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1984 Cotton Bowl: Field of Broken Dreams Pt.2

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1983: A perfect season thanks in large part to a perfect defense

Iowa State v Texas Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

I had the privilege and pleasure to be around the edges of the Texas football program for over 40 years and will tell you without a doubt that on a daily basis, the 1982 squad was the most fun to be around.

Obviously, the majority of that team were the sophomores and juniors who would be the heart of the 1983 squad, but it was a core of seniors who set the tone of “no matter what happens, we will handle it.”

DE Kiki DeAyala, RB Daryl Clark, WR Herkie Walls and QB Robert Brewer took a team that stood 3-2 after a heartbreaking loss to SMU and guided it to six straight wins to finish the season.

Fred Aker’s offenses were portrayed as the boring, conservative, don’t make a mistake-eat up the clock side of the ball, with good reason.

There was nothing boring about the 1982 offense. It averaged 31.5 points a game (38.6 during the six-game win streak). Aside from the QB, Texas had a running back (Clark), and wide receiver (Walls) and a punter (Mike Poujol) throw passes. Hell, another punter (barefoot kicker John Teltschik) ran for a first down on a fake punt from inside the Texas 15-yard line.

I believe that Brewer, a walk-on legacy, was the catalyst for this offensive display because he was the only QB Akers truly trusted on game day.

Brewers dad Charlie had been a QB for Texas back in the 1950’s. Robert, 6-0, 185, didn’t have the strongest arm or the quickest feet, but he did have a nice touch on the deep ball, and he had the ability to read defenses at the line of scrimmage, and get the offense out of a bad call into something that would work. I don’t believe any other QB under Akers had that trust of the coaching staff to the level that Robert had. Brewer was 13-2 as a starter at Texas, including that dramatic 14-12 win over Alabama in the 1982 Cotton Bowl

As a walk-on, Robert saw mop up duty for a couple of years before getting his chance in the 1981 Houston contest. Walk-ons don’t redshirt, and for me Brewer was the one missing piece in that 1983 team – a QB that had the trust of his teammates as well as the coaching staff.

1983 Defense

David McWilliams was the defensive coordinator for Fred Akers in 1983, and he had an embarrassment of riches to play with. McWilliams decided that he would rarely get out of its 4-3 base defense. When Texas opened the season at Auburn, McWilliams put out a starting 11 on defense that would see 9 of them drafted into the NFL after the season. The only reason the other two (Jerry Gray, Tony DeGrate) were not drafted was because they were juniors so they would wait their turn. A total of 16 defensive players off of that 1983 squad eventually were drafted into the NFL.

The front four had Tony DeGrate (6-4, 280) and John Haines (6-6, 275) in the center flanked by Eric Holle (6-5, 240) and Ed Williams 6-4, 245). Ray Woodard, (6-6, 260) Mike Buchannan (6-3, 260) Bill Heathcock (6-4, 260) and James McKinney (6-4, 235) all rotated in with little drop off.

Jeff Leiding served as the run-stopper at middle linebacker, and was good enough to be named All-American. June James (6-3, 225) and Mark Lang (6-3, 225) flanked Leiding.

McWilliams felt so confident about that front 7 that he lined up in man-to-man in the defensive backfield. Of course he had 6 DB’s who would play in the NFL, led by Safety Jerry Gray to call on.

It was a defense that made it very easy to watch and think, “Just don’t overturn the ball on offense and we can beat anybody.”

1983 Season

Texas’ first game wasn’t until Sept. 17th and the main goal of fall workouts was to come up with a starting QB. The three candidates were:

Rob Moerschell (played in 11 games) – junior (2-year letterman) from Highland Park. Best suited to run the kind of offense Akers wanted for that 1983 team which was to win using as many as 5 quality RB’s to pound away and manage the game.

Todd Dodge (played in 7 games)– a junior, Dodge was a Texas HS legend for running essentially a run and shoot offense at Port Arthur Jefferson. He started the 1982 Sun Bowl when Brewer was injured during pre-bowl practice.

Rick McIvor (played in 9 games) – 6-4, 215, the best athlete with the strongest arm I have ever seen on a Texas QB. From the (very) small HS program at Ft. Davis, McIvor was the poster boy for untapped talent that needed development. Rick had redshirted during the 1982 campaign.

