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 Oct. 18, 1970.
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Memorial Stadium, Lawrence, Kan. — Nebraska’s offense came to the rescue of the Blackshirts Saturday as Van Brownson engineered a come-from-behind, 41-20 victory over Kansas.
The explosive Kansans owned a 20-10 margin before the Huskers fired back to dominate the game played before 50,200, including representatives from the Cotton, Sugar and Liberty Bowls.
Bowl scouts who left last week’s 21-7 N.U. victory over Missouri impressed by the Husker defense got a glimpse of another side of the Big Red, a very potent offensive machine.
Brownson, getting his first start, had a great day. He completed 10 of 15 passes, including six of seven in a third-quarter blitz. His aerials were good for 183 yards and two touchdowns. In addition, the nervy Iowan carried the ball 12 times for 59 yards and two touchdowns.
His total offense: An eye-popping 242 yards of Nebraska’s best offensive production of the year — 504 yards.
Brownson’s big play in this momentum-shifting offensive battle came in the second quarter. What a picture-perfect pass.
Trailing the scrapping Jayhawks by 10 points, the Huskers were scrimmaging from the 20 after the third K.U. score.
Guy Flies Again
On first down, Brownson faked to Joe Orduna, who tore into the line. The Shenandoah junior then faded and waited for the precise moment for Guy Ingles to work into the clear.
Guy had a step on K.U. sprinter Willie Amison when he picked off the archer on the Kansas 35. Even Amison’s speed couldn’t catch Guy the Flyer and the 80-yard strike put Nebraska back on target for victory No. 5 and its second in the Big Eight.
Though still trailing, that put some starch in the faltering Blackshirts, who had yielded three straight touchdowns to obliterate Nebraska’s early 10-0 lead.
The N.U. defense forced a punt after three plays and back stormed the Huskers. This time Nebraska marched 67 yards in eight plays. When Brownson high-stepped the final 15 yards, Nebraska held a 23-20 lead.
Even Paul Rogers got the fever, kicking the extra point from 35 yards after someone in the line had been detected holding on the first try.
Signs of the Time
The 24-20 N.U. lead looked great to Husker fans who were pretty quiet only 91-minutes earlier. But there was no room to gloat.
The Jayhawkers had made believers of N.U., whose followers might have scoffed at the signs over the exit tunnels that read “K.U. Is Back.”
The third quarter told the story and left the Jayhawks on the ropes.
The second time Nebraska got possession, the Huskers drove 80 yards. They were forced only to two third-down plays, including the payoff.
Brownson fired a bullet to Johnny Rodgers from the five with 3:08 to go in the third period and Rogers converted.
Moments later a leaping interception by Jimmy Anderson gave N.U. the ball on the Kansas 47 after his 18-yard runback. On the 10th play, Brownson darted in from the 15, raising his left hand high over his head as he scored.
Rogers ran his consecutive extra point string to 26 — 25 this season — and it was 38-20. The Jayhawkers were in fast retreat.
When Bill Kosch intercepted for Nebraska at the N.U. 36, Coach Bob Devaney sent Jerry Tagge in to relieve Brownson. Tagge’s first play was a beauty, a 44-yard pass to Ingles, who retired after that reception with 133 yards to his credit.
The drive bogged down and Rogers kicked his second field goal of the season and his second of the game to wind up the scoring with 8:30 to play.
If there was unrest on campus generated by the “Jock Liberation Movement,” it was nothing compared to the explosives provided by the football teams.
As it turned out, there were none of the demonstrations that had been threatened by the faction supporting suspended K.U. trackman Sam Goldberg.
Nebraska had a 7-0 lead in less than two minutes, thanks to Dave Morock’s interception that put the Huskers in business at the K.U. 17.
Orduna collected 15 yards in three carries and Dan Schneiss, who enjoyed his best day of the year with 53 yards in 13 carries, got scoring duty at 13:18.
Three series later, Nebraska started from its 44 on a drive that produced Rogers’ first goal of the year. This time Brownson stayed on the ground, moving to the K.U. 19 for a first down.
The big gainer was Schneiss’ 14-yarder as the blocking specialist, Orduna and Brownson alternated carrying the ball.
K.U. mustered defensive savvy that left the Huskers with fourth and three at the 12. Rogers, who had missed three field goals without a hit in five previous games, was dead center from the 28.
