Nebraska 13, Auburn 7
Jan. 1, 1964
Statistically speaking, Dennis Claridge’s career at Nebraska was finished when the Cornhuskers traveled to Miami to play Auburn in the 30th anniversary Orange Bowl game. That’s because the NCAA wouldn’t include bowl games in compiling official statistics until 40 years later.
Claridge was already the leading passer in school history, with 1,733 yards and eight touchdowns in three seasons, not counting the 1962 Gotham Bowl game. He completed 9-of-14 passes for 146 yards and one touchdown in the 36-34 victory against Miami at frigid Yankee Stadium.
In any case, Claridge officially threw 298 passes, completing 125 (41.9 percent) with 14 interceptions during his Husker career. By comparison, Taylor Martinez threw 288 passes last season.
Claridge completed 56 passes in 1963, also a school single-season record at the time, and further evidence of how college football has changed over half a century. Players went both ways in Claridge’s time, offense and defense. And most teams didn’t pass nearly as much as teams do now.
Though Claridge set passing records, the Huskers were run-oriented in 1963, with an unbalanced line and option plays. Claridge was listed at 6-foot-4 and 222 pounds in the Orange Bowl program, taller and heavier than some of his offensive linemen, particularly those in the interior. Starting center Ron Michka was listed at 5-11 and 204 pounds, for example, starting guard John Kirby at 6-2, 218.
Claridge was second on the team in rushing yards in 1963, with 370 and a team-high 10 touchdowns. Halfback Willie Ross was the Huskers’ leading rusher, with 431 yards and three touchdowns, all of them against Kansas. Nebraska led the nation in rushing, averaging 263 yards per game.
Such was the context for the fourth bowl game in Husker history, two running teams supported by staunch defenses. Auburn’s All-America quarterback Jimmy Sidle was the nation’s second-leading rusher, with 1,006 yards, and finished seventh in voting for the Heisman Trophy.
Claridge stole the show in Miami, however, on the second play from scrimmage. From the Nebraska 32-yard line, Ross went in motion. Claridge took the snap, faked and ran to his right, through a hole cleared by unanimous All-America guard Bob Brown and tackle Lloyd Voss.
Some 40 yards into the run, Billy Edge, Auburn’s lightest player (5-11, 175), tried to pull down Claridge, to no avail. The touchdown run covered 68 yards, an Orange Bowl record.
The previous record was held by Mississippi’s Ned Peters, who ran 67 yards against Catholic University in the 1936 Orange Bowl game.
The Huskers’ Dave Theisen, a halfback, kicked the extra point and then provided the winning points with first-half field goals of 31 and 36 yards. The 31-yarder late in the first quarter broke the Orange Bowl record, which had been 22 yards by Tennessee’s Bowden Wyatt in the 1939 game against Oklahoma. Theisen’s second field goal, early in the second quarter, broke his own record.
The game was definitely different then.
The Huskers didn’t score in the second half, while Auburn’s lone score came on a 13-yard touchdown run by Sidle in the third quarter. Sidle passed the Tigers to the Nebraska 11-yard line late in the game, but Nebraska held on downs, Auburn’s last play a pass broken up by Kirby and Bruce Smith.
The Associated Press and United Press International both conducted polls, media and coaches respectively. Both polls included only 10 teams. And both regular-season polls were final. So Nebraska, its only loss against Air Force at Lincoln in the fourth game of the season, was sixth and 9-1 Auburn fifth in the AP poll going into the Orange Bowl game. And that’s how they finished.