The 1977 squad, like virtually every other UTA team, had talent on the program. UTA had 30 NFL draft picks during its time in the Southland Conference football era. Arkansas State is the only school with more at 31. In all, 42 made it to NFL rosters. The talent didn't result in much more than 5-6 seasons though, but the reasons are for another post (or have even been discussed in past posts), but the point is there were real talented players, including on this team.
The headliner is Derrick Jensen. Maverick faithful from back in the day immediately know who Jensen is. He was one heck of a fullback, gaining 3,346 yards from 1974 to 1977. In 1976 and 1977, he was named to the All-American team as a third-team selection, UTA's first and only player to make an All-American team at the highest level. 15 others have been named as honorable mentions, but only Jensen landed on one of the three teams. Six players were named to an All-American team at the College Division.
Jensen also ranks first on UTA's all-time record for carries (676), fourth for touchdowns (16) as well as yards per carry (4.9). He was a capable receiver as well, catching 18 passes for 165 yards and 1 TD (I don't have complete stats for the 1976 season when he was a sophomore and the receiving numbers are without his sophomore year). Number 31 is top on UTA's list for 100-yard rushing games with 17.
When he retired, Jensen led the Southland Conference in career and single-season rushing yards. On top of it, he earned the conference's highest honor by getting the SLC's offensive player of the year honor in 1976 and '77.
Jensen was drafted by the Oakland Raiders with in the third round of the 1978 NFL draft, 57th pick overall. He tied Dexter Bussey (another Maverick RB great) for highest round pick by any UTA player and was the highest overall pick until Gary Lewis' second round pick in 1981. He played for the Raiders for eight seasons and played in - and won - Super Bowls XV and XVIII.
Roy Dewalt, a sophomore quarterback in 1977, started at UTA as a walk-on in 1975, sat out the 1976 year, but became a starter this year. He played his way to a second-team all-SLC selection, but would do what Derrick Jensen did and be named the conference's player of the year two-consecutive years, starting in 1978.
Despite Jensen's effort, as well as UTA leading the conference in total rushing, Dewey Wakefield was the only offensive lineman to be named to either all-SLC team. As an aside, three other teams had multiple OL's. Andy Anding and Bill Harris contributed to this team, but were recognized by the SLC in later years.
Also drafted that year was Dwight Carey, who would end the 1977 season with a 1st-team all-SLC selection. Later, the Kansas City Chiefs would take him in the fifth round. He led the '77 Mavs with seven sacks and was second with 94 tackles.
Joining him on the defensive side was Willie Thomas, a sophomore linebacker in '77. He was a first-team all-SLC in 1976, '77 and '79. He would join the UTA coaching staff in 1980 with his former coach, Harold "Bud" Elliott. When Elliott's contract was not renewed, Thomas was not retained on the staff.
Rob Michelson, another linebacker, led the squad in tackles (104) and was second in sacks (5). Defensive tackle David Flake was named to the second-team all-SLC, as well as safety Bill Bradshaw.
After the coaches picked UTA to finish second-to last for the 1977 season, UTA surprised everyone with a 3-2, third place finish. Ironically, had they won today's game, they would have been Southland Conference champions with a berth in the Independence Bowl. Of course that assumes everything else transpired the same.
Today's opponent was Louisiana Tech, a team UTA faced three times prior to La Tech joining the SLC in 1971. All told, the Mavericks and Bulldogs faced each other 18 times, tied for 5th most games UTA played against any opponent.
Unfortunately, UTA came up on the losing end more often than not, winning only five of those 18 games. Louisiana Tech was the class of the conference during UTA's tenure. Since Tech joined in 1971, they won the first four titles and eight overall in 15 years. They were also the last team UTA played at home, a 29-14 setback in 1985. That loss was the second year in a row La Tech eliminated the Mavs from the SLC title race. I often wonder what UTA's football fortunes would have been had La Tech not been admitted to the conference.
At any rate, on this day in UTA football history, UTA travels to Ruston, Louisiana to face the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs.
La. Tech blasts UTA
Thibodeaux leads Bulldogs to 34-12 victory
By RANDY CUMMINGS
Special to the News
Ruston, La. - UT-Arlington's Derrick Jensen did all he could yo keep the Mavericks alive in the Southland Conference race here Saturday. Unfortunately, Louisiana Tech's Keith Thibodeaux did all he could and more to keep his Bulldogs alive in the SLC race too.
Both performers were record-setters for their respective teams, and it was the arm of the Bulldog quarterback that eventually won the battle of the heroics, as Tech cruised to a dominating 34-12 homecoming victory over the Mavericks. The SLC decision set Tech atop the league with a 3-0-1 mark while the Mavs slipped to a non-contending 1-2 record.
UTA's 235-pound fullback cracked the conference career rushing mark on the second play of the game and eventually finished the game with 176 yards in 29 carries. His 3,106 career yards also erased a UTA school-mark - that of being the first Mav back to break the 3000-yard barrier.
But all that really didn't matter.
What did count was the fact that Thibodeaux sliced the UTA secondary for 33 passes, completing 16 of them and accounting for 328 yards in the air. Ironically, only one of his throws went for a touchdown, that a 36-yarder to Rod Foppe on Tech's second possession of the afternoon.
Throwing from behind a water-tight offensive line, Thibodeaux's passes cut through the Maverick defensive backfield to set up a touchdown in the second period as well, along with two more in the third period. Tech kicker Keith Swilley also booted field goals in the second and final quarters to up the scoreboard count.
TECH DROVE 65 yards in six plays on its second series before getting on the scoreboard with the pass to Foppe, who caught it at the back of the end zone with UTA's Bill Bradshaw all over him. Officials ruled the pass complete and the Bulldogs took the 7-0 lead.
On their first series of the second quarter, the hosts upped their lead to 14-0 when the nation's No. 5 rusher, John Henry White, scampered in from four yards away. The play capped a grueling 80-yard march by Tech.
The running of Jensen and quarterback Roy Dewalt got the Mavs right back in the game on their next series, however. UTA worked its way downfield 80 yards on its next possession and scored when running back Jimmy Bailey busted over from five yards out.
That was to be most of UTA's scoring potential against Tech's nationally-rated defense. Kicker Tom Skoruppa managed a 47-yard field goal early in the third period and cornerback Guy Davis blocked a LT punt out of the end zone to tack on two more points for UTA's final score.
LOUISIANA TECH reached the end zone on its final two series of the third period and tacked on a 28-yard field goal by Swilley in the final quarter just for good measure.
Tech showed the Mavericks two surprises. First and most important was the throwing of Thibodeaux, who has only been averaging 173 yards passing per game. The second was the not-so-strong defense.
Although rated first in the country in total defense and that against the run, UTA was able to break down both areas. The Mavs gained 275 yards rushing - Tech was averaging giving up just 62 - and they worked up 313 total offensive yards - more than 100 yards more than Tech's defense was averaging yielding.
First downs 17 22
Rushing yds 275 110
Passing yds 38 328
Passes 3-11-1 16-33-1
Punts 7-43.3 5-29.0
Fumbles lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties 7-47 6-47
UTA.........0 7 3 2 - 12
La. Tech...7 10 14 3-34
Tech-Foppe 36 pass from Thibodeaux (Swilley kick).
Tech-White 4 run (Swilley kick).
UTA-Bailey 5 run (Skoruppa kick)
Tech-FG Swilley 47.
UTA-FG Skorrupa 47.
Tech-White 8 run (Swilley kick).
Tech-Thibodeaux 2 run (Swilley kick).
UTA-Davis blocked punt out of end zone for safety.
Tech-FG Swilley 28.