Almost before you could say Vince O’Neill, the Kansas junior college transfer had raced 96 yards with the kickoff. By the clock, the run took 12 seconds. That’s the speed Devaney had been talking about to his Husker defenders all week.
Although soccer style ace Bob Helmbacher muffed the conversion for a 10-6 score, the pendulum swung to K.U.
The Jayhawks had more tricks up their sleeves. Lee Hawkins sped in to recover the onside kick on the Nebraska 43.
This was the test for the Blackshirts ... and they failed. Despite a six-yard loss imposed on quarterback Dan Heck by Willie Harper and a five-yard illegal procedure penalty, the Jayhawks covered the distance in seven plays.
The big plays: A double reverse for 15 yards by Ron Jessie and a 14-yard blast by John Riggins, who took charge from the two to put K.U. ahead 12-10. Helmbacher converted and there was a buzzing in the KU crowd that hoped for an upset over the fifth-ranked Huskers.
The Jayhawks, intent on blowing the visitors right out of their nest, kicked off deep.
Nebraska was forced to punt and then came more Kansas power. K.U. had a touchdown, with a sashay that covered 68 yards in nine plays.
The Blackshirts? They almost disappeared altogether on a 35-yard dash right up the middle by Steve Conley. Kosch’s shirt-stretching tackle at the four only served in delaying the score for three plays.
Heck’s sneak from the one and Helmbacher’s conversion sent Jayhawk fans into a tizzy.
It was short-lived joy though, but it was a treat for Kansans while it lasted.
The clock showed 9:28 to play in the half when K.U. kicked off over the goal and Rodgers downed the ball.
The clock stopped again at 9:17 — the 80-yard game-turnarounder from Brownson to Ingles did it.
From then on the Huskers blackjacked the Jayhawks and kept the pressure off the red-faced Blackshirts, who were touched up for 374 yards this time out.
Maybe next week, at home against Oklahoma State, it will be the defense’s turn to impress the growing list of post-season bowl people.
March to No. 1 series
Keeping legendary Huskers together falls on shoulders of 'Red Beran'
Shatel: Remembering the first Husker football champions
Essex: The 1970 Huskers changed how Nebraskans looked at themselves
March to No. 1: Huskers make believers of Deacons
Chatelain: Johnny Rodgers' debut was main attraction during Huskers' 1970 opener
Wake Forest found a Husker team that was 'very hard to beat' in 1970
Chatelain: Johnny Rodgers made Tom Osborne's Husker offense come to life
March to No. 1: Trojans Use 3rd Comeback To Tie the Huskers, 21-21
Livingston: Respect came with tying USC, and the 1970 Huskers entered a new realm
USC 'had to play catch-up' with the 1970 Huskers
With two future Outland winners, defensive line keyed Huskers' title drive in 1970
March to No. 1: Husker Air Force Captures Army
McKewon: A general lost a bathrobe to Nebraska's governor when the 1970 Huskers beat Army
Army couldn't find the right quarterback to battle the 1970 Husker defense
March to No. 1: Early Scarlet surge puts away Minnesota
Omaha's best led Huskers past Minnesota, but bigger tests remained in 1970 season
Bob Devaney's Huskers 'manhandled' Minnesota in 1970
One big hit 50 years ago defined the Nebraska-Missouri football rivalry
March to No. 1: Alert Nebraska Blackshirts Turn Mizzou into M-i-s-e-r-y
McKewon: After beating Missouri, 1970 Huskers got their first No. 1 vote
Huskers 'bruised' Missouri in 1970 Big Eight opener
The 1970 Huskers didn't just have one great QB. They had two
March to No. 1: Huskers Overcome Perky K.U.'s Lead
Kansas knew 1970 Huskers were 'fearsome' even before their game
McKewon: What made Nebraska so hard to beat in 1970? The Huskers' backups
Nebraska's 1970 champions were built by Husker Power and a pole vaulter with a bad back
March to No. 1: Cornhuskers unsaddle Cowboys
Chatelain: 1970 Huskers could throw knockout punches in so many ways
Huskers blended 'finesse, muscle and opportunism' in 1970 win over Oklahoma State
Nebraska had plenty of talent in 1970, but their coaches made the Huskers go the distance
March to No. 1: Buffaloes are Vanishing, 29 to 13
Omaha World-Herald: Big Red
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