The 1982 Orange Bowl game was not without controversy. NBC-TV’s Don Criqui reported at halftime that Clemson Coach Danny Ford asked the officials beforehand to closely watch Dave Rimington, Nebraska’s All-America and Outland Trophy-winning junior center.
The officials apparently did. Rimington was flagged for three penalties in the first half, two for holding and one for clipping as the Tigers took a 13-7 lead at the intermission.
Nebraska contributed to the problem, without the officials’ involvement. A Mark Mauer fumble set up the first of three Donald Igwebuike field goals, the game’s first points, and a Phil Bates’ fumble at the Cornhusker 27-yard line set up Clemson’s first touchdown late in the second quarter.
The Tigers scored 10 unanswered points in the third quarter for what proved an insurmountable lead on the way to a 22-15 victory and a national championship.
Clemson went into the game undefeated and ranked No. 1. After a 1-2 start, Nebraska had won eight in a row and worked its way to No. 4 in the rankings, behind Georgia and Alabama. As it turned out, Georgia lost to Pittsburgh in the Sugar Bowl and Alabama fell to Texas in the Cotton Bowl, leaving two-loss Nebraska with the unlikely possibility of being voted national champion with a victory.
The point was moot, however.
The game was characterized by defense. Nebraska ranked second nationally in rushing, averaging 330.5 yards per game, and sixth in total offense, 437.5 yards. But Clemson’s defense, which included freshman middle guard William “The Refrigerator” Perry, limited the Cornhuskers to 256 yards, 193 of them, on 40 carries, rushing.
The 6-foot-3, 335-pound Perry was listed as the starter but not credited with a tackle.
Nebraska managed 13 first downs, equaling its season low at Iowa in the opener. Clemson controlled the ball, running 74 plays to 57 for Nebraska. But the Blackshirts, led by linebacker Steve Damkroger’s 11 tackles and end Jimmy Williams’ seven, limited the Tigers to 289 yards.
The Cornhuskers rallied in the fourth quarter. Roger Craig, the game’s leading rusher with 87 yards on 10 carries, took a pitchout and ran to his left, 26 yards, for a touchdown then added a 2-pont conversion to cut the deficit to 22-15 with 9:15 remaining.
A key play on the eight-play, 69-yard drive came on third-and-1 at the Clemson 46, Mike Rozier’s 8-yard run on what appeared to set up as an I-back pass – Nebraska’s first touchdown had come on Rozier’s 25-yard pass to wingback Anthony Steels midway through the first quarter.
Anticipating Clemson’s defensive strength, Nebraska resorted to such Tomfoolery.
In any case, after Craig’s touchdown and conversion, Clemson went three-and-out, as did the Cornhuskers when a third-and-4 pitch at the Nebraska 43-yard line from Mauer to Craig went awry for a loss of 3 yards, leading Grant Campbell to punt for a sixth time.
The always-steady Campbell averaged 43 yards per punt.
Campbell’s 60-yard punt went into the end zone, and Clemson began at its 20 with 5:24 remaining. Nebraska wouldn’t get the ball back until 6 seconds remained, at its own 46-yard line.
The final play was a deflected Mauer pass intended for Todd Brown at the Clemson 15.
If the Cornhuskers could’ve rallied that night in Miami, Osborne probably would’ve had his first national championship. “Probably would’ve” applied to the next season as well, though the title-disconnect came not in a bowl game but in the third game at Penn State.
Tom's Time is a regular feature that will take a closer look at the life of Tom Osborne. Nebraska has a storied history in football that dates back to the earliest years of the game, but the tradition to which Husker fans hold Nebraska is mostly a reference to Osborne's 25 years as head coach. And that will always be worth exploring in greater detail. Click here for all of the entries in the series.
Mike is in his 40th year covering Husker athletics, after seven years of community-college teaching. He has written and edited a dozen books, all on Nebraska football except one, a brief history of Husker basketball. He previously wrote for the Lincoln Journal and Star and Huskers Illustrated. He enjoys music, from the Grateful Dead and Jack Johnson to Van Morrison, Bob Wills, Glenn Miller and pretty much anyone else.