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Those closest to Texas or Ohio State might have known before the kickoffs that neither team was ready to play its best of all possible games. When a couple of prominent Longhorns missed a Cotton Bowl awards dinner in midweek, for example, one of the Texas coaches mused, "I think we're having a mild attack of the No. l's and the Double A's," the latter meaning the All-Americas, one presumed. Meanwhile, some Ohio State seniors were apparently so riled at Woody's concentration-camp preparations—he ordered ankles taped on the flight out, God's truth—it was rumored that they almost voted to come home before the game.
All of this, of course, was terrific for unbeaten but once-tied Nebraska, which had wound up No. 3 after the regular season. Down in Miami, Nebraska was rooting for the long-shot triple miracle which, indeed, occurred.
First, Joe Theismann and Ara Parseghian's "mirror," or inverted defense, similar to the one UCLA had used to scare Texas, hooked the Horns by a score of 24-11. Then Jim Plunkett, a better passer than the Buckeyes had ever seen, did it to Ohio State by 27-17. And so in the daffy space of six hours it was all there for Nebraska. Everything. "It's all yours," Bob Devaney told his players. "All you have to do now is go out and win it."
Strangely, this same thing had happened to Nebraska five years ago. The Cornhuskers had wound up undefeated in the 1965 season, but so had Michigan State and Arkansas. Nebraska was No. 3 again. But Michigan State and Arkansas were upset in the Rose and Cotton during the day, and there was Nebraska in the nighttime Orange Bowl against Alabama. But Nebraska lost.
This time, however, Nebraska wasn't facing a team like that Alabama outfit, and the Cornhuskers knew it. Nebraska could go out there and outscore stodgy LSU for sure, and finally it could show all those effete snobs with their magazines and networks, and all of those dummies who vote in the polls (except Bob Devaney, of course) just who bad deserved to be No. 1 right along.
Nebraska did exactly this. Just when it seemed the Cornhuskers were trying to choke it away again, they steamed up a drive behind Jerry Tagge—hardly a household word in quarterbacks—for the 17-12 victory that hoisted the Cornhuskers all the way to the top.
They did it, essentially, by seizing on the gigantic momentum of the occasion. But it has to be said—to the outrage of both, one may be sure—that Nebraska had the extra good fortune to be confronted with an opponent that had somehow managed to discard offensive football a short time after the center snap was invented. LSU plays rugged football on defense, but the interception and the punt return are closer to what the Tigers think of in terms of an attack than the pitch and the pass.
Before the game Nebraska's tough roverback, Dave Morock, was discussing the topic with SI's Pat Putnam. "LSU's offense?" said Morock. "Aw, they've got some kind of half-assed little draw play." Well, maybe a few other little bits and pieces. Nebraska had to come from behind to win, and in the wild last couple of minutes No. 1 was being booted around like the loose balls on the field.
In Dallas the defense that Notre Dame used to shut down Steve Worster with only 42 yards running, four fumbles and a busted nose and to close off Jim Bertelsen with only five yards will be discussed all spring as the heaven-sent answer to the triple option. It is a good defense, of course, especially when Notre Dame plays it, but was the one Royal expected—and the reason why Phillips had such a fine day running and passing. Parseghian decided to make Phillips a star, to take away the yards from Worster and Bertelsen, at any risk. Ara felt those two runners could control the ball for Texas. Worster, after all, had gained 155 yards on the Irish in the 1970 game.
"Texas wasn't noted for its passing," Parseghian said, "so we wanted them to try to pass, and we wanted to spread them out so they wouldn't have that lead blocker in the backfield. It worked—but it almost didn't."