Photo courtesy of UCLA athletics
It won’t be long before UCLA and Nebraska are conference foes in the Big Ten. The schools, however, have already combined for 13 all-time meetings.
Nebraska has won seven of them, but the closest and most memorable went the Bruins’ way. It came on this day 50 years ago as a late field goal propelled UCLA past the top-ranked Cornhuskers, 20-17.
Setting the Stage
Ranked No. 1 in the country, Nebraska was coming off one of the most dominant seasons in college football history as it arrived at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sept. 9, 1972. The Cornhuskers had gone a perfect 13-0 the year prior and won the national championship. Throughout the course of the season, Bob Devaney’s team played just one game decided by fewer than 24 points.
Entering its second season under head coach Pepper Rodgers, UCLA was coming off a 2-7-1 finish in 1971. As an 18-point underdog, UCLA was searching for its first true home win since October 1970.
UCLA Shocks the College Football World
Nebraska finished its trip to Southern California with 320 yards to 294 yards for UCLA. Six turnovers, however, were too much to overcome.
Nebraska never led in the contest, but did draw even twice. After rallying from a 10-0 deficit early in the game, the Cornhuskers tied the game at 17-17 less than a minute into the final period when Dave Humm found Jerry List for a 44-yard touchdown.
From there, however, Nebraska was unable to do anything offensively. The decisive drive for UCLA began at its own 43-yard-line.
The Bruins methodically marched inside the Nebraska 15-yard-line. With just 22 seconds remaining, Efren Herrera knocked through a 30-yard field goal to win the game for UCLA.
In his first career start, quarterback Mark Harmon accounted for both UCLA touchdowns. The Bruins finished with just 65 yards passing, but Harmon’s 46-yard touchdown strike to Brad Lyman following a Nebraska turnover gave UCLA a 10-0 lead.
After a field goal from Rich Sanger, Johnny Rodgers’ 11-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter tied the game at 10. Rodgers, the eventual Heisman Trophy winner, finished with 106 yards from scrimmage on just 10 touches to lead Nebraska. Harmon put UCLA back in front with a 2-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
New York Times
Nebraska would bounce back to go undefeated in its next nine games. A late-season loss to Oklahoma, however, would cost the Cornhuskers the Big 8 title and any hopes of repeating as national champions. They finished fourth in the AP Poll following a 40-6 Orange Bowl rout of Notre Dame.
UCLA would be much improved in its second year under Pepper Rodgers. After an 8-1 start, the Bruins ascended into the top 10. Unfortunately, their season ended with losses to Washington and USC.
Still, the 1972 campaign was a success for UCLA as it finished in the AP top 15 for the first time in three years. That campaign began on this day a half-century ago with a thrilling upset of the reigning national champions.