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Johnny R Turns Smiling Irish Eyes to Tears

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1973 Orange Bowl

NU's Johnny Rodgers accounts for one of his five touchdowns against Notre Dame.Miami - Johnny Rodgers, a young man with flair for dramatics, saved his best for last and wrote a fitting farewell to Bob Devaney in Nebraska's 40-6 stunner over Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl Monday night.

Rodgers had said he wanted to make his and Devaney's final game a tribute to the Husker coach for helping him through some difficult times in this collegiate career.

The slender Omahan said thank you with the most superb one-man all-around performance seen in the 39 years of the Orange Bowl game. He ran for three touchdowns, he caught a pass for a fourth and he threw a pass for a fifth.

1972 in Review
• UCLA 20, Nebraska 17

• Nebraska 37, Texas A&M 7

• Nebraska 77, Army 7

• Nebraska 49, Minnesota 0

• Nebraska 62, Missouri 0

• Nebraska 56, Kansas 0

• Nebraska 34, Oklahoma State 0

• Nebraska 33, Colorado 10

• Nebraska 23, Iowa State 23

• Nebraska 59, Kansas State 7

• Oklahoma 17, Nebraska 14

• 1973 Orange Bowl: Nebraska 40, Notre Dame 6

And he accomplished those feats while running much of the time from the I-back or power back position for the first time, raising the question: What could he have done if he had played running back all season instead of slotback?

Irish Lose Fight
If the Heisman Trophy balloting were held again, the easy winner the first time around could be chosen unanimously on the strength of his performance that took the fight out of the Fighting Irish.

The switch of Rodgers and the other flankers to the I-back position - and the I-back to flanker - on some plays was the biggest surprise the Huskers had planned for the South Bend, Ind., lads in secret practices.

Rodgers opened in the deep back spot in the power-I formation and races 13 yards off the left side on the game's first play. That set the tome for a night of razzle-dazzle like the Huskers had not put forth all season.

At times, it looked like a sandlot game in which Husker quarterback Dave Humm was drawing plays in the dirt, and his team was the big kids playing against their little brothers.

The flamboyant Husker attack reached its zenith when Rodgers passed 52 yards to Frosty Anderson for a touchdown that upped the count to 20-0 in the second quarter. Nebraska made it 40-0 at the end of three quarters before turning the game over to the substitutes.

Nebraska owned the Orange Bowl this night. It was the Huskers' third straight trip to Miami, and they played as if the new Poly-Turf here was their home team, although Notre Dame was officially the home team.

But Nebraska may not be asked back for a fourth visit because it turned the city's showpiece event into a laugher for a second straight year, and the crowd that started at 80,010 had dwindled to a third that much at game's end.

Point Record
With Rodgers setting an Orange Bowl record of 24 points, the Huskers' 34-point victory spread represented the second worst Orange Bowl mismatch. Only Alabama's 61-6 rout of Syracuse in 1953 was more one-sided. Rodgers' sterling performance displaced the previous record of 19 points by Crimson Tide star Bobby Luna in that same game.

Devaney's sweet good-bye was a bitter lesson for Notre Dame's energetic Coach Ara Parseghian, who lost two straight games (including the regular-season finale to Southern California) for the first time in nine seasons. It also marked the first time he has lost three games in one season with his Golden Domers.

Notre Dame had not absorbed such a whipping since losing to Army 48-0 in 1945. The Irish escaped further embarrassment - and the Huskers escaped certain derision - when substitute quarterback Steve Runty failed to add another touchdown from the Irish seven-yard line on the final play after calling time out with 14 seconds left.

Enough damage had already been done to the pride of the proud Irish, who had carried their crusade against Nebraska for the first time since 1948. It may be another 24 years before relations are re-established.

30 First Downs
Nebraska's explosion of 560 yards in total offense was the most ever heaped on a Notre Dame defense. The previous record was 521 by Michigan State in 1956. The 30 Husker first downs also earned an Orange Bowl record.

Rodgers accounted for 204 of those yards with these feats:

• 15 carries, the most of his career, for 81 yards and touchdowns of 8, 3, and 5 yards

• Three receptions for 71 yards and a touchdown of 50 yards

• One pass for 52 yards and the touchdown to Anderson, the first such touchdown toss of Johnny's illustrious career.

