Holiday Bowl VIII: It May Not Fit Pattern

Times Staff Writer

The mythical national championship was at stake a year ago when BYU engaged Michigan in Holiday Bowl VII.

On the strength of that one-time flirtation with history, there were visions of the Holiday Bowl moving into more august company, befitting the Roman numerals tacked onto its title.

A big network contract, along with an increase in prestige, may materialize one of these years, but Holiday Bowl VIII doesn't appear likely to be the catalyst. There's nothing mythical or momentous about this year's pairing of Arizona State and Arkansas, which begins at 5 p.m.

Students of the Holiday Bowl may not find much familiar in this one. For one thing, BYU is absent for the first time since the inception of the game. The normal quota of passes can't be expected, even though Arizona State has a skilled quarterback, Jeff Van Raaphorst, a product of La Mesa's Grossmont High School.

Defense (what's that?) is represented by the other side. Arkansas gave up an average of only 11.7 points a game this year.

A crowd of more than 50,000 is expected. However, more than 7,500 tickets remained unsold, a departure from past years, when the game played to more than 98% capacity at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

The problem was that the participating schools sold fewer tickets than projected. Each school was allotted 10,000 seats, but only about 7,500 total were sold, the lowest total in Holiday Bowl history.

As a result, the favorite chant of Arkansas backers--"Whooooo, pig soooey!"--won't be heard in anything like its true glory.

Not that Arizona State Coach John Cooper minds.

"We used to play Arkansas on that neutral field in Fayetteville," said Cooper, former coach at Tulsa. "Playing the Hogs in Fayetteville is like playing Notre Dame in Rome."

Playing in San Diego isn't what either team really wanted.

Arizona State had hoped to spend the holidays 120 miles to the north, in Pasadena. But a 16-13 loss to Arizona in the regular-season finale scuttled the Sun Devils' plans for the Rose Bowl.

The Razorbacks would have preferred Dallas, site of the Cotton Bowl. They lost only two games, by a total of six points, but they lost to the wrong teams, Texas and Southwest Conference champion Texas A&M.;

The Hogs, as they're known the length of the Ozarks, reflect the preaching of Coach Ken Hatfield, who did such a solid job of building a football program at the Air Force Academy that he was tapped to replace Lou Holtz at Arkansas two years ago. Holtz left for points north (Minneapolis) and east (South Bend).

What got the Hogs to San Diego was a defense that didn't permit a rushing touchdown in eight conference games. As Hatfield noted, however, Arizona State isn't going to be confused with Texas, Oklahoma or Ohio State as a rushing team.

"We haven't seen a dropback passer in the Southwest Conference this year," Hatfield said. "One of our real challenges is going to be mixing it up defensively. We know we have to put pressure on Jeff Van Raaphorst. We haven't faced one like him."

In order to pressure the Sun Devil passer, Arkansas will have to get a rush from its down linemen, because Hatfield doesn't believe in the blitz. He said it's just not his style.

The leading defensive linemen for the Razorbacks are nose guard Tony Cherico and tackle Rodney Beachum. Linebackers Nick Miller and David Bazzel were all-conference selections, and safety Greg Lasker was a third-team All-American.

This unit, which led the conference in rushing defense and scoring defense, will attempt to contain Van Raaphorst, who threw for 2,200 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The Grossmont product completed 174 of 310 passes and was in charge as the Sun Devils won six straight games beginning near midseason.

Van Raaphorst's No. 1 target is Aaron Cox, who made 40 receptions and scored five touchdowns.

When the Sun Devils keep it on the ground, Mike Crawford is the favored runner. He gained 684 yards and scored 11 touchdowns.

Contrasting sharply with the ASU attack is the so-called flexbone employed by Arkansas. It's a ground-oriented attack that stresses ball control and avoidance of turnovers.

Three-fourths of the Razorbacks' yardage came on the ground via the nation's eighth-ranked running game. The Hogs, who threw only 120 passes, scored 29 times rushing and seven times through the air.

Starting quarterback Greg Thomas has a couple of capable receivers in James Shibest and Donnie Centers, both of whom received all-conference mention. Centers once took a ballet class to improve his balance, but admits he preferred watching the girls in his class.

The class of the Razorback runners is halfback James Rouse, who averaged 5.6 yards per carry and had eight touchdowns.

Given the matchups, it's unlikely the crowd will see offense on the scale of past Holiday Bowls.

Often as not, the game has been a facsimile of Charger productions. Take Holiday Bowl II, when Indiana edged BYU, 38-37, or the next year, when BYU beat Southern Methodist, 46-45, after trailing 45-25 with 3:58 to play.

Jim McMahon, the architect of that epic 1980 comeback by the Cougars, has moved on to notoriety with the Chicago Bears. It remains to be seen if Van Raaphorst can stage the passing show that is a standard in the Holiday Bowl.

He will have a difficult time upstaging the performance of BYU quarterback Robbie Bosco in last year's 24-17 victory over Michigan. Bosco, who suffered knee and rib injuries early in the game, rallied the Cougars from a 17-10 fourth-quarter deficit.

Afterward, Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler said he didn't know how badly Bosco was hurt, a comment that foreshadowed the grumbling that accompanied BYU's subsequent No. 1 ranking in the polls.

Respect comes slowly, as both the Holiday Bowl and BYU have learned. For now, it's up to Arkansas and Arizona State to fill the gaps.

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