Photo appeared in Dayton Journal Herald
The 1960s saw Nebraska go from a college football afterthought to a force to be reckoned with under head coach Bob Devaney.
When he took over in 1962, Devaney inherited a program that had finished ranked just once in the previous 21 seasons. In his first seven seasons, Nebraska finished in the top 10 three times and claimed five Big 8 titles. As the 1970s began, Devaney was looking to take the Cornhuskers to new heights.
Early in the 1970 season, Nebraska had an opportunity to make a statement in a top-10 match-up. Although the early-season contest on this day 50 years ago with USC didn’t result in a win, there was no doubt the Cornhuskers were going to be relevant for a long time.
Setting the Stage
After a 2-2 start, Nebraska closed the 1969 season on a 7-game winning streak. The Cornhuskers opened the 1970 campaign ranked No. 9. Nebraska kicked off the year with a 36-12 win over Wake Forest before traveling to Los Angeles to take on No. 3 USC on Sept. 19, 1970.
The Trojans had defeated Nebraska 31-21 the year prior in Lincoln and appeared unstoppable after a 42-21 win over Alabama in Birmingham to open the season. USC came in as a 2-touchdown favorite. At the Los Angeles Coliseum that day however, it was an important stalemate as the teams battled to a 21-21 tie.
Nebraska never trailed in the contest, but looked to make things tough on USC early in the fourth quarter. Up 21-14, the Cornhuskers were on the verge of making it a 2-score game. Paul Rogers lined up for a 22-yard field goal to push the lead to 10, but a bad snap disrupted that and swung momentum to USC.
The Trojans proceeded to march 80 yards to even the contest. Clarence Davis’ 9-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth capped the drive. Davis rushed for a team-high 116 yards in the contest.
From there on out, the defenses dominated. USC had the game’s final possession, but a throw toward the end zone from midfield was knocked away as time expired.
USC held a 366-365 advantage in yards, but the Nebraska mistakes would prove more costly. The Cornhuskers turned the ball over six times, including inside the USC 5-yard-line after going 73 yards on their opening drive.
Devaney and staff would reach into their bag of tricks to get the scoring started. After taking the hand-off from quarterback Jerry Tagge, fullback Dan Schneiss found Guy Ingles in the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown. With less than five minutes to play in the first quarter, Nebraska led 7-0.
The teams traded touchdowns in the second quarter. After Jimmy Jones scored from four yards out for the Trojans, future Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers scored in the final minute of the half. Tagge’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Rodgers gave Nebraska a 14-7 lead at the break.
Charlie Evans’ short touchdown run drew USC even midway through the period. It took Nebraska less than a minute to answer. On the ensuing drive, Joe Orduna went 67 of his game-high 135 rushing yards for a score to put Nebraska back in front. That score would remain until Davis’ tying touchdown.
As a 13-point underdog, the tie perhaps said more about Nebraska than USC. For the remainder of the season, the teams would head in different directions.
USC would go 5-4 over its final nine games. The 1970 season would mark the first time since 1965 that the Trojans did not win the Pac-8.
Nebraska would go on to win its final nine games. Only the regular season finale against Oklahoma and the Orange Bowl against LSU would be decided by fewer than 14 points.
At season’s end, Nebraska finished third in the Coaches Poll behind Texas and Ohio State. In the AP Poll however, the Cornhuskers were No. 1 and national champions for the first time. Their lone blemish from that magical season was a tie that came on this day a half-century ago.