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Nebraska Tailbacks: It Was Quite a Run

Not a lot of schools outside of maybe USC, Auburn and Georgia had the number of quality running backs as the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the days of Tom Osborne. For fun, I included on this list his last days as offensive coordinator when the Huskers were nearly invincible. The Nebraska I-backs, or tail backs had quite a run and I mean that just as it sounds.

1970: Bob Devaney was the coach of the Cornhuskers when they burst onto the scene as a national power. 1970 was their first season without a loss, although they did suffer a tie against highly ranked USC, 21-21. Joe Orduna was from Omaha, Nebraska and a speedster at about 195 pounds. In 1970, Orduna ran for 897 yards and 15 touchdowns. 1971 star Jeff Kinney split time with Orduna and ran for 694 yards and another 4 touchdowns. Sometimes the Huskers would have both on the field at the same time with Kinney at wingback.

Orduna was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2nd round, but played 2 seasons with the New York football Giants and one with the Baltimore Colts.

1971: The Huskers did not become the power running football team they were in later years until Tom Osborne took over as head coach. Quarterback Jerry Tagge threw for over 2,000 yards in 1971 Jeff Kinney was their main I-back in 1971. While not the speedster like Oruna, Kinney was strong and powerful and ran like his hair was on fire. He ran for 1,136 yards and 17 touchdowns while catching 23 passes out of the backfield. The 6-2, 215 Kinney was a 1st round pick at number 23 by the Kansas City Chiefs. He did manage to stay in the NFL for 5 seasons, but he only ran for over 1,000 yards in those years as a back up.

and a good portion of those yards were to 1972 Heisman winner Johnny Rodgers. The 1971 version of the Huskers was one of the top teams of all time and they beat the Oklahoma Sooners in one of the better games of all time.

1972: Nebraska slumped to 9-2-1 during this season and Gary Dixon was their leading rusher with only 575 yards and 9 touchdowns. Quarterback Jerry Tagge was off to the NFL and David Humm was the new guy under center. Wide receiver Johnny Rodgers was the Heisman Trophy winner of 1972 and much of the Husker offense centered around the speedy Rodgers.

1973: Bob Devaney retired as the Huskers coach after the 1972 season and Tom Osborne took over. His first season as head coach resulted in an exact duplicate record as the year before with a 9-2-1 finish. Tough Tony Davis took over as I-Back and ran for 1,114 yards and 13 touchdowns. Davis was

the first of many future 1,000 yard rushers for Osborne’s Huskers.

1974: Tony Davis was again the Husker’s leading rusher with 652 yards. But, he shared a lot of carries with Monte Anthony who ran for 651 yards and John O’Leary who ran for 549 yards. Oklahoma had surpassed Nebraska as the Big 8 powerhouse and the Huskers only finished with a 9-3 record with losses to non conference Wisconsin, and conference foes Missouri and Oklahoma.

1975: The Huskers threw Monte Anthony, Tony Davis and John O’Leary at opposing defenses which led to a nice 10-2 record. Anthony led all rushers with 817 yards and 9 touchdowns. Davis followed up with 679 yards and O’Leary had 644 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns. The Huskers were still using pro style quarterbacks with this year’s version Vince Ferragamo lacking dual threat abilities. The Huskers raced out to a 10-0 start, but then lost to the Sooners and Arizona State in their bowl game. Nebraska was still good, but they needed to play catch up to Oklahoma.

Tough Tony Davis broke the Huskers all time rushing record with 2,445 yards, breaking Jeff Kinney’s record. Davis was a 4th round pick by the Cincinnati Bengals and he played 6 seasons in the NFL. O’Leary played 3 seasons in the NFL.

1976: Young Wichita Falls, Texas standout Rick Berns took the leading role this season while running for 972 yards and 11 touchdowns. Remember, they didn’t count bowl stats back in these days, so Berns should be credited with breaking the 1,000 yard barrier. Monte Anthony backed up Berns and ran for 594 yards and 5 touchdowns. Dodie Donnell played some fullback and ran for 520 yards. The Huskers didn’t have a great record with a 9-3-1 record and quarterback Vince Ferragamo was picked by the Los Angeles Rams in the 4th round and had a decent NFL career, after throwing for over 2,000 yards for Nebraska as a senior in 1976.

