To the Arkansas football fan, everything that comes before the Texas game for a long time now has been just so much catfish and strawberry shortcake. Just a lot of yawning and mild throat-clearing as the Tulsas and Oklahoma States struggle by, and then as the poor old Southwest Conference victims are laid to rest. It has been especially so this season since the Texas game was put off until Dec. 6 for the benefit of national television. The Razor-backs won't know exactly how good they are until that day in the Ozarks because they keep doing things like last week: sleepwalking to a 30-6 victory over the Rice Owls. So here is Arkansas 7-0 and up there in the rankings as usual but as mystified about themselves as they could possibly be. If the Razorbacks can beat Texas, well, then Frank Broyles and everyone else in Arkansas will be prepared to say that this is the school's best team ever.
But if they lose the one they're building toward, then it will be an 0-1 year and thank goodness Bill Montgomery and most of the rest are only juniors. Normally, the Texas game comes rather early, in mid-October, at such a point that the loser has plenty of time to recover and the winner can start hollering about the unfairness of the polls. But it is as quiet in Austin as it is in the Ozarks because both powers are marking time, trying to get down to the day with the perfect records that were expected of them in the summer. That Arkansas seems to be having a tougher time of it week by week than Texas would indicate that the Longhorns are ponderously superior, but any grizzled old Arkansas-Texas watcher knows better They will go into the big game dead even and most likely the fumble, the interception or the punt return will decide it. Same as always.
After six games, last week finally was supposed to provide some sort of clue to their relative strengths. Arkansas was down in warm Houston to play a team Texas smothered 31-0, while Texas was at home in Austin to receive a sad Baylor team that Arkansas on a bad night had whipped 21-7. Little was actually proved, but if there was an edge, it went to Texas. Arkansas fans, wearing their red hats and coats in Rice Stadium, were amazed to hear on portable radios that Texas' ground game was grinding up Baylor by 56-14 with just about everybody but Luci Nugent getting into the game. And while they listened, they were obliged to watch their Razorbacks look as sluggish as they possibly could and still win handily.
Not so long ago a 30-6 victory would not have been considered such a disappointment, but that was before Texas got into the scoring battle and began running up even more lopsided margins. Of course, it is a bit of a mystery why Arkansas has had such trouble with a few of its victims. That Baylor team that Texas trampled last week, for example. A few weeks ago Arkansas found itself tied 7-7 with the Bears through three quarters until Montgomery pulled it out with a couple of long ones to Chuck Dicus. Arkansas trailed both TCU and Texas A&M before coming on to win with a certain amount of ease. Rice was even tied with the Razorbacks until deep in the second quarter last week as a young black quarterback for the Owls, Stahle Vincent, did a lot of skittering about, causing Broyles' shirttail to flop out in its usual fashion.
What makes Arkansas a good team, surely capable of beating Texas or anyone else on the right kind of day, is Quarterback Bill Montgomery. He pilots perhaps the most varied offense in the country, and his arm, whether dropping back or doing the old Mississippi sprintout, is a cannon. He's an alert youth, one who oozes good cheer, meets everyone naturally and almost backslappingly, a junior so confident and hip he actually scares a few grown-ups.
"He sees things and he sees between things," says one of the Arkansas newspapermen. "He's remarkable. You'd think he was a coach. You can imagine him running an investment company or his own TV show. Why, Bill could write my story for me. One of his problems has been staying humble."
Montgomery's best friend is also his best receiver, Dicus, another alert, handsome junior, one considered to be something of a ladies' man, and one who might also wear his sideburns longer if Broyles didn't have the mid-ear rule. Montgomery and Dicus are a couple of foreigners in the Ozarks, like a few other of the top Razorbacks. They come from suburbs of Dallas where they competed against each other in high school.
When big plays are needed, the Montgomery-to-Dicus pass is ordinarily what Broyles orders. It was a 73-yarder that broke up the TCU game, a 48-yarder that broke up the Baylor game, an 11-yarder that broke up the A&M game and an 18-yarder that broke up the Rice game last Saturday. Dicus, a smooth-gaited split end with a marvelous touch, is to receiving what Montgomery is to passing—just the best that Arkansas has ever had.
Among the reasons why it might be difficult for Montgomery to remain humble is that Bobby Layne once said he was the finest high school passer he had ever seen. Another reason is that when he was being recruited, Alabama put real heat on him, trying to win him away from Arkansas. When he visited Tuscaloosa, he was invited up on Bear Bryant's tower one afternoon. Afterward he was told by a splendid actor of an assistant coach, "Bill, do you realize that you are the first recruit to be asked up on that tower since Joe Namath?" Some of the other reasons Montgomery may have trouble keeping his feet on the ground are that in the off season he has found himself being invited into the company of wealthy Arkansas rooters for hunting, fishing and golf and general loitering around boardrooms of banks.
With Montgomery now fully recovered from an early season rib bruise, there can be no question that this is probably Arkansas' best offensive unit since Broyles has been coaching in Fayetteville, winning or tying for six Southwest championships, and taking a piece of one national title in 1964. The pro set of Broyles spreads out a defense, and there are other good receivers besides Dicus for Montgomery to throw to. Bill can run some if he has to, but he has two fiercely hungry ballcarriers in Bill Burnett and Bruce Maxwell, who kill a defense on counters and traps. They've gained 615 and 462, respectively, this season, while Montgomery, despite his injury, has thrown for 57 completions, 785 yards and six touchdowns.
Time is on Arkansas' side so far as the Texas game is concerned. Even Broyles admits that Texas might have won if the game had fallen on the same date as in the past. But each week the Arkansas juniors learn something more about themselves. Slowly it is all coming together. The team remains low-key as opposed to the zip-zip fanatics of the past. But it is wonderfully versatile and as it proved against Rice, it does what it has to do to win. It muddles through, scoring a dreadful 30 points.
What it comes down to is that Arkansas' season starts and ends on the same day, Dec. 6, after which Bill Montgomery may not have to be humble anymore.
BILL MONTGOMERY OOZES CONFIDENCE