm, his young eighth-ranked Sooners (1-0) traveled to the Los Angeles Coliseum to face a stiff challenge in defending national champion and top-ranked Southern California (2-0), a match up of the top two teams from the final '72 AP poll. It would be Oklahoma's sixth top-ranked opponent in the last 11 seasons, and they had not fared too well of late. However, history was on Switzer's side. Under similar circumstances back in '63, in legendary coach Bud Wilkinson's last year, the visiting #3 Sooners had knocked off defending champion and top-ranked USC, bringing an end to their 12-game winning streak, the last time Oklahoma had beaten a #1 team. And just two years earlier, Switzer was calling the plays for a wishbone offense that gained 516 rushing yards during a 33-20 win over the Trojans in Norman.

Walking the USC sidelines was the same coach as a decade earlier. In his 13-plus years at the school, John McKay owned a 102-33-6 record and had claimed seven conference titles. He had also won three national championships, in '62 and '67, and his '72 Trojans were one of the best teams to ever play college football. They beat their opposition by an average of 27.2 points a game, never trailed in the second half of any game, beat six ranked teams along the way, and capped a 12-0 season by crushing #3 Ohio State 42-17 in the Rose Bowl. And for that, they became the first team ever to be unanimously voted number one on every ballot in the AP media and UPI coach's polls. In addition, three players had been selected in the first round of the '73 NFL draft, and seven more went in later rounds, for a total of ten. But in Los Angeles, they simply reloaded.

USC came into the Oklahoma game riding a 14-game winning streak, and a 19-game unbeaten streak. The '73 Trojans had already easily beaten Arkansas (17-0) and Georgia Tech (23-6), and had not surrendered a touchdown. The roster featured four leading All-American candidates, offensive tackle Booker Brown, linebacker Richard Wood, and co-captains, flanker Lynn Swann and defensive back Artimus Parker. Quarterbacked by junior Pat Haden, the team relied heavily on junior tailback Anthony Davis, who had gained 1,191 yards and scored 17 touchdowns as a sophomore in '72.

For their part, Oklahoma also came in riding a modest eight-game winning streak. They had started the season ranked #11, but after crushing Baylor 42-14 in Waco, showed some promising signs. Directing the potent wishbone offense was a redshirt sophomore quarterback from Sallisaw, OK, Steve Davis, the featured running back was another sophomore, Joe Washington from Port Arthur, TX, and a Junior College transfer and substitute fullback had emerged into a legitimate force, Waymon Clark. The three of them did something that no other Sooner team had ever done, as each gained over 100 yards rushing in the Baylor game, an attack that would surely test the Trojans' rebuilt defensive front line.

The Saturday night game was played in front of 84,016 fans at the Coliseum, easily the largest crowd that a Sooners team had ever played before. Oklahoma fumbled on the game's first play from scrimmage. Fortunately, the defense held suit and they got the ball back.

On the Sooners' third down play, Davis dropped the ball for no apparent reason and with nobody near him, and the Trojans again recovered at the Oklahoma 42. Haden found Jim O'Bradovich in the end zone, but the USC tight end had clearly jumped offside, so the score was erased, and the drive ended up stalling at the 29. The third Sooners' possession also ended with a fumble, but the Oklahoma defense held suit again, keeping points off the scoreboard.

The Sooners' offense got into high gear. Prior to the game, USC had not allowed a gain of over 17 yards in length. But Davis kept for 19, Washington ran for 17, and Davis dashed for another 20-yard gain, as they moved 72 yards in ten plays. But the Sooner drive slowed down at the USC 15, and faced with a fourth down-and-ten, Rick Fulcher came on to attempt a 32-yard field goal, but he missed slightly to the right.

The Trojans were forced to punt, but with Washington temporarily stunned and out of action, cornerback Clyde Powers' fumble of a fair catch attempt found the hands of USC linebacker Tom Bohlinger at the Sooner 25. Even if Powers had not fumbled, junior linebacker Rodney Shoate had run into the punter, which would have given USC a first down.

Three running plays gained ten yards and a new set of downs. Then Haden dropped back and split end John McKay, the coach's son, slipped away from Kenith Pope, possibly Oklahoma's best defensive back, in the corner of the end zone, and his high school quarterback buddy found him for a 15-yard score. Chris Lemahelu kicked the extra point, and the home team was ahead, 7-0, at the 9:57 mark.

About five minutes later, Powers atoned for the miscue. With linebacker David Smith draped all over Haden as he threw a pass, Powers picked it off and returned it six yards to the USC 36. It was Haden's first interception of the season. But Oklahoma's offense was unable to move any closer than the 24, and Fulcher again came on to attempt a field goal. However, Davis, the holder, bobbled the low snap from center and Fulcher's foot booted the ball harmlessly into the line, leaving the Sooners empty.

Oklahoma trailed by seven on the scoreboard, but led statistically. The Sooners had gained 159 total yards, compared with USC's 74, and they had accumulated 11 first downs to four for the Trojans.

