Ninth Annual Sugar Bowl Classic ~ January 1, 1943
#7 Tennessee 14 (Final: 9-1-1)
#4 Tulsa 7 (Final: 10-1-1)
How Tennessee and Tulsa Met in the 1943 Sugar Bowl
It was John Barnhill’s worst fear.
With Tulsa backed up to its own 14 in the first quarter, the Tennessee coach saw tailback Glenn Dobbs quick-kick a ball 76 yards to the Vols’ 9; Then he saw Dobbs drop a kick out of bounds at the Tennessee 14.
“We knew,” Barnhill said, “that if we didn’t run those kicks back each time for about 15 yards, Tulsa would be camping on our 5-yard line all afternoon.”
There was reason to be concerned about that aspect of the Hurricane repertoire. Dobbs was one of the nation’s top passer, but the Tulsa running game was nothing to be especially afraid of, making the Hurricane offense one dimensional. But Dobbs was a dangerous punter, able to coffin-kick and able to kick long with three of more than 75 yards during the season. He could really keep the Vols backed up all day.
Of course, Barnhill’s own punter, Bobby Cifers, led the nation with a 42.9 average.
Early though, Dobbs was showing his full range. Throwing on every down, he took the Hurricane to the Tennessee 9 as the first quarter ended. From there, moving as if he were running an option, Dobbs pulled up and flicked a pass to Cal Purdin for the touchdown.
The passing drive was a seven-for-seven display by Dobbs.
Notably, he had also completed his last attempt before the drive started and would complete his next, giving him nine consecutive completions.
Tennessee came right back, with Bill Gold slashing into the end zone from the 3. Charlie Mitchell’s conversion was a wide, leaving Tulsa in front 7-6 at the half.
“We were durned glad to be where we were,” Dobbs recalled. “Tennessee had shut down our running game completely…And we were pretty tired, but (Coach Henry Frnka) didn’t tell us anything at the half.”
“What we did,” explained Tennesse tackle Denver Crawford, “was drop the ends off and rush with four men. Tulsa’s running game wasn’t tremendous and we concentrated on stopping Dobbs’ passing.”
In the third quarter, Dobbs dropped into his end zone to punt from the 7. There was a low snap and Crawford roared in, and threw blocking back N.A. Keithley aside. He then felt the sting of the ball on his chest.
“I swear,” Crawford said, “that ball went straight up in the air about 70 yards. I thought I was going to be a star and get my first touchdown. I ended up standing in the end zone waiting for that thing to come down. When it did, I tried to jerk it in bounds, but I just couldn’t fool that official.”
“Why Keithley, the lightest back we had, was back there blocking, I don’t know,” Dobbs mused of the safety that put the Volunteers ahead for keeps.
Behind now, and with time becoming precious, Tulsa gave up any pretense of running. Dobbs was passing from deep in Tulsa territory, but on attempt was batted in the air by freshman Jim Powell and Dick Jordan picked it off and returned it 11 yards to the 13. In three plays Clyde Fuson went in from the 1. Mitchell again missed the PAT, leaving the score at its final 14-7.
Yet, Tulsa made a gallant last drive to salvage a tie, with Keithley in for Dobbs – who was on the sidelines begging Frnka to let him back in. Keithley got Tulsa to the Tennessee 13, but Powell ended things with an interception on the 5.
The game ended one play later.
The highlight of the ninth Sugar Bowl was the sensational kicking. Ten Tennessee punts averaged 41 yards. Fourteen Tulsa punts averaged 43 yards.
On the other hand, despite Tulsa’s 168 yards passing, the Hurricane finished with a minus 39 yards rushing. Quarterback Walter Slater put things in focus, saying, “Tennessee has won a lot of games playing defense,” said Walter Slater. “This was one.”
That was a major factor, of course but there was more. Barnhill’s emphasis on return yardage paid off. Tennessee averaged 17.5 per punt return against Tulsa as the Volunteers became the first Southeastern Conference team to win a Sugar Bowl since Tulane in the inaugural.
Recap excerpted from the book “Sugar Bowl Classic: A History” by Marty Mulé, who covered the game and the organization for decades for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.