Dodge was announced as the starter, but it was obvious all three would see the field during the 1983 season. Then Dodge was injured a week before the season opener, so Moerschell stepped into the starting role.

Auburn

That game was my first personal experience with SEC football, and it was one interesting time. The team stayed in Columbus, Ga. About 35 miles from Auburn. The drive over on Friday for pre-game walk through was through mostly country roads, culminating with a two-lane road leading up to the stadium. The RV parking lot was packed (we were told it’s that way from Wednesday during football season). We had an Alabama state trooper escort on game day, and coming down that last couple of miles, they were pushing folks off to the side of the road, who would smile and wave as the team bus went by.

Texas was ranked 3rd, Auburn 5th. Pate Dye ran the Wishbone and when you looked into the backfield you thought you were playing OU. The three running backs for the Tigers were all future NFL players – Tommie Agee, Lionel James and Bo Jackson. It had been a while since I had seen such collection of athletes on both sides of the field during warm up.

Auburn had opened up with a 24-3 win over Southern Mississippi and expected to have an advantage over a Texas team opening their season on the road.

The final was Texas 20 Auburn 7 and it was nowhere near that close.

Early in the game, Texas forced an Auburn punt then went on a 10-play 84-yard drive topped off by a Moerschell sneak. The Horns bullied the Tiger defense at the line of scrimmage taking 8 minutes off the clock to score. An Auburn turnover led to a Jeff Ward field goal and it was 10-0 at the end of the 1st quarter.

Early in the 2nd quarter, Auburn pinned Texas down on its own 10-yard line. It took exactly two plays to cover 90 yards. McIvor was inserted into the game and found a streaking Kelvin Epps running a deep middle route for an 80-yard score. Another field goal and it was 20-0 at the half.

Texas just shut it down offensively in the 2nd half, happy to run a few plays pick up a couple of first downs then punt the ball back and watch the defense destroy the will of the Auburn offense.

Bo Jackson was Auburn’s leading rusher—with 35 yards on 10 carries. James, who had burned Southern Miss. For 179 yards a week earlier, had 33 yards also on 10 carries. Auburn QB Randy Campbell tried to match McIvor’s long TD pass in the 2nd quarter only to see Horn DB Jerry Gray make a spectacular one-handed interception. Campbell finished the game 3-13 passing.

Dominant. Auburn did not ross the 50-yard line until the 4th quarter.

Dominate. Auburn did not score until there was 1:30 left in the game. It came on a 2-yard run by Jackson to finish a 90-yard drive.

Dominant. Until that last-minute drive, the Tigers had 137 yards of total offense for the day.

Dominant. Texas traveled hostile SEC environment, played a Top 5 team, and took them and their fans out of the game within 10 minutes. Never heard 75,500 fans get so quiet so quickly for so long.

Oklahoma

The 1982 OU contest featured the debut of super star freshman Marcus Dupree who put the game away for OU with a 67-yard fake reverse. Dupree, (6-2, 225, 4.3 forty) from Philadelphia, Mississippi was the target of an intense recruiting struggle, that was so outrageous UT grad Willie Morris, a Mississippi legend in his own right, wrote a book about his recruitment, entitled, “The Courting of Marcus Dupree.”

In 2010 Dupree was the focus of an ESPN 30 for 30 that if you haven’t seen, then shame on you, It produced Fred Akers best quote, when he remarked about the shady dealing in the recruiting of Dupree that “there is always an Uncle.”

Switzer admitted that the day Dupree arrived in Norman in 1982 he was the best player on the team. Still it took a couple of early season losses in ‘82 to get OU to switch to the I formation and feed Dupree the ball. To top it off, Akers had won 4 out of 5 against Switzer and the Sooner going into the season. Switzer was feeling the heat. Dupree changed that with one swift stroke.

Home Sports Entertainment – out of Houston – was one of the first Regional Sports Networks to pop up. The OU game was telecast on HSE and I was in the broadcast booth with the late great Merle Harmon.

The first half wasn’t much to write home about. The two teams were tied at 7-7 at the half. Texas’ version of Dupree, Freshman Edwin Simmons had the score on an 8-yard run. Simmons, 6-4, 225 had seen his first real action the week before against Rice, where he picked up 109 yards on just 5 carries.

