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43 yards: A tornado on the loose
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43 yards: A tornado on the loose

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The distance: 43 yards

The star: Tony Davis

The date: Sept. 8, 1973

The outcome: Huskers 40, UCLA 13

The story: The tornado from Tecumseh had yelled so much in pregame warmups, his voice had gone hoarse.

"I was charged up," Tony Davis would tell reporters a few hours later. "I mean, I never was so charged up.”

So was the entire state of Nebraska, still reveling in the glory of the Devaney years, but now looking on with curiosity, and perhaps with a bit of anxiety, as a 35-year-old lanky redhead named Tom Osborne took charge of their beloved Huskers.

Talk about a pressure-packed debut. There were ABC cameras in the stadium and the foe was UCLA. The Bruins were ranked 10th in the country and, according to their coach Pepper Rodgers, were bigger and better than the team that had knocked off Nebraska in Los Angeles a year before.

Not only that, but with Dave Humm out with leg injury, the Huskers called on backup walk-on Steve Runty to start at quarterback.

What followed was a butt-kicking, the Huskers doing the kicking. Randy Borg set the tone early, returning a punt 77 yards for a touchdown. By that point it was 14-0 and Pepper’s boys did not look as big and bad as previously described.

The Huskers outyarded the Bruins 410-279. UCLA offensive players were left baffled by the lack of success they had in their wishbone offense.

"He must be close to a defensive genius," UCLA fullback James McAllister said of Nebraska’s defensive coordinator.

That coordinator’s name was Monte Kiffin.

Still, it remained a game heading into the fourth quarter, Nebraska up 26-13.

That’s when Davis put a foot on UCLA’s throat. The play was an option to the left. As good as the blocking was, the run was better. Davis made a terrific cut to his right at about the 30 and angled toward the end zone.

“(A Bruin) was chasing him, but Tony Davis said, ‘No, no, I’m going home, heading for Tecumseh,'” Husker play-by-play man Lyell Bremser exclaimed. “I think we’ve named him right, Jack. ‘The Tecumseh Tornado.’ He is something else.”

The sophomore running back was so excited he kicked the back pylon, then took a swipe at the fence behind the end zone.

Davis laughed many years later when recalling that moment in an interview with the Journal Star. "After the game, the first thing my mother said was, 'Act like you’ve been there before,’” he said.

Touchdown celebratory manners aside, Osborne’s Huskers had made their point. The Sports Illustrated game story that week came with the headline: “New Driver, Same Steamroller.”

Reach Brian Christopherson at bchristopherson@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. You can follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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