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Game of the Year of the Day, 1968: Texas 39, Arkansas 29

Darrell K Royal’s 1968 Longhorns: one of the 50 best* of all time.

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The date: October 19, 1968

The matchup: No. 9 Arkansas Razorbacks (4-0) at No. 17 Texas Longhorns (2-1-1)

The stakes: Arkansas must win to hold steady in the national title race, and the winner becomes the de facto SWC favorite. Plus, Darrell K Royal gets to test out his new offense against a big-time defense.

The back story: Desperate for an offensive jolt, Royal had made the strange decision of moving linebackers coach Emory Bellard to offensive coordinator. Somehow, it worked. From 50 Best*:

Texas had a wealth of backfield talent, and Bellard’s task was to figure out how to most effectively take advantage of it.

The first step was instituting the triple option, which was in use not only by Yeoman, but also by Texas A&M under head coach Gene Stallings. That made multiple backs and the quarterback a run threat at all times. The second step was adding another back to the backfield.

Bellard essentially started with an old-fashioned Split-T formation, with two halfbacks and a fullback behind the QB. He asked the fullback to line up ahead of the other backs so that, in the triple option, the fullback could either fulfill the dive role or get into his blocking responsibilities as quickly as possible.

Thus, the modern wishbone was born. Texas had fought No. 11 Houston to a 20-20 tie in the season opener, but Royal had to bench quarterback and former star recruit Bill Bradley during a 31-22 loss to Texas Tech in Week 2. The Longhorns wouldn’t lose again until January 1971. James Street took over and proved perfect at operating the triple option.

After a comeback win over Oklahoma, Texas played host to Frank Broyles and Arkansas. The Hogs didn’t know what was about to hit them.

The game: From the AP report:

AUSTIN (AP) -- Texas' awesome running attack crushed Arkansas 39-29, Saturday night in Southwest Conference play, knocking the ninth ranked Razorbacks from the unbeaten list.

It was the worst Texas has beaten Arkansas since 1961.

The victory by the Longhorns, No. 17 in the Associated Press poll, also shoved the Razorbacks out of the Southwest Conference lead. [...]

The Longhorns dominated the game so completely that it was 39-15 when Texas coach Darrell Royal pulled his first string backfield early in the fourth quarter. Bill Burnett scored Arkansas' last two touchdowns on short runs to make the score a little closer. [...]

Texas erupted behind the running of Chris Gilbert, Steve Worster and Ted Koy and one long touchdown pass from Quarterback James Street to Charles Speyrer a minute before halftime.

The box score: An approximate box score can be found at Texas’ official website because its archives are amazing.

This was the start of a massive Texas run. The Horns won their final five SWC games by an average of 25 points, including a 38-7 romp over No. 13 SMU. They then trounced No. 8 Tennessee so badly in the Cotton Bowl that Tennessee assistant Ken Hatfield adopted the formation when he became Air Force offensive coordinator in the 1970s.

Texas would go unbeaten in 1969 as well, romping through the regular season before surviving No. 2 Arkansas in a classic in Fayetteville. They went unbeaten in the 1970 regular season, too, but lost to Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl.

The wishbone changed college football. Oklahoma and Alabama were among the adopters in the coming years, and it was still relevant enough to win Oklahoma a national title in 1985, 17 years after creation. That's a hell of a life cycle.