MIAMI — Squinting out across the Orange Bowl field Saturday night, Alabama Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant may have been able to envision what it would be like if he had accepted that offer to coach the Miami Dolphins two years ago.
He could have thought the Baltimore Colts had sneaked into the Orange Bowl a few hours early for their American Football Conference playoff game today against Miami.
But the Nebraska collegians, not the pro Colts, were the parties responsible for the Cornhuskers’ shockingly easy 38-6 triumph. Red lettering on the backs on white jerseys spelling out names like Tagge, Kinney, Rodgers, Glover, Harper and Jacobson said so.
But Nebraska dominated the early going so convincingly that the game ballyhooed as the College Super Bowl was played before a half-empty stadium during much of the fourth quarter.
The outcome assuredly will give the Huskers a sweep of the national championship honors. There can be no claim of “backing in” to the title from the spoilsports who surfaced after Nebraska was awarded its first championship one year ago.
And it was hardly necessary for Nebraska Coach Bob Devaney to suggest how the Pope might vote in the final polls as he did here last year.
Devaney has said that the few hours after a victory are the most satisfying in a coach’s life. But he had to savor every glorious second of the game that obviously should wrap up his first selection as the Coach of the Year by the Football Coaches Association of America, an honor that has eluded him so far.
The trouncing should also finally erase from memory those back-to-back losses to Alabama and the Bear in 1966 and 1967. Another dash of sweetness for Devaney was the victory margin — 32 points, five more than his losing spread in the 34-7 Sugar Bowl loss in 1967, the game regarded as his most frustrating defeat.
The game, played before 78,151 in 70-degree weather, and the elaborate pageantry of the Orange Bowl Classic showed no ill effect from the two-hour downpour that ended just before the game.
The colorful pregame and halftime shows could only be rivaled in flair by Nebraska’s incomparable Johnny Rodgers, whose 77-yard punt return in the opening quarter served notice that the Huskers’ one touchdown favorite odds were not nearly enough.
But it was the nose-bloodying work of the Blackshirt defensive unit that was mainly responsible for keeping the N.U. unbeaten string going up to 32 and winning streak to 23. The Blackshirts held the Crimson Tide, an outfit that scored at a 32.9 points per game pace through 111 unbeaten regular season games, to a single touchdown. Defensive captain Jim Anderson’s gang set up three touchdowns by recovering fumbles, and Anderson personally applied the coup de grace when he intercepted a pass from Alabama third-string quarterback Benny Rippitoe and returned it to the Tide one-yard line to give the offense its shot at the final touchdown 4:45 from the end.
After Nebraska made the most of opportunism and a flawless attack to build a 28-0 halftime lead, there appeared to be little doubt about the outcome.
As Nebraska fans settled back to enjoy the second Orange Bowl win in two years (17-12 over Louisiana State last year), it was to the everlasting credit of a spunky bunch of Alabamans that statistics told a far different story than the final score — and made more apparent the opportunism of the Blackshirts.
The Tide led in first downs, 16-15; rushing plays, 57-47; and yards rushing, 241-183.
But N.U. held a total offense advantage of 342 yards to 288 and passing, 159-147 on 11 completions in 20 attempts.
Another statistic that reveals a great deal is the 136 yards Rodgers gained returning punts to 36 for the Tide.
With Nebraska clinging to a 6-0 lead eight seconds before the end of the first quarter, the Blackshirts forced a punt by Alabama’s Gregg Gantt.
It was not the long, driving type of punt, beyond the defensive cover that is Rodgers’ favorite type. He gambled by picking up a bouncer with enemies in close at his 23.
He darted to his right, shaking loose from the first foe. A key block by Jim Anderson allowed the junior sprinter from Omaha Tech to turn the corner. Another block was supplied by Jerry List, who lost his helmet in the process.
From midfield on in, it was no contest as Rodgers logged his fourth punt return touchdown of the season and sixth of his career. The 77-yarder was three yards short of the Orange Bowl record.
If that play didn’t take the starch out of the Tide, the next play did.
