Cotton Bowl

1983

 

SMU 7

Pitt 3

SMU Fight Song

 

This Classic offered a little bit of everything: a tremendous SMU running game, commonly known as the Pony Express, and headlined by Eric Dickerson, the SWC’s all-time career rusher, and stablemate Craig James. On the other side of the field, first-year coach Foge Fazio was ready to unleash heralded quarterback Dan Marino and a potent pro-style passing attack. These two teams had very little in common, except for the fact both were accustomed to winning. The Mustangs had put together their first undefeated season since 1947, when the great Doak Walker led SMU to a 9-0-2 record. Over the last two seasons, SMU had compiled a 20-1-1 record. Pittsburgh also owned one of the collegiate game’s best records. In four seasons, the Panthers had rolled up 42 victories and just five losses. Together, these two teams combined for a .906 winning percentage. But, this year, only SMU was playing for a national championship. The Ponies were the nation’s only unbeaten team at 10-0-1, yet were ranked at No. 4. Pitt was 9-2-0 and ranked sixth. But, the odds were not in the Panthers’ favor. During the whole season, Pitt had faced the option play only 12 times, and in their pre-bowl preparation, the Panthers spent 90 per cent of their practice time focusing in on the option attack.

The first quarter turned into a free-for-all. Pitt opened the contest driving 71 yards to the SMU one, only to be turned away when Joe McCall dropped the ball at the goal line and SMU safety Wes Hopkins made the recovery at the two. From there, the Mustangs went on a tear, marching all the way to the Panther seven on a drive that consumed nearly nine and a half minutes, 91 yards and 20 plays. Yet, SMU also came up empty when quarterback Lance McIlhenny fumbled on a second down at the Pitt seven.

The Cotton Bowl then witnessed its first scoreless first half since the 1961 Classic, but in the third quarter, Pitt finally cracked the scoreboard on Eric Schubert’s 43-yard field goal. Heading into the final period, SMU trailed 3-0, but was well on its way to victory. McIlhenny took over 80 yards away with 4:34 left in the third. Within three minutes, he would produce the biggest play of the afternoon. Needing 21 yards on second down, McIlhenney retreated to throw, looked downfield and hit Bobby Leach with a 42-yard strike to the Pitt 20. Three plays later, SMU had a first down at the Panther nine. McIlhenny then performed his slight of hand magic, faking up the middle to Dickerson, then faked the pitch to James, and in a fraction of a second, cut back inside and past the grasp of Pitt linebacker Yogi Jones at the four to score standing up (video). McIlhenny’s run pushed SMU to the lead, 7-3, with 13:43 to play.

Still, Pitt was good for two more assaults. Marino moved the Panthers to the SMU seven. On third down, he scrambled to his right, had to hurry his throw and safety Blane Smith picked it off in the end zone. Pitt’s last drive reached the Mustang 37, but Marino could go no further. He simply ran out of bullets.

 

Pitt's impressive opening drive ended in disaster with Joe McCall (34) fumbling at the one yard line.

 

McIlhenny hit Leach with a missile to set up the games only touchdown.

 

Then, took it in himself for the winning score.

 

Marino was under pressure from the SMU defense all day.

 

Dickerson had a tremendous day, rushing for 124 yards.

 

Smith's endzone interception of Marino in the final minutes helped seal the SMU victory.

 

Attendance- 72,000

Scoring Summary

First Quarter
PITT- FG Schubert 43

Fourth Quarter
SMU- McIlhenny 9 run (Harrell kick)

Individual Statistics

Rushing
PITT- Thomas 13-69, McCall 9-16, Dukovich 1-12
SMU- Dickerson 27-124, James 14-54

Passing
PITT- Marino 19-37-181
SMU- McIlhenny 5-8-101

Receiving
PITT- McCall 5-58, Thomas 5-38, Compton 4-42, Williams 2-24, Collins 2-14
SMU- James 3-39, Leach 2-62
 

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