1977: I.M. Hipp was a walk on from South Carolina that came in and exploded for the Huskers in Rick Berns ran for 700 yards and 9 touchdowns. The Huskers were upset in their opening game by unranked Washington State and then they were upset by Iowa State, but after losing to nemesis Oklahoma, they still finished 9-3 that season.

1977. During his first season, Hipp ran for 1,353 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was a national sensation if for nothing more than his cool name. The previous year’s leading rusher was more than a solid back up and

1978: I.M. Hipp and Rick Berns both returned for the Cornhuskers. But, this time Berns led the team in rushing with 1,032 yards while Hipp ran for 1,002 yards. This was an interesting team. They lost to top ranked Alabama in their opening game in Birmingham, 3-20. But, they were Nebraska and Tom Osborne was their coach and they fought back. They won 9 games in a row including a surprising win over top ranked Oklahoma. In the 1978, they played two top ranked team and split with them. Unfortunately, after beating the Sooners for the first time since 1971, the Huskers were stunned by unranked Missouri. The two giant rivals got a chance to play again in the Orange Bowl and the Sooners got revenge on the Huskers, 24-31. Berns finished his Nebraska career with 2,704 yards rushing and 31 touchdowns breaking the short lived Tony Davis all time rushing record. Berns was a 2nd round draft pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and he played in the NFL for 4 season earning a Super Bowl ring with the Oakland Raiders. Berns was one of my all time favorites along with Tony Davis and he was a 6-2, 205 hard running star.

1979: I.M. Hipp was cast aside for new star, Jarvis Redwine in 1979. Californian Redwine was the leading rusher for the Huskers this season with 1,100 yards and 9 touchdowns. He began his career at Oregon State, but transferred to Nebraska. Hipp ran for only 585 yards and 4 touchdowns. However, he became the new all time leading rusher for the Huskers with 2,940 yards which wouldn’t last long as this school. Andra Franklin ran for another 583 yards and 4 more touchdowns. After the season, Hipp, the former walk-on was picked by the Oakland Raiders in the 1980 draft, but his career was brief. The Cornhuskers won their first 10 games before losing to the Sooners again and then the Houston Cougars in the Cotton Bowl by 3 points each. A 10-2 record was not bad, but Husker fans wanted championships.

1980: The Cornhuskers played a tough schedule in 1980 with wins over ranked Penn State, Missouri and Mississippi State. They lost to Florida State and Oklahoma, yet again, Of course, Jarvis Redwine led the team in rushing again with 1,119 and 9 touchdowns. 1980 was the season that Roger Craig. I loved watching Craig play not only at Nebraska, but with the San Francisco 49ers. I loved his high stepping running style and his heart. Craig came in and ran for 769 yards and 15 touchdowns. Impressively, both Redwine and Craig averaged over 7 yards per carry. Andra Franklin ran for 678 yards. The Huskers finished their tough schedule with a 10-2 record. Redwine was picked in the 2nd round by Minnesota and he played 3 seasons in the NFL.

another one of my personal favorites arrived on the scene in

1981: So much for the state of Iowa not producing any football recruits, Roger Craig played high school football in Davenport, Iowa. In high school, Craig was a high school All American. Craig ran for 1,060 yards 6 touchdowns. The Huskers had a new talent joining Craig from Camden, New Jersey  by the name of Mike Rozier. Gaining 943 yards in his first season, the duo of Craig and Rozier were very dangerous.

The Huskers had also made upgrades at the quarterback position with a true dual threat guy out of Fort Worth, Texas in Turner Gill. This team was raw early and lost 2 out of their first 3 games. They came on strong and actually beat Oklahoma and received an Orange Bowl berth where they lost to national champions Clemson. They finished 9-3, but changes were on the horizon.

