Los Angeles — Possibly one year doesn't establish a trend, but a tremendous number of college football coaches have built their offense around the forward pass this season, often with remarkable success.
For example, at least 14 major college quarterbacks have thrown 18 or more touchdown passes this season, among them Jim McMahon of Brigham Young, John Elway of Stanford, and Mark Herrmann of Purdue. And the season isn't over yet.
"I think what a lot of coaches have discovered is that the passing game is a lot easier to teach than moving the ball on the ground," said Head Coach John Robinson of Southern Cal. "It's not like running the ball, where if you don't get pretty much a united effort from your blockers the play is going to break down.
"Besides that, there are a lot of good receivers coming out of high school these days -- kids with speed who are apt to practice catching the ball all summer at the beach or maybe just in their own backyard," he continued. "But blocking and running techniques are something that a coach gets to work on with his players only briefly -- once during spring practice and again in the fall."
Portland State Coach Moose Davis, who plays the game with four wide receivers and just one running back on almost every down, might not if he didn't have an exceptional quarterback in Neil Lomax.
On the other hand, Davis has won few friends by "passing up" scores of 93-7 against Cal Poly Pomona and 105-0 against Delaware State.
Brigham Young's Cougars may not have those sorts of results to show for their passing prowess, but no major college team has a more productive aerial attack. If BYU continues to average better than 400 passing yards per game, it would be the first offense ever to do so (the old record of 374.2 yards was set by San Diego State in 1969). In the process, McMahon would certainly become the only quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a season.
Purdue's Herrmann, meanwhile, appears destined to become the first passer to surmount the 9,000-yard milestone during a college career. Despite this, Herrmann has not always been the Big Ten passer in the headlines. Ohio State is throwing more now that it has Art Schlichter at quarterback, and David Wilson has turned Illinois's offense into something of an aerial circus. In fact, he turned in history's first 600-yard individual performance two weeks ago with a 621-yard passing effort against Ohio State -- in a losing cause!
Coaches are great imitators, suggesting that most college teams will be going to a passing offense next season, with wide receivers being as much in demand as strikeout pitchers are in baseball. A look at the coaching profession
Why anyone would want to be a football coach, when Pennsylvania still has openings for coal miners and the Empire State Building needs window washers, is a moot question. But there must be something to it or why would men the quality of Bear Bryant, Don Shula, and Tom Landry devote whole careers to it?
Among the football coaching fraternity are some of the world's finest professors of psychology and motivation. While it is probably true that few games are won in the locker room, compared with 40 years ago, never underestimate the power of the spoken word.
If you have ever wondered why coaches like Bryant are consistently pessimistic when talking with the press about a coming opponent, even if that team is the pits, it is simply their way of protecting their players against overconfidence.
They don't want their team to read all week about what an easy time it is going to have on Saturday against East Oshkosh Tech and then get beaten physically because it had already lost the game mentally.
The late Vince Lombardi, when he coached the Green Bay Packers and the Washington Redskins, was known for his tough discipline, punctuality, and all-out practice sessions.
Although the press was seldom notified, Lombardi often took money from players who thought they could break his rules and get away with it. If he thought a man was upsetting the well-being of his team by his actions on or off the field, that player either reacted instantly to Vince's stern warning or woke up some morning to find himself traded.
Said one of Lombardi's players after he retired: "At the time I played for Vince I never realized that most of the things I thought he was doing to me he actually was doing form me. Because I was a veteran, I never felt that I should have to work that hard in practice. But then I noticed that after Lombardi came , somehow our games were always easier.
"The point is, most players, if they aren't watched carefully in practice, have a tendency to cheat on workouts -- you know, take it easy when they should be going all- out. Well, Vince always knew that in some games you would have to reach back for something extra to win, and he was just making sure we could do it."