Trailing 10-7 midway through the 3rd quarter, The Horns blew the doors off the Sooners. Texas made an 11-play 80-yard drive to take a 14-10 lead. Mossy Cade intercepted an OU pass on their first play and returned it to the Sooner 20, setting up a short Ervin Davis run to make it 21-10. A few minutes later Simmons turned a simple off-tackle run into a 67-yard score, showing his sprinters speed to go with his size.

Simmons ended the day with 100 yards on 14 carries. He made his first start the next Saturday at Arkansas. On his first carry he injured his knee and was never the same.

The Texas defense did its job. Oklahoma had 197 yards total offense for the day. The Sooners converted just one out of thirteen 3rd down attempts. Nine Horn running backs had carries as Texas played keep away, holding the ball for almost 36 minutes.

Now about Dupree. 50 yards on 14 carries, that’s all Dupree got. Well, he did get a hit that effectively ended his career in Norman. Richard Peavy collided with Dupree on a sweep, knocking Dupree’s helmet off and knocking him senseless at the same time. Merle and I make a cameo appearance in the ESPN 30 for 30 with that play, and it was such a brutal hit that I committed a broadcast no-no. I simply could not find the sufficient words to describe what I saw. Dupree gets up and staggers back to the huddle.

The Texas huddle.

Dupree went home the next day to Philadelphia, Mississippi.

But Dupree’s heroics the year before helped Switzer avoid falling to 1-5 against his former college teammate, which means that he escaped being 1-6 against Akers and Texas after 1983. That is a fireable offense in Norman.

Texas A&M

Weird. Creepy. Eerie

That was College Station on November 26th, 1983. I mean even more than you might normally expect.

Unbeaten Texas needed to defeat Jackie Sherrill’s 2nd A&M squad to finish 11-0 and remain a solid #2 behind Nebraska heading into the Cotton Bowl. A&M was 5-4-1 and still one recruiting class away from being a monster. But Sherrill had a couple of tricks up his sleeve for this game.

Actor Gary Busey was on campus, filming scenes for the Bear Bryant Biopic “The Bear.” Busey spoke to the team the night before the game. The film crew asked for some of the crowd to get to the game a couple hours early so they could shoot a couple of scenes of Busey prowling the sidelines as Bryant.

Sherrill also brought out the all-maroon uniforms for the first time. The crowd and the team were jacked.

Then there was the weather. Cloudy. Cold.

Brutal, straight line winds 25-30 MPH. All Day

A&M took the wind to begin the game and jumped out to a 10-0 lead at the end of the 1st quarter. Rob Moerschell was the starting QB, but both Todd Dodge and Rick McIvor had seen action during the season. Akers took one look at the weather during warm ups and told McIvor that he would play – a lot.

At 6-4, 210 with a cannon for an arm, McIvor was the prototypical NFL prospect. He came from a very small HS (Ft. Stockton) and was as raw as an unripe tomato. There had been several tantalizing displays of his ability, but he saved the best for last.

McIvor came in with 5:00 to go in the 2nd quarter with Texas trailing 13-0. He left with 14:00 to go in the 4th quarter. In between Texas had gained 309 yards, scored 45 points – all on 29 offensive snaps. He completed seven of 12 passes for 170 yards and four touchdowns.

McIvor threw touchdown passes to Bill Boy Bryant and Brent Duhon to make is 14-13 at the half. Keeping the wind for the 3rd quarter, McIvor hit Kelvin Epps for touchdowns of 33 and 60 yards. In between, Bryant threw a 41-yard score to Duhon off a double reverse.

Four of the touchdown drives lasted for three, one, one and two plays. The perfect regular season was complete.

Now Georgia awaited in the Cotton Bowl.

Akers looked at an offense, that despite using 3 quarterbacks, still averaged 26 points a game. An offense that in 11 games controlled the clock and gave up only 30 tackles for losses.

Meanwhile Texas gave up only 9.5 points per game and 212 yards per game. Teams converted 27% of third down plays. That front seven had 183 tackles for losses on the season. Those defensive backs compensated for giving up 10 touchdown passes by producing 13 interceptions.

Not hard to figure out that the game plan that produced an unbeaten season would be used in the Cotton Bowl. The one question to be answered was, Who would start at QB?

Tomorrow: The Cotton Bowl & The Aftermath