MIAMI — Trickery played a major part in Nebraska's stunning 40-6 victory over Notre Dame in the 39th Orange Bowl football game Monday night, but the Cornhuskers never got to pull off one trick they had planned because Notre Dame didn't cooperate.
Nebraska caught the Fighting Irish off guard by opening with Heisman Trophy-winning flanker Johnny Rodgers at I-back. Rodgers responded with three touchdowns rushing, one on a pass reception, and another on the throwing end of a 52-yard pass play.
But a kickoff return play that had received considerable attention during secret workouts for the first Nebraska-Notre Dame game since 1948 didn't come off because Notre Dame scored just one touchdown and kicked off only twice, both times too short for Nebraska to try to get Rodgers involved in a sixth touchdown.
Husker coaches figured the Irish would kick the ball away from Rodgers, booting instead toward Ritch Bahe.
"Ritch was supposed to take off toward the middle, drawing the defense toward him," said Rodgers. "And I would kind of hang back off toward the sideline. When they came toward him, Ritch would throw a pass (lateral) to me and I would have a clear field."
"We didn't want to try it on the first kickoff, but we figured we would have a chance to do it later on," said Bahe.
The first Notre Dame kickoff was a bouncer that Rodgers fielded on the opening play at his 13 and returned to the 24. The second came after Notre Dame's touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
Bahe fielded the low kick at the 10 and broke up the middle to the 31 without a chance to pull the trick play because Rodgers had retired for the day.
But the Huskers had worked every other surprise to perfection, including a play called the "Nebraska special" in which Rodgers passed for a touchdown while giving Coach Bob Devaney a gratifying retirement present.
The switch of Rodgers and the other flankers to the I-back position — and the I-back to flanker — on some plays was the biggest surprise the Huskers had planned for the South Bend, Ind., lads in secret practices.
Rodgers opened in the deep back spot in the power-I formation and raced 13 yards off the left side on the game's first play. That set the tone for a night of razzle-dazzle like the Huskers had not put forth all season.
At times, it looked like a sandlot games in which Husker quarterback Dave Humm was drawing plays in the first, and his team was the big kids playing against their little brothers.
The flamboyant Husker attack reached its zenith when Rodgers passed 52 yards to Frosty Anderson for a touchdown that upped the count to 20-0 in the second quarter. Nebraska made it 40-0 at the end of three quarters before turning the game over to the substitutes.
Nebraska owned the Orange Bowl this night. It was the Huskers' third straight trip to Miami, and they played as if the new Poly-Turf here was their home field, although Notre Dame was officially the home team.
But Nebraska may not be asked back for a fourth visit because it turned the city's showpiece event into a laugher for a second straight year, and the crowd that started at 80,010 had dwindled to a third that much at game's end.
With Rodgers setting an Orange Bowl record of 24 points, the Huskers' 34-point victory spread represented the second worst Orange Bowl mismatch. Only Alabama's 61-6 rout of Syracuse in 1953 was more one-sided. Rodgers' sterling performance displaced the previous record of 19 points by Crimson Tide star Bobby Luna in that same game.
Devaney's sweet goodbye was a bitter lesson for Notre Dame's energetic Coach Ara Paraseghian, who lost two straight games (including the regular-season finale to Southern California) for the first time in nine seasons.
Notre Dame had not absorbed such a whipping since losing to Army by 48-0 in 1945. The Irish escaped further embarrassment — and the Huskers escaped certain derision — when substitute quarterback Steve Runty failed to add another touchdown from the Irish seven-yard line on the final play after calling time out with 14 seconds left.
Enough damage had already been done to the pride of the proud Irish, who had carried their crusade against Nebraska for the first time since 1948.
Nebraska's explosion of 560 yards in total offense was the most ever heaped on a Notre Dame defense. The previous record was 521 by Michigan State in 1956. The 30 Husker first downs also earned an Orange Bowl record.
Rodgers accounted for 204 of those yards with these feats:
— 15 carries, the most of his career, for 81 yards and touchdowns of 8, 3 and 5 yards.
— Three receptions for 71 yards, including a touchdown play of 50 yards.
— One pass for 52 yards and the touchdown to Anderson, the first such touchdown toss of Johnny's illustrious career.
Rodgers had an abundance of help on a night when little went wrong for the Huskers.