Little Wrong
Rodgers had an abundance of help on a night when little went wrong for the Huskers.

The running game, often criticized in a 9-2-1 season, was worth a sparkling 300 yards, with Rodgers followed by Gary Dixon, 69 yards on nine carries; including a 36-yard scamper, and one touchdown; Dave Goeller, who started in the unfamiliar flanker spot, with 43 yards on 11 carries, and Ritch Bahe, heir apparent to Rodgers, with 27 yards on six carries, and a standout job of returning kicks.

Passing complemented the strong rushing attack with 260 yards, with Humm far outshining his Irish sophomore counterpart Tom Clements in a 13x19 night for 185 yards and the 50-yard score to Rodgers.

In Clements' defense, however, it should be noted that he was not working against a defense that was as intimidating as Nebraska's Blackshirts.

Notre Dame was held to a total offense of 207 yards. Clements, who was expected to pose a scrambling-passing threat, completed only nine of 22 passes for 103 yards, suffered three interceptions and averaged minus 3.7 yards on six carries.

Notre Dame earned a consolation touchdown early in the fourth quarter by driving 78 yards on 15 plays. Clements finally shook loose for 11 yards and leading rusher Eric Penick, who did not start because of illness, and sub John Cieszkowski punched out yardage until Clements rolled out and passed five yards for a five-yard score to split end Pete Demmerle.

Nebraska had long since established its supremacy, traveling 76 yards on 11 plays after the opening kickoff.

Goeller Helps
Rodgers opened it up with his 13-yard burst, added another run on 10 yards, received Goeller's support on runs of 13, 6, and 3 before Rodgers earned the final eight yards on an I-back sweep to the left. He used blocks by Bill Olds and Mike Beran to advantage and muscled his way into the end zone with Tim Rudnick and Reggie Barnett hanging on.

Nebraska received a scare on Notre Dame's first series when Clements passed twice to Darryll Dewan, going in motion. The play worked for 12 and 29 yards before the Husker secondary, which played most of the game without cornerback Joe Blahak, solved that problem.

Blahak was knocked senseless when he fell hard while intercepting a Clements pass at the Nebraska 18 in the first quarter.

Dixon was the key player in Nebraska's second touchdown drive. It came at a crucial time since Nebraska had been stopped on two successive series and Notre Dame had challenged with an errant 32-yard field goal attempt by Bob Thomas.

Dixon found a huge whole in the middle, turned in some fancy running in the secondary and hoofed 36 yards to the Notre Dame 27. From there, Goeller picked up eight yards, Hum passed 19 yards to Bob Revelle and Dixon score the last touchdown of his collegiate career from the one.

If the Irish weren't finished at that point, they surely were by what came next.

Perfect Spiral
Nebraska took over on a punt on its 48-yard line. Rodgers flanked out to Humm's left, Humm stepped away from the center, fired quickly to Rodgers in the left flat. Johnny confounded Notre Dame and surprised a national television audience by lobbing a perfect spiral to sub split end Anderson, who had no opposition while taking the pass in stride and cruising to the end zone on the 52-yard play.

The first of three touchdowns in the third quarter came about after Steve Manstedt and Willie Harper dropped Clements for a 13-yard loss to his seven, forcing a punt.

Nebraska took the punt at the Notre Dame 42 and scored in six plays. Humm started it by passing 14 yards to Revelle and Rodgers ended it with a three-yard burst. A Humm-to-Goeller two-point conversion pass came up short after Rich Sanger's extra-point kick was blocked on the previous touchdown. Sanger also missed a 32-yard field goal attempt just before the half.

The Huskers took just eight plays to travel 80 yards to the 33-0 touchdown after Bob Thornton intercepted in the N.U. end zone.

Humm passed 12 yards to Rodgers and 29 to Revelle for the big plays before Rodgers went the final five up the middle.

Rodgers closed out his career in typical fashion. he took a screen pass from midfield, followed Al Austin's block to get by the first defender, then did the rest on his own, outlegging four defenders and eliminating the last man by cutting back so sharply that Barnett fell on his back.

The game was over by then, but Nebraska fans had to wait through the final quarter before they could rush onto the field and carry Devaney from the field for the last time.

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