LINCOLN — Nebraska clambered out of a deep dark hole in the second half Saturday to threaten an upset of Southern California's football team, then bowed by only a 31-21 margin while the bulk of 67,058 fans cheered the effort.
Coach Bob Devaney promised a better offense. The Cornhuskers made good on the boss' promise while outdowning the Trojans, 24-18, and collecting 290 yards to the winners' 335.
Going into the final quarter, Southern Cal perched saucily on a 28-7 advantage.
But with only two minutes and 15 seconds to play, Nebraska had pulled to within 21-28 and was primed to drive again with a first down on its 33.
Unhappily, quarterback Jerry Tagge's pass was speared by enemy John Young on the Husker 49 and returned to within 23 yards of the goal line.
Southern Cal hurried on to the eight. It was third-and-six when tackle David Walline dumped quarterback Jimmy Jones for a nine-yard loss and botched the touchdown bid. The visitors had to settle for a 34-yard field goal by Ron Ayala.
Those final three points no doubt ruined many a wager, but they did nothing to detract from Nebraska's heartening overall performance.
The one somber note was the loss of sophomore quarterback Tagge and Van Brownson with lame ankles. Nebraska got its last-gasp offensive shot from the N.U. 23 in the final seconds. The player trying to hurl lightning bolts was third-stringer Tony Dvorsak. The game ended with three straight incomplete passes.
Coach John McKay thought Southern Cal played "poorly but well enough to win."
The play was not so poor but what tailback Clarence Davis was able to reel off 114 yards in 27 carries. Statistically, at least, that overshadowed the 1967 debut of tailback O. J. Simpson, who netted 93 yards against Washington State.
Another good-looking newcomer was rookie quarterback Jones, whose back was so bad at midweek that he allegedly couldn't tie his shoelaces. There was no word Saturday as to how Jones got his shoes on, but he was healthy enough to pilot scoring drives of 80, 61, 38 and 85 yards — and pitch a couple of touchdown passes.
Cornhusker rooters will settle for their own new quarterback twosome of Brownson and Tagge.
Before limping out of the game late in the third period, Brownson, the cool mixmaster from Shenandoah, Ia., completed seven of 11 passes for 61 yards and exhibited running ability that evoked roars of joy from the crowd.
Tagge limped onto the field as Brownson's replacement, then proceeded to hit his receivers eight times in 14 tries for 76 yards.
Both men demonstrated "take charge" poise.
Brownson was stuck with a minus 15 yards on the ground, that misleading figure being attributed mainly to occasional lapses in pass protection. He did run for two first downs and did lunge over from the two for Nebraska's first touchdown.
Brownson was forced out of the game after being decked for a two-yard loss by gigantic Tody Smith, USC right tackle.
Tagge appeared to be in greater distress than Brownson, but gutted it out long enough to engineer the second scoring sweep and most of the third.
Nebraska's Paul Rogers failed on field goal attempts from the 34-yard line in the first period and from the 32 in the third. Actually, his initial effort was good but Nebraska was guilty of illegal procedure. Films may show USC had 12 men on the field when Rogers then kicked from the 34.
The Huskers missed a tempting opportunity to score as action moved from the third quarter to the fourth. It came when soph Jim Anderson recovered Trojan Mike Berry's fumble on the USC 24.
Tagge's five-yard jaunt and an interference call cut the distance to 11 yards. Larry Frost, who turned in his brightest day in three seasons, added two yards. Tagge sneaked for one but failed to connect with rookie halfback Jeff Kinney on third and fourth-down passes.
Southern Cal's opening touchdown drive appeared thwarted when Dana Stephenson stole a pass at the N.U. 10 and ran it back 15 yards. However, an interference call gave USC the ball on the 15. Five plays later, Berry jumped over his left guard for the touchdown. Ayala added the first of four conversions.
USC scored again early in the second period on a 45-yard pass play, Jones's highly arched, perfect spiral coming down in the hands of Bobby Chandler inside the N.U. 10. The fleet Chandler had a step the better of Stephenson and romped in.
Bob Liggett's capture of a Jones fumble — induced by Mike Wynn's slamming tackle — gave Nebraska the ball on the USC 46 later that period. Two plays after Frost sped 36 yards to the three, Brownson took advantage of blocks by Gale Williams and Wally Winter to wedge across from the two. Rogers delivered the first of three straight placements.
Southern Cal appeared to be in good shape at the half after grabbing a fumble by Green and driving 38 yards to score. From the five, Jones ran left and then right before shooting the ball to fullback Charlie Evans in the end zone.
With end Jim Gunn and tackle Al Cowlings putting typically fierce pressure on Brownson, Nebraska got nowhere on its first possession of the last half. However, Danny Schneiss delighted the crowd with a 65-yard punt that rolled for some 20 yards, finally stopping on the USC 15.
Two fine passes by Jones were the heart of the 85-yard drive that followed. Chandler made an outstanding catch for 13 yards with Stephenson breathing in his face. It was Stephenson who finally knocked Sam Dickerson down and out of bounds — on a 42-yard aerial two plays later.
Hurt by two delay penalties but aided by an interference ruling against Husker Dave Morock, the Trojans marched on to the one. Berry scored, despite a high stack of bodies on the Husker right side.
Tagge maneuvered Nebraska 33 yards to the foe 12 in the final quarter. Then came a surprisingly easy touchdown. Kinney, the novice from McCook, stomped through his left side, broke a tackle and waltzed home with no pursuit the final seven yards. That made it 28-14.
This was the "new offense," and the fans loved it. They weren't about to give up. Neither were the Huskers.
On the following kickoff, sophomore Bill Kosch from Columbus stepped in front of the advancing Rogers and toed a dribbler that caromed off a surprised Trojan. Pat Morell, a rookie from Wichita, completed the vaudeville act by recovering on the USC 47.
Tagge got it rolling with a 15-yard pass to Frost. Tagge was hit a savage lick by Cowlings after releasing the ball, and then was summoned to the sideline for work in his bum ankle. Tagge returned after Dvorsak had completed one of four passes for a first down on the 21.
Green circled right end for six and was awarded another five when a Trojan jumped him after the whistle. Frank Vactor, Nebraska's leading rusher, made it to the one on three bids.
Tagge then faked a handoff to Vactor, pounded that sore ankle to the left, eluded linebacker Bob Jensen and marked up his first varsity touchdown.
Despite the loss to what well could prove to be Nebraska's toughest opponent of the year, there were bows to be taken left and right.
Frost caught four passes for 40 yards, Guy Ingles pulled in four for 33. Schneiss finished with a 46-yard punt average. Linebacker Jerry Murtaugh took part in 16 tackles during a glorious afternoon. Sherwin Jarmon, Al Larson and Randy Reeves figured in eight tackles apiece.
The Cornhuskers should have convinced themselves they are capable of giving Texas A&M a very strenuous afternoon next Saturday.
|Yards per carry||3.4||3.0|
Nebraska is 0-4 all-time against USC.
|Texas A&M||Sept. 27|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 25|
|Iowa State||Nov. 8|
|Kansas State||Nov. 15|
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