Steve Williams was decked by Randy Borg while returning the kickoff. The ball popped free and into the inviting arms of John Peterson 27 yards from the Tide goal.
Seven plays later, the Huskers were sitting happily on a 21-0 lead. Tagge’s 20-yard pass to Gary Dixon — only the second reception of the year for the Californian — carried to the nine.
Two carries by Dixon netted two yards and Tagge passed to substitute fullback Maury Damkroger, who was jolted out of bounds inches from the end zone.
Tagge’s fourth-down sneak for the touchdown came with 12:43 left in the half. His backward leap over the goal was reminiscent of a similar drive exactly one year ago at the opposite end of the field that earned N.U.’s first national title.
The Huskers did have to move the ball some distance to open scoring in the first-half blitz, during which N.U. earned a 255-96 total offense edge.
It came on N.U.’s second possession, a 53-yard march in five plays after Tide punter Gantt fumbled a high snap and was smeared by Jim Branch and Willie Harper.
Two carries by Jeff Kinney for seven yards and an 11-yard Tagge-to-Rodgers pass moved the ball to the Tide 35.
Then another Husker break.
Tagge went long to split end Woody Cox near the left corner of the end zone. The pass was obviously long, but Nebraska was awarded a first down at the two when Williams was declared guilty of interference.
Kinney earned the honor of opening scoring when he charged over Dick Rupert and Keith Wortman with 2:01 left in the first quarter. It was his 17th touchdown of the year and gave him a career mark of 34, padding his N.U. record.
Rich Sanger, another record-holder (NCAA points after touchdown, 60), provided one of the very few disappointments for the Husker partisans by missing the PAT.
Nebraska got that point back after Rodgers’ dynamic kick return when Tagge passed for the two-point conversion to Damkroger.
Everything went so well for Nebraska in the first half that a Rodgers fumble even contributed to a touchdown.
Tagge passed complete to his favorite target on about a 30-yard gain before Rodgers lost his hold on the ball near Alabama’s 20. The ball bounced toward the goal with Rodgers and Steve Wade in pursuit. Wade won with a recovery at the two.
Two plays later, Rich Glover made one of the biggest of his nine individual tackles, forcing Tide fullback Steve Bisceglia to fumble. Linebacker Bob Terrio set the Husker offense up in business at the four.
It took Dixon two plays to make it from there, going in behind the block of Carl Johnson, making his first start since Nov. 13. The senior tackle missed the Oklahoma and Hawaii games with an injured knee.
Alabama came back in the second half with grit and determination to earn whatever comfort can be found in statistics.
The Tide’s All-American halfback Johnny Musso gained a much-deserved 79 yards on 15 carries, but he, like so many other highly touted backs, toiled in the shadows of the irresistible Kinney. The roughneck from McCook came up just one yard short of the 100-yard categories on 20 carries.
Alabama’s most effective weapon was the option running and draw plays of the quarterbacks, Terry Davis during a third-quarter bid and Butch Hobson after Davis was injured in the fourth quarter.
After Husker cornerback Joe Blahak blunted Alabama’s initial post-intermission treat with an end-zone interception, the Tide rolled 55 yards, with Davis stepping 28 and 10 yards before turning the left side on fourth and three and taking Blackshirts Dave Mason and John Dutton into the end zone with him.
But that was the extent of Alabama’s challenge until the game-ending drive that extended on Nebraska’s eight.
Nebraska added three more points on a 21-yard Sanger field goal on the last play of the third quarter and a final touchdown following Anderson’s interception.
It seems fitting that the last touchdown went to No. 2 quarterback Van Brownson, who shared quarterbacking for two years before yielding finally this year to Tagge.
That sent up a din of “We’re No. 1” that engulfed the Orange Bowl and will be heard for another year around Nebraska.
|Yards per carry||4.2||3.9|
Nebraska is 2-3 all-time against Alabama.
|Texas A&M||Sept. 25|
|Utah State||Oct. 2|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 23|
|Iowa State||Nov. 6|
|Kansas State||Nov. 13|
Nebraska has played 27 games on Jan. 1. See them all »
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