in Cardinal Football: Arizona State 10-24-81
The year 1981, the season perhaps best remembered as the one in which USC's Marcus Allen steamrolled through opposing defenses, is the setting of the latest entry in our historical flashback series.. Allen's remarkable statistics share space in the Pac-10 record book alongside one crazy game played in front of 52,885 on this very date in 1981.
Arizona State's latest visit to Stanford Stadium comes on the 28th anniversary of their very first. All this time later, the details of the Sun Devils' spectacular 62-36 victory are still hard to comprehend.
No Pac-10 game has ever produced as much total offense or witnessed as many passing yards.
The two teams combined 1,092 yards through the air obliterated the old NCAA record by nearly 200 yards.
A year after John Elway set the conference mark with six touchdown passes in one game, Mike Pagel of ASU did him one better. His seven scoring tosses that day are still a conference record for a game that ended in regulation. Pat Barnes' eight scores, three in overtime against Arizona for Cal in 1996, need not apply.
Elway directed Stanford into a lead at the end of one quarter, only to go down with a concussion and a sprained index finger in the second. Yardage-wise, Steve Cottrell, who like Elway had been early in his career, was a dual-sport athlete and member of the Stanford baseball team, picked up where John left off. The pair combined for a stunning 581 passing yards – still the most gained by a single team during a Pac-10 contest.
Just 1-5 entering the game, Stanford was hoping for a repeat performance of their most recent game against a squad ranked No. 17 in the country. The Cardinals, as they were still known, had upset UCLA at home two weeks earlier. Stanford had Elway and Darrin Nelson (who outplayed his younger brother Kevin that afternoon) – but little in the way of defense.[Ed. - Sound familiar?]
The hosts were clearly itching for a shootout with the visiting Solar Satans. Stanford held the lead three different times in the first half. The score stood 24-17 with less than three minutes elapsed in the second quarter. The Cards was still leading 24-20 in the second when the blitzing Sun Devils were able to force out Elway, who left the game having thrown for 270 yards, two touchdown passes to Darrin Nelson. and another to Vincent White. After Pagel through his third TD pass, ASU ended up leading 27-24 at the break.
Not sure what happened in the locker room at halftime, but whatever was said...appears not to have worked.
Probation kept Arizona State at home from the holidays, but not from an impressive 9-2 record in 1981. The tailback tandem of Gerald Riggs and Robert Weathers had the Sun Devils leading the nation in total offense. Here's a breakdown of the numbers that make this game one still worth talking about.
1,436: "Most Yards Gained, Both Teams, Conference Game," the record book entry states. The Sun Devils' 232 rushing yards were actually a few ticks fewer than their average output of over 300 yards per-game coming in.
The flurry of yards began early. Stanford's 14-10 lead after one quarter came after the Cards totaled 235 yards (to 195 for the visitors). Arizona State blew the game open with an unanswered 28-0 run in the second half, eventually winding up with an astounding 743 yards of total offense. Stanford's 693 yards remain the most ever gained by the loser of a Pac-10 game.
1,092: Some historical background: A year before the highest single-game passing total in Pac-10 history came a major rule change.
In 1980, the NCAA allowed offensive linemen to extend their arms while blocking. The penatly for holding was reduced from 15 to 10 yards. Stanford's reliance on the pass made it an anomoly, as this was the era of the running back. USC's Allen, who gained 200 yards an amazing eight times in 1981, was one of 11 consecutive Heisman-winners who were true tailbacks. Alabama's "Bear" Bryant derided the rule change as the "offensive line holding rule."
Now look at college football. The top prep quarterbacks come from Texas, the birthplace of the "Wishbone". From Norman to Austin, Athens to South Bend, college football is a "pass-first" outfit.
7: Pagel's touchdown passes were hardly cheap, as his 511 passing yards suggest. He employed all methods, dropping straight back, scrambling right, throwing across his body while going left. He totaled four in the second half, most impressively with a 70-yard bomb to Jerome Weatherspoon.
"Eric Price is about seven yards behind him," color commentator and former Stanford Indian 1972 Rose Bowl QB Don Bunce says on the Stanford highlights telecast (which we retreived this week from The BootCave Archives!)
The record-breaking score came with 7:44 left to play, a nine-yard connection in which tight end Ron Wetzel caught the ball just ahead of an oncoming Kevin Baird. The first quarter saw an illegal block penalty nullify a Pagel 20-yard touchdown to Bernard Henry. On the next play, Pagel found Henry in almost the exact same spot for a touchdown that stood.
237: For 18 years, Darrin Nelson's output for his nine catches stood as the Stanford single-game record for receiving yards. The game's third play of scrimmage showed just how versatile Stanford's all-time leading rusher (a record he set in his sophomore season) was as a fifth-year senior.
Elway, out the shotgun from his own 30 and with his back to the open end of the stadium, dropped back. Nelson took off in motion as he often did, then sprinted down the sideline in single-coverage as the play unfolded. The resulting 70-yard bomb had the home side holding the early edge. It was one of Nelson's many great catches on that entertaining, but frustrating afternoon, that for better or for worse, remains a prominent entry in the record-book.
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