1982: Mike Rozier was one of the best running backs in college football history and even though Roger Craig was a talent, Rozier was a great one. On the 1982 season under the quarterbacking of Turner Gill, the Huskers produced an excellent record of 12-1. Their one loss came against future national champion Penn State in their 3rd game. They won the Big 8 and beat LSU in the Orange Bowl. Rozier was a beast, running for 1,689 yards and 15 touchdowns. Georgia’s Herschel Walker

won the Heisman Trophy in 1982, and Rozier finished way back at 10th.

Gill only threw for over 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns and ran for nearly 500 yards and 4 touchdowns. The Huskers secret weapon may have been wide receiver and return man Irving Fryar.

Roger Craig was picked with the San Francisco 49ers with their 2nd round pick and he was even more of a star in the league. A part of 3 Super Bowl winners and owner of over 8,000 rushing yards and nearly 5000 receiving yards, Craig was a real star.

1983: The Cornhuskers were clearly the best team all season long. They started the season by totally dominating the defending national champion Penn State in the kickoff classic, 44-6. It wasn’t as close as the score. The Huskers blew out everybody they played all season long except Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. Those games were close with Nebraska beating the Cowboys, 14-10, and Oklahoma 28-21. The Cornhuskers were upset in the Orange Bowl by 4th ranked Miami which put the Hurricanes on the national scene.

Mike Rozier finished with 2,148 yards and 29 touchdowns in one of the better seasons of all time. That production earned Rozier the Heisman Trophy. The senior Rozier went to the USFL instead of the NFL, but he was taken in the NFL Supplemental Draft with the 2nd pick. After playing a couple of seasons in the short-lived USFL, Rozier came back to the NFL. In the NFL, Rozier played 6 seasons, mostly with the Houston Oilers.

1984: In spite of losing so much talent off the 1983 team like Rozier, Gill, Irving Fryar and Dean Steinkuhler, the 1984 Huskers were still good enough to finish 10-2. Doug DuBose and Jeff Smith

were the new I-backs and they were effective enough. DuBose ran for 1,040 yards while Smith ran for 935 yards.

The only loses for the Huskers were to Syracuse and old nemesis Oklahoma who was in the process of rebounding. Smith was a 10th round pick by the Kansas City Chiefs and played 4 seasons in the NFL.

1985: The Huskers lost their opener to the Seminoles of Florida State in Tallahassee. Then, they went on a roll again and won 9 straight and beat a couple of ranked teams. They lost to national champion Oklahoma in their last season game and then their bowl game to 5th ranked Michigan to finish 9-3. Doug DuBose ran for 1,161 and Paul Miles ran for 689 yards. Fullback Tom Rathman ran for an impressive 881 yards and would later join Roger Craig with the 49ers and their Super Bowls. DuBose also played a little with the 49ers and long enough to earn a Super Bowl ring.

1986: Nebraska beat 11th ranked Florida State in their opener, pretty convincingly. They won their first 6 games and were 3rd in the country when they were surprised by Colorado, 10-20. They lost to Keith Jones and Tyreese Knox handled the I-Back position. Jones ran for 830 yards and Knox for 419 yards.

Oklahoma yet again, but then beat LSU in their bowl game, to finish 10-2. Running quarterbacks Steve Taylor and Clete Blakeman were efficient enough and

1987: Cornhusker fans were in Cornhusker heaven with the 9-0 start and the number 1 ranking when the Sooners again beat them. They rebounded and beat Colorado in the season’s last game, but lost to Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl. The promising 9-0 start ended with a 10-2 disappointing finish. Who else at the time was disappointed with 10-2 seasons? Nebraska wanted another national championship.  Keith Jones exploded for an impressive 1,232 rushing performance and 13 touchdowns and he was backed by Tyreese Knox again who ran for 428 yards.

The Webster Grove, Missouri native, Jones was picked in the 3rd round by the Atlanta Falcons, but he only played 3 seasons in the NFL.

1988: Ken Clark was the next I-Back in line and he ran for an impressive 1,497 yards and old reliable Tyreese Knox was still the back up and ran for 490 yards. Nebraska was led by now senior quarterback Steve Taylor and this was a good team. They started the season ranked 2nd, but lost in game 3 to 5th ranked Troy Aikman led UCLA. They beat 4 other ranked teams including their biggest obstacle, the Sooners, before they lost to a loaded Miami team in the Orange Bowl. The Cornhuskers finished 11-2 on the season.

