What will happen with the Nebraska football program now that Bob Devaney is no longer the head coach?
Can the 35-year-old Tom Osborne carry on the winning tradition that Devaney worked so hard to develop in Husker land?
Those were some of the questions fans were asking entering the 1973 season. No. 4 Nebraska began the season against No. 10 UCLA in front of 74,966 fans at Memorial Stadium and a national ABC television audience.
Most of the pre-game focus, of course, was on Tom Osborne and the transition with the coaching staff.
“Tom was very cool and didn’t tip his hand on his emotions leading up to that game, but talking to him years later, he was extremely concerned and nervous taking over,” said senior cornerback Randy Borg. “When Bob (Devaney) retired we had other assistant coaches who wanted to be the head coach, such as Monte Kiffin, Warren Powers and Carl Selmer. I never heard any players mention who they wanted as head coach. That was way above us…we were there to play football for our position coaches.”
But the coaching staff and players didn’t let the transition affect them, as they were ready and motivated for the Bruins of UCLA who ended NU’s 32-game win streak in Los Angeles the year before.
Tony Davis (NU Media Relations)
“The coaching staff showed the team a clipping from a newspaper in Los Angeles which had a quote from UCLA head coach Pepper Rodgers,” Borg said. It read: ‘The one thing making it easier to prepare for Nebraska this year was that Johnny Rodgers has graduated and we don’t have to worry about punting the ball to them.’
“We took that personally, at the insistence of Coach Kiffin, and worked extra hard on special teams that week. Then, on the second punt of the game, I returned it 77 yards for a touchdown. As I went through the end zone and circled back around to our sideline, Kiffin was halfway across the field yelling at Rodgers.”
Borg’s return was set up perfectly. Nebraska got great blocks from John Dutton and Zaven Yaralian, then Borg did the rest and ran down the field for the score.
“It was a left return…their left contain man had a poor angle and it was easy to step inside and then get around him down the sidelines,” Borg said.
That return gave NU a 14-0 lead with 6:13 left in the first quarter. UCLA fought back gamely to pull within seven, at 20-13, by halftime.
“UCLA was a wishbone type of rushing offense that would lull you asleep, and then quarterback Mark Harmon would throw over the top and most of the time go for the home run. They had some very fast offensive backs,” Borg said.
The Bruins rushed for 239 yards but only had 20 yards passing, completing just two. NU’s defense pitched a shutout in the second half as its offense pulled away, scoring three more touchdowns, in a 40-13 rout.
John Bell (who replaced All-American Rich Glover), stymied the Bruin offense up front, while the Husker offense slowly pulled away on the scoreboard.
“I remember Tony Davis ran for a touchdown, and he kicked over a pylon and took his fist and slammed it against the fence,” Borg said. “Tony had a breakout game. He was really unknown as a sophomore. He was a bowling ball that didn’t mind running over people…a very emotional player.”
"I was charged up," Davis said. "I mean, I never was so charged up. I yelled so much before the game I got hoarse."
Borg said Coach Osborne’s first five touchdowns as head coach were scored by native Nebraskans. Borg was from Alliance, Steve Runty was from Ogallala, Frosty Anderson was from Scottsbluff and Davis was from Tecumseh.
Runty filled in at quarterback for the injured Dave Humm and was 9-of-11 passing for 105 yards, running and throwing for scores. He shared the offensive player of the game honors with Davis, who ran for a game-high 147 yards and two touchdowns.
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Shane Gilster is the Editor of Big Red Report Magazine. His stories focus mainly on catching up with former Huskers and examining Nebraska athletic history.