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Original Issue

A 'bone of contention

Arkansas's unrelenting wishbone kept it in the Cotton Bowl chase

Baylor rolled into Little Rock on Saturday with the best Texas duet since Waylon and Willie—Tom Muecke and Cody Carlson, who have been flip-flopping at quarterback for nearly three seasons. They had rocketed the surprising Bears to a 7-1 record, the top of the SWC and the No. 10 spot in SI's Top 20. While Arkansas coach Ken Hatfield relied mostly on one quarterback, he did opt for rotating tight ends this year for reasons similar to Baylor's: to keep two equally talented players fresh. So it came to pass that a pass to a time-sharing tight end upstaged the Bears' dynamic duo and gave the Razorbacks a 20-14 victory.

Trailing 14-12 with 6:08 to play, Arkansas had a first-and-10 at the 50. Hatfield selected a play he had installed especially for Baylor. "Why do we always put these plays in and never call them?" senior tight end Luther Franklin had lamented to a coach earlier in the week. After nearly four quarters of pounding by the flexbone, the Baylor defense was vulnerable to a big play by a most unlikely candidate. Franklin, who had but one five-yard catch in two years to his credit, released cleanly, broke outside, hauled in Greg Thomas's heave at the 20 and sped into the end zone for the clinching score. A red-drenched pork-analia ensued to celebrate the touchdown that lifted the Razorbacks' record to 8-1 and kept them in the thick of the four-team conference race for the Cotton Bowl. Arkansas, Baylor, Texas and Texas A&M all have one SWC loss.

And what if you had dropped it, Luther? "I'd have gone straight to the dressing room," he said.

Before the game, Bears coach Grant Teaff, 55, who has been at Baylor for 14 years, singled out Hatfield, 42, as the coach of the future. While a student at Arkansas in the mid-'60s, Hatfield had had an apparently idyllic life: twice the nation's punt return leader, star defensive back for the Hogs' 1964 national championship team, suitor of a Miss America runner-up, president of the senior class. Says Hatfield with a steady, gray-eyed gaze, "Football was my god." But he was born again at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes gathering shortly after graduating, and he remains devout. He demands temperance from his players. Early this season he suspended two players for a game for driving while intoxicated, and two more met the same fate for having empty beer cans in their dorm room.

"Sometimes," says linebacker Nick Miller, "it gets carried a little too far." Perhaps, but Hatfield's players seem to respond to his brand of leadership. He returned to Arkansas in December 1983, after having led Air Force to a 10-2 record that fall. Last season the Hogs finished 7-4-1. The losses, all to bowl teams, were by a total of 16 points.

Teaff, too, is a man of strong convictions. He has used everything but five smooth stones to coax into the Top 20 a team that was picked to finish sixth or seventh in the SWC. A year after landing Muecke and Carlson, both of whom were blue-chippers from Texas, Teaff couldn't decide which to start. "From the day they walked on campus they've been equal," he says. "It was uncanny. In practice they'd throw all day and wind up within five yards of each other."

In their first split season, 1983, Muecke (pronounced mickey) and Carlson alternated every play. "I wanted to give each responsibility and experience without hurting either," says Teaff. He later tried revolving them every other series, then every three and, again, this year, every two.

Together, Muecke and Carlson lead the SWC in passing yardage, TDs and total offense. They're an even couple in golf as well. "I'll stay on the right side of the fairway and in the woods; he'll stay on the left side and in the woods, and after 10 shots we catch each other on the green," says Carlson. Unlike Muecke, Carlson, who was redshirted as a freshman, will be back next year.

Quarterback isn't the only position that's a revolving door at Baylor. To operate his mostly veer attack, Teaff shuttles in 11 running backs, seven wideouts and two offensive lines. In a second-quarter drive that put the Bears ahead 7-0, four rushers accounted for 31 yards and four receivers caught five Carlson passes for 56 more. A series later Muecke marched Baylor 80 yards in similar style before Miller intercepted him at the three with 10 seconds left in the half—a harbinger of things to come. The Bears would suffer four more turnovers in the second half.

Oddly, Hatfield said the game's turning point came on the opening series of the second half, when Arkansas wound up with zip after a 62-yard drive: "I knew then that we could move the ball." His charges weren't showing the same confidence. Three plays later Bears split end Matt Clark took a Muecke pass on the fly for an 88-yard TD—the longest air strike ever against the Hogs—and a 14-0 lead.

"We choke in almost every big game," said Hog safety Greg Lasker in the huddle shortly after the score. But that was the last big play Arkansas's quick, move-and-stick D would allow. Adept at stuffing the run because they face the wishbone constantly in practice, the Razor-backs' smallish defenders held Baylor's runners to just 51 yards, forcing Muecke and Carlson into long-yardage passing straits. "The second half just got away from us," Muecke said.

A Baylor fumble and an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty gave the Hogs the ball on the Baylor 29. Six plays later they had their first touchdown, but missed the point-after attempt. Following a third consecutive Baylor turnover—an interception by Richard Brothers—fullback Marshall Foreman bumped and ground six yards to make the score 14-12 with 10:21 remaining. Arkansas went for two points, but Thomas's pass to All-SWC wide receiver James Shibest fell incomplete. The 'bone had begun to take its toll on the Bears' D.

Thomas, a sophomore from San Angelo, Texas, wanted to go to Baylor. Teaff courted him but didn't offer a scholarship, urging him to walk on. Moreover, Thomas feared Teaff would switch him to defensive back. "Being a black quarterback, I wanted to continue to be a quarterback," Thomas says. "It puts the challenge in you."

On Saturday, Thomas ran the 'bone flawlessly. For the game winner, he faked run and then threw the bomb to Franklin that broke the Bears. The play was probably better suited to starting tight end Theo Young, who's bigger, stronger and faster than Franklin. "Well," says Franklin, "I'm lower to the ground." And the Hogs are closer to the Cotton Bowl.



Donnie Centers learned why Baylor leads the country in pass defense when Ron Francis broke up this second-period play.