Undefeated Alabama made Arkansas its 21st straight victim today, 24-9 in the Sugar Bowl and earned at least two votes toward a national college football championship with a performance equal parts silk and steel. When smooth didn't get the job done, 'Bama went to plain ol' hammer-'em-into-the-ground.
"Little did I realize that the best football team in the country would play an almost perfect game" said Lou Holtz, the losing coach, who said he would vote Alabama No 1 in the final United Press International balloting Wednesday.
"I don't want to talk about the polls," said Bear Bryant, the Alabama coach who moved within 18 victories of the all-time record 314 won by Amos Alonzo Stagg. "I feel we are deserving of the honor of being No. 1. We will claim the national championship if we win it in either poll."
The Associated Press writers and broadcasters poll, also taken Wednesday, had Ohio State as its No. 1 team last week while Alabama sat atop the UPI ratings.
Whatever was to happen with Ohio State in the Rose Bowl against Southern Cal, nothing could detract from the Alabama show before 77,486 customers in the Superdome today. The Tide led, 14-3, after the first quarter and, when Arkansas closed to 17-9, Alabama finished off the Razorbacks with a classic 98-yard drive the first time it had the ball in the fourth quarter.
"I didn't tell them anything in the huddle," Alabama quarterback Steadman Shealy said of the start of that demonstration of how the wishbone offense works. "I tell you, it was amazing how the offensive line was so loose today. They had confidence the whole game and they really executed."
The long march took only nine plays. It lasted only 4 minutes 22 seconds. Each play was a run, the last a 12-yarder on thrid and 11. Astonishingly, the run went inside the tackles in the passing situation, as smooth a con job as Bryant ever managed.
Steve Whitman, the fullback who scored that last touchdown to make secure Alabama's first undefeated season since 1966, was as surprised as anyone that he was sent into the heart of the Arkansas defense in an obvious pass or sweep situation.
"They were expecting us to go outside," Whitman said. "So their defensive end played that way. I got one great block by Buddy Aydelette (a tackle) and there was nobody there to stop me."
Well, not quite. Arkansas safetyman Kevin Evans might have stopped Whitman. But nowhere in the land is ther a 195-pound safetyman who will stop a 231-pound Alabama fullback on the stampede. Whitman collided with Evans at the three -- still two yards short of a first down -- and darried the fellow into the end zone with him, depositing him there in a melancholy lump.
"I thought he'd hit me low," Whitman said. "Those little guys usualy do. He didn't have much chance the way he did it."
Whitman's touchdown made it 24-9 with 8:59 to go.
Alabama's defense, statistically the best in the nation and in reality a terror to face, by then had rendered impotent an Arkansas offense that on this day rolled up 342 yards (245 of it by passing), nearly twice the ground 'Bama normally allows. The Arkansas quarterback, Kevin Scanlon, who was 22 for 39 passing, missed five straight throws before and after the Alabama 98-yard drive. And when Arkansas did make a small threat with about four minutes to go, Alabama safetyman Tommy Wilcox ended it by ripping the ball out of a receiver's hands and returning the theft 32 yards.
Four times since 1966 Alabama had came to a bowl game undefeated, each time losing and botching a chance for a national championship. Early on today, it seemed clear that Alabama would change all that.
Running back Major Ogilvie, named the game's outstanding player in a vote by the media, scored two touchdowns in the first quarter on runs of 22 yards and one yard. He also ran back a punt 50 yards late in the second quarter. By then, though, Bryant was using his second-string backfield to rest his regulars, and Alabama settled for Alan McElroy's 25-yard field goal for a 17-3 lead at half-time.
Bryant has made Alabama football the model of aggression, inventiveness and opportunism. The 17-3 halftime lead reflected all that. First the Tide ground out an 82-yard touchdown drive, with Ogilvie sprinting around left end the last 22. The other touchdown came after linebacker Thomas Boyd recovered a fumble at the Arkansas 22 -- the first fumble all year by Scanlon; the first Arkansas had made in its own territory all year.
"We have a good football team, but the fumbled snap was very, very critical," said Holtz, who, for only the second time in his 36 games as Arkansas coach, saw his team behind in the fourth quarter.
With the gift of that fumble -- turned into Ogilvie's one-yard touchdown four plays later -- Alabama had a cushion so nice, and so unexpected, that Bryant was able to use nine different running backs in the first half. He wanted to save his regulars from the heat that builds under the Superdome roof.
"I was worried that if we got behind in the fourth quarter, we might be too tired to win it," said Bryant, the 66-year-old brain who thinks of everything. On this day, he thought of two quick kicks when he hadn't done that all season, a long pass from the end zone, a double-wing formation that confused Arkansas' defenders (who had never seen it on Alabama films) and so many different defenses that even Hotlz admitted his charges didn't know what to do.
"We were a little confused" Holtz said. "But that is a credit to Alabama."
Arkansas led once,3-0, on Ish Ordonez's 34-yard field goal barely three minutes into the game. The Razorbacks, cochampions of the Southwest Conference with a 10-1 record and ranked sixth and seventh in the polls, scored their only touchdown early in the third quarter on an 80-yard drive featuring Scanlon's passing.
After a first half in which Scanlon threw only seven passes, Arkansas came out firing in the new half.The quarterback completed four of six passes in this drive alone, including a one-yarder on fourth and goal to Robert Farrell or the touchdown.
But after that 80-yard drive, Arkansas managed only four more first downs while Alabama established control of the game when control meant the most.
While Ogilvie was named the game's outstanding player, he was only one of Alabama's stars. Quarterback Steadman Shealy completed four of seven passes for 70 yards and ran the intricate wishbone offense, with its triple options, spectacularly. His ballhandling, as well as the line's crushing blocking, helped halfback Billy Jackson roll up 120 yards rushing on only 13 carries.