MIAMI — The door was open just enough that Nebraska could have possibly slipped inside.
It was ajar just enough to cause Clemson more than casual concern that the grasp it seemed to have on its first national championship was slipping away.
“We were trying to make it close,” said Clemson Coach Danny Ford. “We couldn’t hardly stand it.”
But in the end Clemson quarterback Homer Jordan slipped away one final time, and the Tigers staked a convincing claim to its first national title with a 22-15 victory over the Cornhuskers in the Orange Bowl.
“Naturally, we’re very proud of our players, not only for the game tonight but for the entire season,” said Ford. “After this year, I don’t think they will refer to us as a basketball conference.”
The top-ranked Tigers are in the Atlantic Coast Conference that is known most for the caliber of basketball it plays.
Nebraska was plagued by penalties and mistakes through a trying first half, but managed to put together one final drive in the fourth quarter that kept the outcome in doubt until the end.
For the most part the suspense seemed to be gone as the Huskers ended the third quarter trailing 22-7.
But Nebraska livened things up for the 72,748 fans by marching 69 yards in eight plays for Roger Craig’s 26-yard touchdown run and then added to the suspense by converting the two-point conversion.
The Huskers were penalized for delay of game after the touchdown, but Craig managed to make it the 8 yards needed for the extra point. His runs, the touchdown and conversion, made it 22-15 with 9:15 left in the game.
That meant Nebraska was within range of victory and a possible duplication of the 1970 Huskers, who won the national championship here when Texas and Ohio State fell in bowl games earlier in the day.
The Huskers needed to score once more and add another two-point conversion.
They got two chances but neither were much of a threat.
With 7:49 remaining Nebraska got the ball at its own 37. Mike Rozier gained 13 yards on the first carry but it was nullified by a clip. The penalty problem was nothing new.
The Huskers were penalized six times for 54 yards in the first half. The penalties were a major reason that the Tigers kept Nebraska pinned in a hole much of the first 30 minutes. Another reason was the Tiger defense.
It was as good as advertised.
“We thought they would play great defensive football and they did,” said Coach Tom Osborne. “They are the best defense we’ve faced.”
After the penalty on Rozier’s run, the Tigers held and forced a Husker punt. Grant Campbell kicked it 60 yards into the end zone and Clemson started the most important possession it has ever had that didn’t produce a touchdown.
Clemson got the ball with 5:24 remaining. The Tigers kept it until six seconds remained.
Nebraska got it back at its own 46 and a prayer pass by Mark Mauer was broken up on the final play of Clemson’s first national championship season.
Jordan, voted the game’s outstanding offensive player, prevented Nebraska from getting the ball it so desperately needed with time running out. He did it with a 23-yard run when the Tigers faced third-and-four on their 37.
He did it by slipping out of the hands of Nebraska linebacker Steve Damkroger at the 40 and continuing on his way to the Husker 40.
The play was one of the most frustrating of the game for Nebraskans because everyone knew that the Cornhuskers had gotten the outside help they needed to be in the national championship picture.
Texas had beaten third-ranked Alabama in the Cotton Bowl earlier on New Year’s day. Pittsburgh upset second-ranked Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. The final 24-20 score was announced to Orange Bowl spectators with Clemson trying to protect its lead in the final minutes.
All fourth-ranked Nebraska needed to make a major voting dilemma when ballots are cast in the final Associated Press and United Press International polls was a little cooperation from Clemson.
The Huskers didn’t get it. They didn’t get much all night. The Tigers’ defense was effective in curtailing the Nebraska offense for the most part.
Clemson’s offense was opportunistic in the way it took advantage of early Nebraska mistakes, and potent in marching for an important touchdown in the second half.
“Their offense did a great job,” said Osborne. “In the first half their offense probably dominated the line of scrimmage. I didn’t think they would be able to do that. Jordan is a great football player.”
Jordan’s major contributions to the Tigers’ victory were 134 yards passing, 46 yards rushing and a 13-yard scoring pass to Perry Tuttle in the third quarter.
