MIAMI, Fla.—Slick, swift Alabama, snapping at the bait of a possible national football championship, Saturday night whipped Nebraska in the air and on the ground, 39 to 28, before an Orange Bowl crowd of 72,214.
In wake of losses by 1-2 rated Michigan State and Arkansas, the conquest of the previously-undefeated Cornhuskers appeared likely to vault Alabama to the top.
Records toppled in gross lots as the winner’s Steve Sloan completed 20 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns.
The slender senior from Cleveland, Tenn., a leader in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, won outstanding player honors by a landslide.
Obscured by Alabama’s start-to-finish superiority was Husker Bob Churchich’s Orange Bowl record-matching feat of three touchdown passes.
The junior quarterback from Omaha, who completed 12 of 17 tosses for 232 yards, shares the mark with ex-Georgia star Frankie Sinkwich and Jim Still, who played for Georgia Tech.
To be swept out with the New Year’s confetti and crumped horns is any idea that Coach Bear Bryant was talking Southern syrup when he declared, “We’re about as good as anybody.”
Alabama jumped to a 7-to-0 lead in the opening period, rebounded with alacrity when Nebraska evened the score in the second quarter.
The Southeastern champs took a 24-to-7 advantage to the locker room at intermission.
Nebraska scored in the early minutes of the second half, but it has been observed that Alabama never learned to retreat gracefully. So true.
Alabama nullified that N.U. effort with an immediate comeback surge of 69 yards in which Sloan deigned not to throw the ball once.
That produced the Tide’s fattest margin of the evening, 19 points at 23 to 13.
Not since its 61-to-6 slaughter of Syracuse here in 1953 had Alabama registered as many points in a bowl game as it scored at Nebraska expense on this humid, 72-degree evening.
Most surprising was Alabama’s ability to outyard Nebraska on the ground. The Huskers led the nation with a 290-yard rushing average during the regular season but were on the short end of a 222-to-145 comparison in this face-off.
Fullback Steve Bowman plunged for a pair of touchdowns. Leslie Kelley added one while gathering 118 yards. Kelley had netted only 282 during the entire regular season.
“I feel very proud and very happy,” Coach Bryant later drawled.
“Those little ole skinny things have big hearts. We had never been in a game like this.”
But he added: “I knew we could move the ball against anybody.”
With blockers tearing open sizable gaps in the heavily outweighed Alabama defensive line, Nebraska started with a roar on the ground.
At the finish, however, Ron Kirkland was the only impressive gainer—and he carried only seven times to collect his 67 net.
The N.U. runner-up was Frank Solich with 27 yards in four carries.
The valiant little hoofer suffered re-injury of a knee in the second half and faces surgery on return to Lincoln.
In a start reminiscent to its faltering beginning against Oklahoma, Nebraska was offside on its second play following the opening kick-off and fumbled away the ball on its fourth.
After Tom Somerville recovered Harry Wilson’s bobble on the Tide 39, Sloan drove his Dixieland band to a touchdown in eight calls.
It came up fourth and one on the Nebraska 23, but Sloan ran for two at the middle, then flipped to End Ray Perkins, who eluded two defenders while making it a 21-yard touchdown shot.
That was the first aerial score against the Huskers in 10 games—but it also marked the fourth time in five games Nebraska had fallen behind.
As a footnote to the touchdown, it should be observed that Sloan gave the thrust early impetus with a pair of pass completions to 5-11 Jerry Duncan on tackle-eligible tricks.
Nebraska was at its muscular best as it fought back. Kirkland pounded for 27 and for nine yards in the early going.
Nebraska reached the Alabama 13 without calling on Kirkland again, but it was fourth down and two yards to go at that yard stripe as six minutes and 40 seconds remained in the first quarter.
Nebraska voted for a field-goal attempt. With the ball on the 29, Larry Wachholtz’s kick sailed off-course to the left.
Alabama then pushed to the Nebraska three but also failed on a field-goal attempt bid by David Ray.
Two incomplete passes thwarted Nebraska’s subsequent effort to roll.
On next possession, Churchich replaced Fred Duda at quarterback. On the first play, Bob tossed to End Tony Jeter, who took the ball near the 16 and stretched the play into a 33-yard touchdown.
When Wachholtz’s conversion squared the score at 7-al, there were 12:15 to play in the second quarter.
After that, Sloan stuck so many pins in the Nebraska secondary an eager fan could have read the Orange Bowl program through the holes.
Alabama, in rounding out the half, hustled 89 yards after the kick-off, survived a third-and-16 predicament on a Sloan-Perkins aerial for 39 and sent Kelley through the right side from the four to score. Ray converted; score, 14 to 7.
The Tide then rampaged 93 yards with the aid of interference against Nebraska on an incomplete end zone pass.
With the ball on the N.U. 11, Sloan scrambled to his right, then passed to the lonely Perkins, who made an easy catch across the goal line. Ray again converted; score, 21 to 7.
Questionable consolation: Just before the half, Wachholtz marked up the first interception in 117 passes by Sloan.
More to the point: Sloan already has pitched for 258 yards: Perkins had broken the Orange Bowl record for receptions with nine.
With Churchich continuing at quarterback, Nebraska bolted 67 yards to narrow the tally to 24 to 13 early in the second half.
After Ben Gregory dashed for five, Churchich tagged Freeman White and Solich on consecutive plays to put the ball on the ‘Bama 49.
Then he tossed to rookie Gregory, who clutched the ball on the 22 and raced in for the touchdown.
Wayne Weber, in an apparent improvision, had trouble with the center snap and then attempted to pass for two points, but Ray broke it up.
And here came the Southeastern kings again, this time covering 69 yards. Fullback Steve Bowman capped the all-rush attack with a plunge from the one, going over in the arms of two tacklers.
Although leading by 30 to 13, the saucy Sloan tossed to Perkins, again alone in the end zone, for two bonus points.
Solich typified still-throbbing Husker determination as he returned the following kick-off 66 yards to the Tide 27.
Gregory typified Husker futility when he made seven yards on first down but lost the ball on a fumble to Tim Bates.
On Nebraska’s next opportunity, starting at the Alabama 45, Churchich passed to Charlie Winters for 20 yards, then to White for 16.
In his only carry of the game, the burly White — Nebraska’s season touchdown champ — bit off another four.
A Churchich-White pass was derailed, but interference gave Nebraska the ball on the one.
After a foot short at the middle, Churchich wedged across the first play of the fourth quarter.
Alabama once more hitched up its britches, scurried 55 yards to show it was still boss. Bowman shoved his way across from the three.
Those salty Huskers retaliated with a 59-yard menace to the Tide 24, but All-American Paul Crane stole a Churchich pass intended for Winters.
With 6:04 to go, there was faint hope for the Big Eight champs.
Forcing an Alabama punt, Nebraska took over on the enemy 48 and scored in five plays. Jeter made a great catch of a Churchich toss on the nine.
After illegal procedure bumped N.U. back to the 14, Churchich again threw to Jeter, who made the catch at the goal line and fell in four yards deep as he was hit.
Churchich passed to Gregory for two points that made the final margin something less than abject embarrassment.
|Yards per carry||3.9||6.0|
Nebraska is 2-3 all-time against Alabama.
|Air Force||Sept. 25|
|Iowa State||Oct. 2|
|Kansas State||Oct. 16|
|Oklahoma State||Nov. 13|
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