COLLEGE FOOTBALL: TODAY’S BOWL GAMES : Freedom Bowl : It Hasn’t Been Best of Seasons for Arizona State : Defending Rose Bowl Champion Will Meet Air Force at Anaheim Stadium
The game has grown to the point where it is now billed like a Rocky sequel--this one tonight is Freedom Bowl IV --but for Arizona State’s football team, it should also carry a subtitle. Something like: So This Is What Happens Once You’ve Won the Rose Bowl.
A year ago, it was Pasadena and Michigan and Jeff Van Raaphorst’s touchdown passes and a 22-15 victory that left the Sun Devils ranked in the top five in the country.
Now, it’s Anaheim and Air Force and a 6-4-1 overall record and enough bad breaks, bad manners and bad karma to send a coach packing--which, in fact, John Cooper may soon be doing.
There have been injuries.
Three-quarters of the starting secondary suffered season-ending injuries, forcing Cooper to start junior Jeff Mahlstede, who only has a stress fracture in his right ankle and a torn rotator cuff, at free safety.
One inside linebacker, Stacey Harvey, sprained an ankle in a moped accident and the other, Mark Tingstad, has developed a case of mononucleosis. Both are listed as questionable for this evening’s game at 5 at Anaheim Stadium.
There has been incarceration.
Arizona State’s best linebacker, Greg Clark, is back in Tempe, serving a 30-day prison sentence for punching a police officer in a barroom fracas.
Two other Sun Devils, defensive end Pat Taylor and flanker Chris Garrett, were arrested Sunday night in an altercation with Costa Mesa police. Monday, both were suspended by Cooper but Tuesday, both were reinstated, partly because Cooper needs the bodies.
According to Cooper, Taylor and Garrett were among a half-dozen players squeezed so compactly into a car that one was sitting on another’s lap. “That’s a violation and a lady police officer pulled them over,” Cooper said.
The players piled out of the car and an argument ensued, with Taylor apparently refusing to get back into the car. Then, Cooper said, the officer called for assistance and after two more police cars arrived, Taylor and Garrett were arrested.
“Pat Taylor has sacrificed more this year than almost anyone else on our team,” Cooper said, explaining Taylor’s reinstatement. “He’s been playing with a torn biceps muscle. With all he’s been through, I just didn’t think it would be right to take the privilege of playing in a bowl game away from him.”
So Taylor, a 6-foot 3-inch, 232-pound senior, will play tonight in what may be the last Arizona State game for both himself and his coach. Cooper is reportedly headed for Ohio State, and if he hasn’t helped fuel those reports, he hasn’t necessarily squelched them, either.
“I’ll neither confirm nor deny them,” he said. “You’ll find out in a few days. . . . If they happen to choose me at Ohio State, so be it.”
Through all of this, the Sun Devils will take some time out to play a football game. And if they’re not too distracted, they’ll notice an old Western Athletic Conference rival on the other side of the line of scrimmage: Air Force. The Falcons are 9-3 and have this year’s Outland Trophy winner in defensive tackle Chad Hennings, yet they remain an underdog. Credit this to a 5-10, 160-pound sophomore quarterback named Dee Dowis.
In the 11 games he started, directing the Falcons’ wishbone offense, Dowis rushed for 1,315 yards, a single-season record for a quarterback. But in the process, Dowis broke a bone in his throwing hand during the regular-season finale against Hawaii and has worn a cast ever since. He is expected to miss tonight’s game, giving way to sophomore Steve Letnich.
Letnich has thrown just five passes all season--completing one for 20 yards--but Air Force Coach Fisher DeBerry did his best Tuesday to sell the media, and maybe his team, on the Falcons’ new quarterback.
“Dee’s got a little better quickness and speed, but Steve might read the option better,” DeBerry said. “Steve’s a better passer than Dee. He has a little better touch on the ball, and he’s a little bit bigger (6-0 and 160).”
DeBerry also said: “Steve’s played enough so it’s not like having a rookie out there. He won the starting quarterback job in the spring and started our opener against Wyoming.”
Of course, Air Force lost that opener, 27-13, and Letnich lasted four series. By the time the Falcons fell behind, 20-0, in the first half, DeBerry had decided to go with Dowis--till injury did they part.
Said Letnich: “I played the first three or four series of the Wyoming game, and Coach chose to make a change. Dee is the greatest rushing quarterback ever, so he justified Coach’s decision.
“But I’ve practiced with the first team all year and the only difference will be that this is now a game situation. It’s just a matter of having fans in the stands cheering for you or against you.”
Asked what he considered his strength as a quarterback, Letnich smiled and said: “A hard head. I don’t make people miss (tackles) like Dee. I just turn it up field, put my head down and go for four yards. Four times three moves the chains, and that’s good enough for me.”
With Air Force committed to a wishbone operated by a reserve quarterback and Arizona State running backs Darryl Harris, who has gained 855 yards, and Channing Williams, who has gained 697, Chuck Long’s 1984 Freedom Bowl record of 461 yards passing figures to stand until at least 1988.
“I don’t think you’ll see many surprises out there,” Cooper said. “They’re second in the nation in rushing offense (Air Force averages 386.3 yards rushing a game), and we feel that they don’t have the size up front to stop our running game. Our job is to run right at ‘em and move the chains. If we can’t do that, we’re in trouble.”
Cooper knows about trouble. He’s seen enough of it during Arizona State’s fall from the roses, the fallout of last January.
Freedom Bowl Notes
According to Freedom Bowl executive director Tom Starr, 42,000 tickets have been sold for tonight’s game. The bowl’s break-even point is around 45,000. . . . Bad weather rang in the first Freedom Bowl--a drenched 24,093 watched Iowa rout Texas, 55-17, in 1984--and there’s a 20% chance of rain in Anaheim tonight. That, along with the hailstones that fell around the stadium Tuesday morning, had Starr concerned. “It’s sleeting outside,” Starr said incredulously at a pregame press conference at the Disneyland Hotel. “I know, I’ve said the weather could never be worse than it was for that first game. Yes it can.”
As of Tuesday evening, Starr was still waiting for the game’s footballs to arrive. “We ordered 72 balls from Chicago and they were supposed to be here Dec. 14,” Starr said. “Right now, they’re in Indianapolis . . . “