The pass to Tuttle gave the Tigers a 19-7 lead and climaxed a march that proved they didn’t need Nebraska’s help to crack the Husker defense.
The Tigers led 12-7 at halftime but scored all of its points with some Nebraska assistance.
The second time the Tigers got the ball in the second half they marched 75 yards on 12 plays. Jordan threw three passes to Tuttle on the drive. The receptions were for 12, 16 and the final 13 yards. Nebraska cornerback Allen Lyday had Tuttle covered but turned the wrong way in his attempt to break up the pass in the end zone.
Nebraska looked frequently to trickery in its attempt to crack the Tiger defense.
The effort produced one touchdown, but not much else.
The score came on a 25-yard pass from I-back Rozier to wingback Anthony Steels with 6:43 left in the first half.
The touchdown gave Nebraska a 7-3 lead that the Tigers didn’t overcome until just before halftime.
Some Nebraska offensive maneuvers that failed were a lateral pass on a kickoff from Steels to Rozier, a reverse by Steels that ended with him slipping, an attempted pass by wingback Fryar to tight end Mitch Krenk that fell incomplete and a fake punt that gained only a yard.
On the Huskers’ fourth-quarter touchdown drive, Rozier did make eight yards when he decided to run on a play that could have been a pass to quarterback Mauer.
Clemson linebacker Jeff Davis was named the game’s outstanding defensive player. His seven unassisted tackles and one assist led the Tiger defense that held the Huskers to 193 yards rushing.
The Huskers managed 256 yards in total offense to 289 for Clemson.
Clemson had a lot more opportunities to get its yards, running 74 plays to 56 for the Huskers.
“They got tired a little quicker than we did,” said Ford. “Early in the second quarter we saw them gasping.”
The game was started with the temperature at 77 degrees and the humidity at 74 percent.
Clemson took advantage of Nebraska fumbles and good field position in taking its 12-7 halftime lead.
The first fumble came on the game’s third play from scrimmage. Mauer was hit by Clemson middle guard William Devane as he pitched to Craig. The Nebraska I-back couldn’t control the pitch and Devane recovered at the 28.
After getting one first down, Clemson was held and settled for Donald Igwebuike’s 41-yard field goal with 13:38 left in the first quarter.
Igwebuike, a soccer player from Nigeria, added a 37-yard field goal late in the first quarter and a 36-yarder in the third period.
Clemson got the ball at the Nebraska 42 on the drive that led to Igwebuike’s second field goal. Nebraska had to punt from deep in its territory due to its penalty problems and a sack of quarterback Mauer that lost 12 yards.
The Tigers’ good fortune in field position continued in the second quarter when Husker fullback Phil Bates fumbled and Davis recovered at the NU 27. The Tigers took seven plays to score. Cliff Austin got the touchdown on a 2-yard run with 3:56 left in the half. A two-point conversion try failed.
The kicking game was a factor in Clemson’s victory. Freshman Dale Hatcher punted four times for a 45.8 average.
Billy Davis set up the Tigers’ last score — Igwebuike’s field goals — when he returned a punt 47 yards to the Husker 22 in the third quarter.
Nebraska was a four-point favorite to beat the top-ranked Tigers, who had started the season out of the ratings and climbed to the top in a whacky year that saw six teams fall from No. 1.
“We’re the only team in the nation to beat the No. 2 team (Georgia), the No. 8 team (North Carolina) and the No. 4 team (Nebraska),” said Ford. “We wanted to stay close and not give up more than 14 points. This is really a dream come true for our team, our coaches, our school, our state and out conference.”
|Yards per carry||3.0||4.8|
Nebraska is 1-1 all-time against Clemson.
|Florida State||Sept. 19|
|Penn State||Sept. 26|
|Kansas State||Oct. 17|
|Oklahoma State||Nov. 7|
|Iowa State||Nov. 14|
Nebraska has played 27 games on Jan. 1. See them all »
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