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Oklahoma 17 – USC 12

September 28, 1963 ▪ at Los Angeles ▪ Attendance 52,245

Oklahoma traveled to Los Angeles for their first-ever meeting against Southern California. It would be the first time that the Sooners had played a top-ranked team in ten years, as the Trojans were the defending national champions.

John McKay moved to USC as an assistant in 1959 and became head coach when Don Clark retired a year later. McKay finished with a losing record in each of his first two seasons, 4-6 and 4-5-1, and then came his third year. He coached the Trojans to an unbeaten regular season in '62 and in the Rose Bowl, top-ranked USC beat #2 Wisconsin, 42-37, to win the national championship, the school's first in 30 years. Now, after opening the '63 season with a 14-0 win over Colorado, the Trojans came in riding a 12-game winning streak.

USC was loaded with talent. Directing the offense was senior quarterback Pete Beathard, who had thrown for four touchdowns in the Rose Bowl win. His primary weapon was senior all-American tight end Hal Bedsole, who had caught 33 passes for 827 yards and 11 touchdowns in '62, all school records. They also had senior all-American guard and linebacker Damon Bane, senior tackle Gary Kirner and junior guard Bill Fisk leading the way for the halfbacks, senior Willie Brown and sophomore Mike Garrett, playing his first varsity ball and out of Los Angeles' Roosevelt High School.

In his 17th season at the helm in Oklahoma, legendary head coach Bud Wilkinson had molded a gang of farmhands into the most feared college team in the nation. Under his guidance, the Sooners had posted a 138-27-4 record, an incredible .828 winning percentage, and had even gone 94-4-2 during an amazing 100-game stretch. Included were winning streaks of 31 games and an NCAA-record 47 games from '53-'57. In addition, Oklahoma had claimed three national championships under Wilkinson, coming in '50, '55 and '56, and had claimed the conference title in each of his first 13 seasons. He had even been appointed as President John F. Kennedy's special consultant on youth fitness in '61. Oklahoma claimed their 14th conference title following a return to the top in '62 after a two-year absence, but had lost to Alabama in the Orange Bowl, 17-0.

To open the '63 season, the Sooners began the season ranked fourth, but after they had beaten Clemson, 31-14, combined with #2 Mississippi's 0-0 tied with Memphis, Oklahoma entered the USC game ranked third in the nation. Leading the offense was junior fullback Jim Grisham, who had rushed for 107 yards in the Orange Bowl, and senior halfback Joe Don Looney, who had led the team with 852 yards rushing in '62, scored nine touchdowns, also doubled with punting duties, and had been named to some all-American teams. Up front clearing the holes were junior tackle Ralph Neely and junior guard Newt Burton, and end John Flynn was the primary aerial target for junior quarterback Bobby Page, in his first year as a starter running Oklahoma's Split-T offense.

A crowd of only 39,345 braved the 105-degree heat and came out to Memorial Coliseum to watch, but many more tuned their sets for the nationally televised game that was also on locally. Page was at the helm, but his fumble in Oklahoma territory stymied the visitors' first drive. One play later though, the Trojans' Loran Hunt fumbled and turned the ball right back over, as the Sooners recovered at their 35.

Page was yanked by Wilkinson and replaced by sophomore Mike Ringer. Using Looney, Larry Shields and Lance Rentzel as his runners, and Grisham as a blocker deluxe and decoy, the young signal-caller directed the versatile offense down the field. Shields picked up 12 yards in a pair of runs, Rentzel had 17 yards on three carries, and after a double reverse, Looney went off tackle for 19 yards and pay dirt. George Jarman kicked the extra point that made it 7-0 at the 10:44 mark of the opening period.

After Brown returned the ensuing kickoff 30 yards to the USC 33, the Trojans then went to work behind Beathard. He guided the team down the field, highlighted by Garrett's 21-yard burst over the guard. Beathard then rolled out for 11 yards, coming up just short as the ball was at the Oklahoma one, but an unsportsmanlike penalty gave the Trojans another half-yard. From there, fullback Ernie Pye dove over the goal line, but the failed kick left the Sooners with a one point lead, 7-6.

In the second period, Ringer's four-yard run capped a ten-play drive, and Jarman's kick made it 14-6 in favor of the visitors. The Oklahoma offense kept on rolling, adding 30 more yards, but the USC defense finally stiffened, and Jarman kicked a 43-yard field goal, the longest of his career, to put the Sooners up, 17-6. That was the way the first half ended.

The crowd sat in almost disbelief as the Sooners had dominated the first 30 minutes. They had rung up seven first downs before the Trojans had even got one. They had run and passed the Troy defense into the ground, and even came up with tricky double reverse runs and passes to bamboozle USC.

In the second half, a temper outburst flared when Oklahoma's Jackie Cowan returned a punt 37 yards and was vigorously knocked out of bounds by Bedsole. Cowan got up and objected to the delivery by throwing the ball at Bedsole, hitting him in the back. Unfortunately, the display cost the Sooners a 15-yard penalty.

The incident seemed to fire up the Trojans, and a drive started at their own six. They moved down the field in nine plays, which featured Beathard to Brown passes ten and 11 yards, and Garrett's darting runs of 15 and 17 yards. From the one, Brown capped the 94-yard march on the tenth play by taking a pitchout and sweeping around the left end for a touchdown. USC went for two points, but Beathard's pass attempt failed, and the Sooners still led by five, 17-12.

But time ran out on the Men of Troy as the alert Oklahoma secondary, notably Virgil Boll, Charlie Mayhue, and Cowan, bottled up Beathard and his pet receiver, Bedsole. Oklahoma had been hotter than the weather, as Wilkinson's team had held on gamely to emerge with a 17-12 victory.

It had been feared that the players would bog down in the extreme heat, but it was not the Sooners who needed extra water and salt tablets. They rang up 27 first downs to USC's 16, and they accumulated 307 rushing yards and 360 total yards to the Trojans' 121 on the ground and 237. Looney led the attack with 62 yards on 12 carries, and also had a 52-yard kickoff return, and was selected as the back of the game by the writers. USC's Bame was chosen as the outstanding lineman.

Oklahoma's victory propelled them over Alabama and into #1 in the AP poll for the first time in almost exactly five years, since September 29, 1958. The Sooners had two weeks before their annual rivalry game with Texas, who had moved up to third in the poll behind the Crimson Tide. Meanwhile, USC fell to #8.

Source: Jeff Linkowski