Each week, The Daily Nebraskan will look to fill the void of no football season by examining a previous season in program history, looking at key moments, players or storylines. Previous editions recapped the inaugural 1890 season, 1940 Rose Bowl team and the 1962 team, Bob Devaney’s first year in Lincoln. On the docket this week is the 1970 edition of NU football.
Bob Devaney’s arrival in Lincoln ignited a football program that desperately needed a spark following a miserable 20-year stretch from 1941-61. After winning nine games and securing the program’s first bowl victory during his first year on the sidelines in 1962, Devaney led the Huskers to a 10-1 record and an Orange Bowl victory the following year.
During Devaney’s first five seasons in Lincoln, the Huskers won 47 games and lost just eight. After consecutive 6-4 campaigns in 1967 and 1968, however, Devaney shuffled the coaching staff, promoting an assistant named Tom Osborne to offensive coordinator.
The move immediately paid dividends, as the NU offense improved from 15.5 points per game in 1968 to 23.1 points per game in 1969. The 1969 Huskers started the season 2-2 but won their final seven games, including a 45-6 bludgeoning of Georgia in the Sun Bowl. The team’s 9-2 season earned the No. 11 rank in that season’s final Associated Press poll.
Devaney and the Huskers entered the 1970 season ranked No. 9 in the AP poll. A few key pieces returned from the 1969 team, notably quarterback Jerry Tagge, running back Jeff Kinney and linebacker Jerry Murtaugh.
Tagge threw for 1,355 yards and accounted for seven total touchdowns as a sophomore in 1969, while Kinney led the team in rushing with 590 yards and 10 scores. He also added 455 receiving yards with two touchdowns on 44 receptions. Defensively, Murtaugh recorded 126 total tackles en route to a first-team All-Big 8 selection.
NU drilled Wake Forest 36-12 to kick off the 1970 season. Tagge guided the Nebraska offense to a 28-5 halftime lead, running for two touchdowns and adding a third through the air on a 61-yard strike to wingback Johnny Rodgers for Rodgers’ first career touchdown. Senior running back Joe Orduna found the end zone twice in his first game after a knee injury sidelined him for all of the 1969 season.
In the season’s second week, Nebraska — still ranked No. 9 — traveled to the west coast for a gigantic showdown with No. 3 USC. The Trojans had beaten the Huskers the previous season, and they pounded legendary coach Bear Bryant and No. 16 Alabama 42-21 on the road in the season opener.
The Nebraska offense turned it over six times in the game, but stellar performances from Orduna and Murtaugh helped the team stay alive. Orduna ran for 135 yards on just 18 carries, including a 67-yard touchdown that gave NU a 21-14 lead late in the third quarter. Murtaugh recorded 14 solo tackles and assisted on 11 others, including a critical stop on fourth-and-1 within the final three minutes of the game, preserving a 21-21 tie.
Rodgers sparked the offense the following week against Army, catching five passes for 106 yards and two scores in a 28-0 shutout win. On Oct. 3, the Huskers outgained Minnesota 406-270 in a 35-10 thrashing.
In the Big 8 opener the following week, Kinney carried the offense to a 21-7 win over No. 16 Missouri. Kinney ran for 108 yards on 28 carries, opening the scoring against the Tigers with a 12-yard touchdown catch.
Rodgers was quiet on offense against Missouri, but made an impact on special teams. His 48-yard punt return touchdown in the fourth quarter gave the Huskers a two-score lead with just over four minutes to play.
On Oct. 17, Nebraska trailed Kansas 20-10 in the second quarter before scoring the game’s final 31 points in a 41-20 win. A week later against Oklahoma State, the Huskers scored 27 unanswered points in the second quarter to break open what was a 14-7 Nebraska lead. The NU offense, defense and special teams all recorded scores in the 65-31 win, as the defense returned two interceptions for touchdowns and Rodgers notched another punt return touchdown.
The Huskers won their next two games, 29-13 at Colorado and 54-29 at Iowa State, setting up a top-25 clash with Kansas State on Nov. 17. Nebraska dominated the Wildcats for four quarters in a 51-13 romp. Orduna ran for 105 yards and four touchdowns, while sophomore cornerback Joe Blahak recorded three of the Blackshirts’ seven interceptions, part of eight Wildcat turnovers on the day.
NU took a 9-0-1 record into the regular-season finale against Oklahoma, but it faced stiff competition from the Sooners. Tagge’s 1-yard touchdown run gave the Huskers a 28-21 lead midway through the fourth quarter, but the Sooners had a chance until the game’s final play, when junior cornerback Jim Anderson picked off a pass in the end zone to secure the win.
Anderson finished with two of the Blackshirts’ three interceptions, while Tagge and Rodgers powered the offense. Tagge threw for 220 yards and two touchdowns in addition to his rushing score, while Rodgers caught four passes for 100 yards and a touchdown.
NU entered bowl season ranked No. 3 in the AP poll, but No. 1 Texas and No. 2 Ohio State both lost their bowl games, giving the Huskers a chance to win the school’s first national championship. To do so, the Huskers first had to beat No. 5 LSU in the Orange Bowl.
The Huskers struck first, taking a 10-0 lead into the second quarter behind a field goal and an Orduna 3-yard touchdown run. LSU responded, scoring the game’s next 12 points and taking a two-point lead into the fourth quarter.
Tagge and the NU offense marched down the field early in the period. Then, with just under nine minutes to play, Tagge dove into the end zone, capping off the 67-yard drive with a touchdown and giving the Huskers a 17-12 lead they would not relinquish. Tagge, who threw for 153 yards and rushed for 45 more, earned the game’s Most Valuable Back trophy, but the Huskers’ fate had yet to be determined.
No. 6 Notre Dame, which toppled Texas in the Cotton Bowl, also had a case for the No. 1 ranking. The Fighting Irish won 10 games, but lost the final game of the regular season against USC, while the Huskers had tied the Trojans earlier in the year.
Nearly four days later, the final AP poll ranked NU No. 1 over Notre Dame, giving Devaney and the Huskers their first national championship.
Tagge threw for 1,536 yards with 12 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 1970 while adding 153 yards and five scores on the ground.
Orduna led the team in rushing, racking up 897 yards and 15 touchdowns en route to a first-team all-conference selection. Kinney rushed for 694 yards and four touchdowns and caught 20 passes for 206 yards and another score.
Rodgers returned a couple punts for touchdowns and added two more scores on the ground and nine through the air during his first season on the varsity team — freshmen were not allowed to play varsity football until the 1972 season.
Defensively, Murtaugh recorded 142 tackles in 1970, earning the Big 8 Conference Player of the Year honors and a first-team All-American selection.
Among the seniors on the 1970 team, Orduna, Murtaugh, offensive tackle Bob Newton, split end Guy Ingles, tackle Donnie McGhee, middle guard Ed Periard, defensive tackle Dave Walline and cornerback Paul Rogers — who also handled kicking duties — are all enshrined in the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame.
Despite the losses, a lot of talent from the 1970 team returned the following season, including Tagge, Kinney, Rodgers and defensive tackle Rich Glover. Ranked No. 2 at the start of the 1971 season, a lot of pieces remained for the Huskers to make a run at winning a second consecutive national championship.