1989: Nebraska had an easy schedule this season and didn’t play a ranked team until their 9th game when they played 2nd ranked Colorado. This was when the Buffaloes had become really good under Bill McCartney and they beat Nebraska in Boulder, 21-27. The Huskers won their last two games including another win over Oklahoma and then were crushed by Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl, 17-41. Gerry Gdowski, at quarterback, was a little better passer than anyone else they had had in recent seasons and he still ran for nearly a 1,000 yards. Omaha native Ken Clark ran for 1,196 yards to end his Husker career. He was picked by the Indianapolis Colts in the 8th round and played there for 3 seasons only.

1990: Leodis Flowers led the Huskers in rushing this season with 940 yards in a very disappointing season for Nebraska when they finished 9-3 and ranked 24th. But, the times were changing very quickly.

1991: Nebraska only finished 9-2-1 this season, but they packed a pretty mean one/two punch with Derek Brown and Calvin Jones. Brown led Huskers running backs with 1,313 yards and 14 touchdowns and Jones ran for 900 yards and 14 more touchdowns. The Huskers held the honor of playing both national champions that season with Washington and Miami who split the title. 1991 Wash vs Miami

1992: Nebraska lost to Washington in Seattle and they were upset by Iowa State before losing to Florida State in the Orange Bowl. They did manage to beat Oklahoma, but losing to the Florida Derek Brown and Calvin Jones were both back, but this time Jones led the team in rushing with 1,210 yards and Brown ran for 1,011 yards.

schools in bowl games was getting tiresome.

A young player by the name of Tommie Frazier from Florida was now on the team and would be a huge part in the great days ahead for Nebraska. Derek Brown was drafted in the 4th round by the New Orleans Saints and played there for 4 seasons.

1993: This was the year that it really began for the Huskers with an 11-1 finish, but they still lost to Florida State in a frustrating Orange Bowl. Calvin Jones ran for 1,043 yards to led the team in rushing and a young guy named Lawrence Phillips ran for 508 yards that season. The Nebraska players and coaches thought they should have won the Orange Bowl and were on a mission after this season. Jones was drafted by the Los Angeles Raiders and surprisingly didn’t do that much in the NFL. He played 3 years and was done.

1994: Finally! The Huskers crossed a line to another level in 1994 and beat Miami for the national championship. Lawrence Phillips was a star while running for 1,722 yards and 16 touchdowns. Quarterback Tommie Frazier had blood clots and missed much of the season and the late Brook Berringer stepped in admirably and led the Huskers to glory. The defense was sensational.

1995: This was the team that was possibly the best college football team of all time. Nobody gave the Huskers much competition this season with the Huskers crushing everyone. They beat the Sooners, 37-0 and Florida in the national championship game, 62-24. Ahman Green stepped up and led the team in rushing with 1,086 yards and Lawrence Phillips had off field problems that cost him playing time. He still ran for 547 yards. The late Phillips was a 1st round draft pick, but he couldn’t stay out of trouble.

1996: The Huskers lost 2 games this season, but the talent was still there and Scott Frost was their new coach. Ahman Green was again their leading rusher with 917 yards. DeAngelo Evans backed Damon Benning going for another 465 yards.

up Green and ran for 776 yards with

1997: Ahman Green was back for one more season and he ran for 1,877 yards as the Huskers came roaring back to share a national championship with the Michigan Wolverines. This would be the legendary Tom Osborne’s last season as he chose to retire on top with the Huskers finishing up with a 13-0 record. Over the past 5 seasons, the Cornhuskers posted a 60-3 record which was phenomenal. Green was a 3rd round pick by the Seattle Seahawks, but most of his success came with the Green Bay Packers. With the Packers, he was a 4 time Pro Bowler and with several different teams, he finished with over 9,000 career yards.

Nebraska legend Tom Osborne retired after the 1997 season with an all time record of 255-49-3. His teams won 3 national titles.