To open the second half, the Sooners relied on a crunching 70-yard, 13-play drive that ate up over six minutes. Third down plays were critical, and against an inexperienced defensive line, Oklahoma struck with Clark on typical wishbone-fullback plays, and also with Washington. Faced with third-and-three at the USC 42, Clark hammered up the middle for three. On third-and-one from the 32, he slashed 20 yards to the 12. And on the next third-and-one at the three, Washington launched himself over for a gain of one. A play later, Davis got into the end zone from two yards out, capping a march that was all on the ground, and Fulcher's kick made it 7-7 with 7:18 left in the third quarter. It was textbook wishbone football, as they had moved without passing, or even the threat of the pass.

Southern Cal seemed to find some fuel in its running game behind Anthony Davis, who returned to action after sitting out most of the first half, having bruised his right ankle on his first carry of the game. With their best back hitting holes despite his injury and running with flair and squirming for yardage, the Trojans advanced 40 yards from its own 30 to the Oklahoma 30, and they were faced with a third down. Davis went the wrong way and bobbled a handoff from Haden, and Shoate pounced on the ball.

USC's superior size and depth was supposed to wear down the Sooners in the fourth quarter. With about seven minutes left, they started a drive and moved as far as the Oklahoma 44, before the Sooners again answered the challenge. Under-sized defensive end Mike Struck made two big plays. First, he and Pope trapped Swann for a yard loss on a reverse. Then Struck and sophomore tackle Dewey Selmon nailed Haden for a five-yard loss, and they were forced to punt the ball away. Washington returned the punt across midfield to the USC 43, but a clipping penalty moved the Sooners all the way back to their own 16.

Steve Davis and the offense were able to edge out to their 45-yard line, but they were booed mildly towards the end of the game for refusing to put the ball in the air. Switzer obviously was taking no chances on finding out if Davis could improve on his one-for-six passing night, and the clock ran out. It was amazing, but the nation's top team looked suspiciously like the second best team on the Coliseum turf, as the two teams tied, 7-7. If only one of those two first half field goal attempts by the Sooners could have been made.

Afterwards, the Oklahomans quietly congratulated each other, but there was no backslapping or shouting. The mistakes that they had made negated statistical superiority. The wishbone had moved the ball freely against one of the top defenses and the Sooners' defense had stopped the champions cold. Still, it was only a tie.

On one hand, Switzer was disappointed "No, this ain't a winner's dressing room. If we was one of them down-the-road football teams, we'd be doin' back flips now. But this ain't no run-of-the-mill bunch, baby. This is Oklahoma. And we were better. It's an empty feeling inside. We beat ourselves in the first half with all those mistakes. They could have taken us out of it, but they made enough too. But we played well enough in the second half to win."

But on the other hand, Switzer was satisfied with his young team's performance against one of the top teams in the country. "I'm very, very proud. They were outstanding. It was great team effort." He continued, "USC's got a great football team. National Champion. Number one in the country. There were two great football teams out there playing football."

Oklahoma's wishbone had punished the USC defense for four quarters. The Sooners had outplayed and out gained the Trojans, as Davis, Clark and Washington frequently seemed only a step away from breaking one, but unfortunately, had also out-fumbled them. Clark, who rushed for 126 yards on 26 carries, paced all ball carriers, and Davis added 102 yards on his 21 carries, while Washington chipped in with 84 yards on a dozen carries. Overall, the Sooners rushed for 330 yards, as three other ball carriers contributed the balance on four attempts.

Steve Davis was reminded that they had tied the #1 team in the country, but he responded with, "They mighta been national champs last year but they're not now." When asked to elaborate, he said, "We don't feel all that good. We definitely feel like we won it but we have nothing to show for it."

Defensively, Oklahoma limited the much-publicized backfield of Anthony Davis and Rod McNeill to 89 yards on 26 carries. Haden could only complete seven of 16 passes, and they were good for just 59 yards. It was a sobering evening for the Trojans' offense, which could not sustain drives or convert Sooners miscues into points.

Haden sat unemotionally in his cubicle afterwards. "I didn't play well and I didn't do a good job, and I didn't throw that well. A tie? I shouldn't be that down, but I'm certainly not very happy." And Davis commented that, "I guarantee you that we can play better. We're still a young team. Sure, Oklahoma is good, but they aren't better than Ohio State."

No one could criticize the Trojan defense that held the heralded Oklahoma wishbone to only one touchdown. It was the fewest points they had scored in the last 64 games, since 1967 when they beat Missouri 7-0. Coach McKay said dryly, "If someone would have told me before the game that we'd hold the best wishbone in the world to one touchdown, I'd think we'd win it."

McKay had also offered, "You're hurting when you don't even know your own snap count. We just didn't play well offensively." Later, he continued, "It was not just one man. Everyone was doing it. Even our flanker (Swann) and all he has to do is look at the ball. Oklahoma had a very good defense but it wasn't anything we didn't expect. But our offense didn't do anything very well. I hate to say this, but we're just not a very good football team right now." Regardless, the Trojans extended the nation's longest unbeaten streak to 20 games, and they were still favored in the PAC-8 conference race for the Rose Bowl.

Source: Jeff Linkowski

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