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USC's 'Wild Bunch' Poses Problems For M's Offense

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By Wayne DeNeff

PASADENA, Calif.—Every football fan in Ann Arbor remembers Tody Smith.

They remember him because he was something like a harbinger of doom when he enrolled at Michigan State University in the fall of 1966.

Michigan never did have much success controlling Bubba Smith, Tody’s big brother, when he played defensive line for the Spartans in the mid-1960s. And all of a sudden there was another All-America candidate from Beaumont, Texas, to contend with.

But little went right for Tody at MSU, and discouraged by injuries and personal problems he was soon on his way home, at the time the best solution for both parties.

However, Ann Arbor has not heard the last of Tody Smith, a 6-5, 270-pound lineman who some say will turn into a better pro than his older brother.

Tody today lives in southern California where he plays for USC and is one of the famed five defensive linemen known as the “Wild Bunch.”

The “Wild Bunch” is a rare collection of rough, tough football players who are most responsible for Southern Cal’s unbeaten record. Pacific-8 championship and fourth consecutive appearance in the Rose Bowl—this time against Big Ten co-champ Michigan.

While the USC offense has sputtered from time to time, the defense has been consistently strong, limiting opponents to an average of less than 100 yards rushing per game and only 56 first downs running all season.

Sometimes the defense has simply been overwhelming. In the conference title game, UCLA gained only 31 yards on the ground. Powerful Stanford made just 56.

“Our best game hasn’t been played yet,” says Al Cowlings, 6-5, 245-pounder who is the unofficial ringleader of the “Wild Bunch” and plays the other defensive tackle.

Like Smith, Cowlings arrived at USC in a roundabout way when it seemed his collegiate football career had ended.

Fortunately for Cowlings, he was a teammate of O. J. Simpson at San Francisco City College and when USC Assistant Coach Marv Goux came out to watch O. J., he also saw Cowlings who “happened to have a pretty good game, too.”

Like O. J., Cowlings was a youngster just trying to stay out of trouble in the Potero Hills area of San Francisco before being rescued by football.

Another transfer who is succeeding with the “Wild Bunch” is Charlie Weaver, 6-2, 210-pound end who earned All-America JC honors at Arizona Western.

Three-year lettermen Jimmy Gunn (6-1, 2010), end, and Willard Scott (6-1, 245), middle guard, complete the defensive line and there isn’t a quintet in the nation as big, mobile and fast unless it plays for a professional team.

It’s surprising the confidence they have and the praise heaped on them by their coach and others.

“I don’t mean to sound conceited, but I don’t believe there isn’t a better defensive line in college football today,” says Smith.

“With our defense I was never worried before a game, because I knew they would at least keep the game close and we would have a chance to win,” says USC Coach John McKay.

“They have ability, a great deal of courage and are emotionally dedicated,” says Goux. Their name was taken from a movie made by Warner Brothers and it was Goux who inspired Cowlings to come up with the nickname on the first day of practice.

Says Cowlings:

“Coach Goux looked at us five guys up front and said we resembled wild gorillas. I said, ‘that’s us coach, the Wild Bunch’.”

Michigan’s “option offense,” run by quarterback Don Moorhead undoubtedly will give the “Wild Bunch” some problems it didn’t encounter in games against Stanford’s Jim Plunkett and UCLA’s Dennis Deummit but if McKay’s game plan turns Smith, Cowlings, Weaver, Gunn and Scott loose on Moorhead it could be a difficult day for the Wolverine junior.

“Michigan has a great quarterback,” McKay said in one of his first interviews after the Michigan team arrived here. “In fact, we’ve got to eliminate him from the football game.”

Moorhead is aware the Trojans might turn all their guns on him.

“Their front five,” says Moorhead, “is big and quick and agile. They play a lot with their hands, and step around blocks, like a pro group would do. They’ll definitely pose a problem for us because they have such great personnel up front.”

Seniors Cowlings and Gunn are All-Americas and it could be just a year away for Weaver and Smith, who now have excellent reputations and will be closely watched next season.

McKay concedes his team won’t be in the New Year’s Day game if it gets to be a free-scoring affair, and Michigan’s big challenge is to crack the “Wild Bunch” or go around and over it.