Jan. 2, 1978
DALLAS — And then there were none. Not one unbeaten football team in major college football remained.
Dan Devine’s Fighting Irish of Notre Dame took care of the last one, using an unrelenting defense to force six Texas turnovers and an opportunistic offense which capitalized on five of them to rout the previously unbeaten Longhorns 38-10 in the Cotton Bowl and claim the national championship for themselves.
The victory elevated Notre Dame into the top spot in both the AP and UPI final polls. Meanwhile, Texas – which had held the number-one ranking in both polls coming into the game – slipped to fourth in AP and fifth in UPI.
The Irish were devastating, particularly in the trenches, where the Irish defensive line threw a lasso around Texas Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell. Though Campbell did gain 116 yards on 29 carries, they were all tough yards. His longest run from scrimmage was only 18 late in the second quarter.
The Irish also forced the Longhorns into six turnovers, three fumbles and three interceptions, and took advantage of what Texas gave them with an offensive line performance which was awesome.
Backs Jerome Heavens and Vagas Ferguson gained 102 and 100 yards, respectively, by going where the Longhorns weren’t. Ferguson, who also scored three touchdowns, won the outstanding offensive player honor.
Defensively, the top honor went to Irish middle linebacker Bob Golic, who made 17 tackles and blocked a field-goal attempt by Russell Erxleben.
After the teams had traded field goals in the first quarter – Notre Dame’s Dave Reeve hit a 47-yarder (after a Texas fumble) before Erxleben connected on a 42-yarder into a 12 mph wind – Golic and teammates Mike Calhoun and Doug Becker forced a Ham Jones fumble on a screen pass from Randy McEachern and Jim Browner recovered at the Longhorn 27.
Senior captain Terry Eurick scored on the fifth play after that turnover to give the Irish a 10-3 lead on the first play of the second quarter.
Defensive tackle Ken Dike then got into the act on Texas’ next possession, stripping a scrambling McEachern of the ball, which Willie Fry recovered at the Longhorn 35.
Five plays later, Eurick scampered in from the 10 for a 17-3 lead. An interception by linebacker Becker set up Notre Dame’s third touchdown of the period, a 17-yard pass from Joe Montana to Ferguson.
But the Longhorns threw a scare into the Irish late in the quarter when McEachern directed a 68-yard, six-play drive in just 22 seconds to score. The touchdown came on a 13-yard aerial from McEachern to Mike Lockett after Irish safety Jim Browner had been called for interference on the last play of the first half.
The Irish regained the lost momentum when linebacker Steve Heimkreiter intercepted a McEachern pass midway through the third quarter. Ferguson went the final three yards on the 29-yard drive off left tackle to score, making it 31-10.
The loss ended a storybook season for first-year coach Fred Akers whose Longhorns had won 11 straight games. Notre Dame survived an early loss to Mississippi to finish 11-1 with 10 straight victories.
Most Outstanding Offensive Player
Vagas Ferguson, Running Back
Most Outstanding Defensive Player
Bob Golic, Linebacker