46th Annual Sugar Bowl Classic ~ January 1, 1980
#1 Alabama 24 (Final: 12-0-0, #1)
#6 Arkansas 9 (Final: 10-2-0, #8)
How Alabama and Arkansas Met in the 1980 Sugar Bowl
There was a new look to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl – a look Arkansas Coach Lou Holtz didn’t like. He liked it less after the game.
In the time since the end of the regular season, Bear Bryant installed a double wing with motion off the wishbone formation. The Crimson Tide could run its basic plays off the set – and give something else to concern Arkansas coaches.
After the Razorbacks got a 34-yard field goal, courtesy of a lost Alabama fumble on the opening kickoff, the Tide showed its new look.
Holtz watched a seven-play, 82-yard drive featuring a fullback in motion and a lot of counter-action to slow the Hogs’ defensive charge. Major Ogilvie scored from 22 yards out after quarterback Steadman Shealy pitched out at precisely the last instant. It was the third straight year in which Ogilvie scored a Sugar Bowl touchdown.
“We weren’t expecting as much double wing,” Holtz admitted. “We weren’t expecting an unbalanced line. We knew they’d run at least two wide-outs and two tight ends … but with five freshmen (in his defensive alignment) we made some mistakes. We got in wrong calls, shifted the wrong way, and did a lot of wrong things.”
There would be more.
Four plays after receiving the ensuing kickoff, another Razorback fumble was recovered by linebacker Thomas Boyd on the Hog 22. Ogilvie scored his second touchdown from the 1 to put the Tide ahead 14-3 with 3:46 left in the first period, forcing Arkansas into an accelerated passing game.
Alan McElroy kicked a 25-yard field goal, and with a 17-3 score at intermission, Alabama seemed content with the way the game was going.
Hogs’ quarterback Kevin Scanlon, hurried and hit on virtually every play in the first half by the relentless ‘Bama defense, got hot, though, sweeping the Razorbacks downfield 80 yards after the second-half kickoff. Robert Ferrell made an over-the-shoulder three-yard catch for a touchdown, though the two-point conversion fell short.
The score was now 17-9 and the game was taking on the look of a real dogfight.
When Mike Burchfield downed a punt on the Crimson Tide 2 in the fourth quarter, the nine-point underdog Hogs seemed to have a real chance.
At that point Holtz got more of a look at Bryant’s new wrinkle than he ever wanted to see. In three plays the Crimson Tide were near midfield – 35 yards coming after Shealy times a perfect pitchout by Billy Jackson. When the Crimson Tide reached the 12 – on a third-and-11, offensive coordinator Mal Moore suggested a play – “43 Read” – to Shealy. “I would not have called it,” Shealy said. The quarterback glided down the line, “read” the right defensive end, and then stuck the ball into the 230-pound frame of fullback Steve Whitman, who shot through the middle for the touchdown. He muscled his way over defensive back Kevin Evans at the goal. “I read the end on the play, and Steve just went psssst,” Shealy recalled.
The 98-yard drive, Alabama’s longest of the season, broke the back of the Razorbacks.
The two teams gained 696 yards between them. The double wing took the Hogs out of planned defensive schemes. Holtz addressed the change succinctly: “Alabama’s defense is fourth best in the nation, and it’s their major weakness. How could we know the nation’s best team would play a perfect game?”
Amidst all the clamor and reasons why Alabama should be ranked No. 1, Bear Bryant was saying injuries may have kept his team from being one of the greatest of all time. “We hit some peaks,” Bryant said, “against Baylor, and later against Tennessee, when we came back from being down 17-0. No team has ever done that against Tennessee. It was a team that did what it had to do. When Auburn went ahead of us, we marched 82 yards (actually 88). When the Sugar Bowl was hanging in the balance, we went 98 yards. Things like that say something about a football team.”
That football team said something about Bear, too, who had coached in nine Sugar Bowls, most of anyone, and where he showcased four of the six national championships Alabama claimed under him. The victory, in Bryant’s last Sugar Bowl appearance, was not only his 296th, bringing him within 20 of Amos Alonzo Stagg’s record 314, but this was the 17th of Bryant’s 22 teams at Alabama to finish in the Top Ten, an unmatched feat for a coach since the Associated Press began voting in 1936. Also, Southern Cal defeated Ohio State (17-16) that day, rectifying the AP voting and moving Bryant past Frank Leahy, who had won four AP national championships at Notre Dame in 1943-46-47-49.
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.