The running game, often criticized in a 9-2-1 season, was worth a sparkling 300 yards, with Rodgers followed by Gary Dixon, 69 yards on nine carries, including a 36-yard scamper, and one touchdown; Dave Goeller, who started in the unfamiliar flanker spot, with 43 yards on 11 carries, and Ritch Bahe, heir apparent to Rodgers, with 77 yards on six carries, and a standout job of returning kicks.
Passing complemented the strong rushing attack with 260 yards, with Humm far outshining his Irish sophomore counterpart Tom Clements in a 13x19 night for 185 yards and the 50-yard score to Rodgers.
In Clements' defense, however, it should be noted that he had to work against Nebraska's intimidating Blackshirts and strong pass rush.
Notre Dame was held to a total offense of 207 yards. Clements, who has expected to pose a scrambling-passing threat, completed only nine of 22 passes for 103 yards, suffered three interceptions and averaged minus 3.7 yards on six carries.
Notre Dame earned a consolation touchdown early in the fourth quarter by driving 78 yards on 15 plays. Clements finally shook loose for 11 yards and leading rusher Eric Penick, who did not start because of illness, and sub John Cieszkowski punched out yardage until Clements rolled out and passed for a five-yard score to split end Pete Demmerle.
Nebraska had long since established its supremacy, traveling 76 yards on 11 plays after the opening kickoff.
Rodgers opened it with his 13-yard burst, added another run of 10 yards, received Goeller's support on runs of 13, 6 and 3 before Rodgers earned the final eight yards on an I-back sweep to the left. He used blocks by Bill Olds and Mike Beran to advantage and muscled his way into end zone with Tim Rudnick and Reggie Barnett hanging on.
Nebraska received a scare on Notre Dame's first series when Clements passed twice to Darryll Dewan, going in motion. The play worked for 12 and 29 yards before the Husker secondary, which played most of the game without cornerback Joe Blahak, solved that problem.
Blahak was knocked senseless when he fell hard while intercepting a Clements' pass at the Nebraska 18 in the first quarter.
Dixon was the key player in Nebraska's second touchdown drive. It came at a crucial time since Nebraska had been stopped on two successive series and Notre Dame had challenged with an errant 32-yard field goal attempt by Bob Thomas.
Dixon found a huge hole in the middle, turned in some fancy running in the secondary and hoofed 36 yards to the Notre Dame 27. From there, Goeller picked up eight yards, Humm passed 19 yards to Bob Revelle and Dixon scored the last touchdown of his collegiate career from the one.
If the Irish weren't frustrated at that point, they surely were by what came next.
Nebraska took over on a punt at its 48-yard line. Rodgers flanked out to Humm's left. Humm stepped away from center, fired quickly to Rodgers in the left flat. Johnny con-yards founded Notre Dame and surprised a national television audience by lobbing a perfect spiral to sub split end Anderson, who had no opposition while taking the pass in stride and cruising to the end zone on the 52-yard play.
The first of three touchdowns in the third quarter came about after Steve Manstedt and Willie Harper dropped Clements for a 13-yard loss to his seven, forcing a punt.
Nebraska took the punt at the Notre Dame 42 and scored in six plays. Humm started it by passing 14 yards to Revelle and Rodgers ended it with a three-yard burst. A Humm-to-Goeller two-point conversion pass came up short after Rich Sanger also missed a 32-yard field goal attempt just before the half.
The Huskers took just eight plays to travel 80 yards to the 33-0 touchdown after Bob Thornton intercepted in the N.U. end zone.
Humm passed 12 yards to Rodgers and 29 to Revelle for the big plays before Rodgers went the final five up the middle.
Rodgers closed out his career in sensational fashion. He took a screen pass from midfield, followed Al Austin's block to get by the first defender, then did the rest on his own, outlegging four defenders and eliminating the last man by cutting back so sharply that Barnett fell on his back.
The game was over by then, but Nebraska fans had to wait through the final quarter before they could rush onto the field and carry Devaney from the field for the last time.
|Yards per carry||2.4||4.7|
Nebraska is 8-7 all-time against Notre Dame.
|Texas A&M||Sept. 16|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 28|
|Iowa State||Nov. 11|
|Kansas State||Nov. 18|
|Notre Dame||Jan. 1|
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