2020 marks 50 years since Nebraska football entered the history books with its first national championship season. The 1970 Huskers, coached by the legendary Bob Devaney, broke through on a grand night that capped a grand season, giving momentum to a fan base whose fervor has barely waned to this day. Each week, through the beginning of January, The World-Herald will revisit the 1970 season, allowing readers to relive the first Husker national title and get to know — again — the players and coaches who made it happen.
This article originally ran in The World-Herald on Sept. 13, 1970.
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MEMORIAL STADIUM, Lincoln — Nebraska, apparently looking onward and upward, disposed of undermanned Wake Forest in a workmanlike fashion Saturday, 36-12, but not without first putting flashy sophomore Johnny Rodgers on display.
The Huskers, heading for a showdown with Southern California Saturday night, never opened up full gear in this one, witnessed by 66,103. It was the 12th straight time the N.U. gate has gone over 66,000.
Rodgers handled the ball only six times, but the pell-mell little guy had the crowd on its feet on each of his possessions — even when he was banged down after a three-yard reception of a pass.
Rodgers scored on a 61-yard pass play in one of his less exciting maneuvers — a straight ahead dash downfield on which he simply outran the Wake Forest secondary.
The only time Johnny R got his hands on a kick, he came roaring back 37 yards and came close to going all the way.
Rodgers never got a hand on one of seven Wake Forest punts. But his eye-catching debut included three runs from scrimmage for 33 yards.
The game marked a successful comeback for fancy-stepping Joe Orduna, who less than four months ago had a second knee operation.
Orduna, idled last season, scored twice, once on an artistic hurdling job over a defender en route to a 20-yard touchdown run.
Quarterback Jerry Tagge, though running gingerly on a sore leg, enjoyed one of his most accurate passing performances — nine of 12 for 168 yards.
The Husker junior shouldered the quarterback load while teammate Van Brownson, in uniform, watched from the sidelines.
Tagge, before turning the signal-calling over to sophomore Bob Jones near the end of the third period, engineered touchdown drives of 63 yards twice, 26 yards and 81 yards. He scored once himself on a 13-yard keeper.
Coach Bob Devaney used 60 players in the tuneup for USC but it wasn’t all sweetness and light.
They suffered the humiliation of a blocked punt that resulted in a safety for Wake Forest and lost the ball twice on fumbles, the first setting up a field goal that gave the Demon Deacons a 3-0 lead after 6:55 of the opening quarter.
Mike "Red" Beran, a Nebraska football letterman in the early 1970s, channels his tenacity into keeping former Huskers in touch and works with the athletic department to honor these legendary players.
Nine times the Nebraskans were penalized, for a total of 78 yards.
But this was Wake Forest and a game in which the Huskers could afford mistakes. From here on out, (especially next week against the touted Trojans) it may be a different matter. But as end Guy Ingles said, “This was just a tuneup; I can’t wait to play Southern Cal…”
The new edition of Blackshirt defenders, with only three starters back from last year’s stingy outfit, gave up 222 yards — only 57 the first half.
Jeff Kinney, who divided time with Orduna, was the game’s leading rusher with 57 yards in 11 carries. His fumble at the Nebraska 26, however, early in the first quarter set up the field goal.
Frank Fussell grabbed the loose ball on the second series of plays and after the Deacons got to the 13, Tracy Lounsbury kicked a 35-yarder to open the scoring.
Rush by Walline
Though Wake Forest got on the scoreboard first, there wasn’t much concern in the Husker camp. If there was any, Rodgers quickly lit the fire that started the Husker victory march.
He took the ensuing kickoff a yard deep in the end zone and broke out to the 37 with some dipsy-doing that brought the loudest cheers of the day.
Seven plays later Nebraska had the lead. The big gainer was a Tagge-Ingles pass on which Tagge came within inches of the line of scrimmage before firing. The play covered 45 yards for the only catch Guy made all day.
After Ingles was downed at the five, Orduna, in the game for the first time, finished the drive in one play and Paul Rogers kicked his first of three conversions.
Credit Dave Walline for setting up Nebraska’s next touchdown. He crashed into quarterback Larry Russell almost before he could hand the ball to fullback Larry Hopkins. The fumble was alertly fallen on by sophomore Rich Glover at the Wake Forest 26.
Wake Forest defenders displayed a little muscle then by holding Orduna and Dan Schneiss to two yards each. But Tagge cranked out a 21-yard pass to Kinney, a lonely target in the middle of the field.
After Schneiss was stopped cold twice, Kinney barreled in for the touchdown. It was 14-3 at the quarter turn and an easy victory was apparent.
Or was it? The feisty Deacons used a 72-yard quick kick by Gary Johnson to put Nebraska back to its four.
When Jeff Hughes tried to punt out, cornerback Jeff McHenry zoomed through to block the try. The ball caromed off the goal post for a safety.
Tagge expertly mixed the plays as he engineered the longest N.U. drive of the day on the next possession. He completed passes to Jerry List for 16 and Kinney for 14; ran twice himself for 16 and 13, the latter good for the score.
Six plays later Nebraska had another score on the 61-yard picture-perfect aerial from Tagge to Rodgers. The conversion attempt was blocked, but Wake Forest was offside.
Tagge pitched for the two-point conversion as Ingles picked off the ball deflected his way by McHenry. It was 36-5... and the few fans who departed then didn’t miss a lot.
After Husker secondary vet Jim Anderson recovered a fumble at the Wake Forest 29, Nebraska wound up its scoring on Orduna’s best effort of the day. Halfway along the 20-yard route Joe exhibited some of his state high school championship hurdling technique over a surprised Fussell.
Tagge got a well deserved rest at that point and the Husker shock troops managed only one first down the rest of the way.
Wake Forest, moving 68 yards against a mixture of second, third and fourth stringers, scored with 53 seconds to go.
They were the First Champions. But as the years have passed, their memory has fallen through the cracks of Husker history, writes Tom Shatel.
Pitts Is Busy
Wake Forest didn’t use heralded passing sophomore Jim McMahen until late in the fourth quarter. Then he sparked the drive with five of six completions, the last one for 12 yards to Johnson for the score.
But by then the front line Blackshirts were resting. There’s the nagging thought that some weren’t going all out before, either, since all-Big Eight linebacker Jerry Murtaugh was credited with only one tackle and two assists.
Sophomore end Johnny Pitts, who had nine stops to lead N.U., will hopefully get more expert assistance Saturday. He probably will need it.
Other news in The World-Herald from the Sept. 13, 1970:
» Phyllis George, a brown-haired Texas beauty, was named Miss America 1971. The 21-year-old TCU senior who wants to get into broadcasting was modest about her figure. She said she was afraid she had become “too muscular after six years of cheerleading.”
» One feature of the farm bill headed to the Senate floor was minimum price support loan rates of $1.25 a bushel on wheat and $1 on corn.
» Choice of thick Sertafoam or Innerspring mattresses with matching box spring sets were on sale for $87 at Orchard & Wilhelm, 16th and Howard Streets in downtown Omaha.
» Manager Jack McKeon’s Omaha Royals will start right-hander Mike Hedlund against Syracuse at Rosenblatt Stadium in Junior World Series baseball. Paul Splittorff (10-12) and Don O’Riley (5-8) are in line to start the next two games of the series for the Royals.
» At least three golfers who have won the Nebraska Amateur Golf Championship will be seeking the title at Lochland Country Club in Hastings. They are Charlie Borner of North Platte, Frank Rose of Fairbury and Dean Wilson Jr. of Omaha.