Memorable Game Article
Gibbs Rules
September 9, 1972: UCLA vs Nebraska
Mark Harmon certainly had a huge legacy to live up when he decided to play football. His parents were Tom Harmon, the 1940 Heisman Trophy winning RB from Michigan, and actress Elyse Knox. Growing up in Southern California, Mark took his football talents to Pierce Junior College in Los Angeles before transferring to UCLA for his junior year. He won the starting quarterback job to lead the new wishbone offense installed by Coach Pepper Rodgers for the 1972 season.
The Bruins, overshadowed the previous decade by their crosstown rival, USC, were coming off a 2-7-1 season in Rodgers' first year. And what a daunting challenge to open the new campaign. Bob Devaney's two-time defending national champion Nebraska Cornhusk­ers, riding a 32-game unbeaten streak, were the preseason #1 as they came to the Los Angeles Coliseum for the Saturday night opener.
UCLA was a 15-point underdog, but they had a major factor in their favor - their new wish­bone attack run by a new quarterback with the assistance of new RB James McAlister, a highly touted recruit who had missed the 1971 season because he was academically ineligi­ble. So you'd expect the Bruins to start strong, but the UN Blackshirts defense to adjust to it by halftime. On the other side of the ball, UCLA had only one defensive starter return­ing from '71. So even if the Bruins scored some points with their new offense, their chances of holding down the mighty Cornhusker attack was slim and none. They would need the UN offense to stop itself with turnovers, and that's exactly what happened.
Rodgers approached the new season with a quiet confidence. He privately predicted that his young team might surprise some teams - even Nebraska.

A crowd of 67,702 in the Los Angeles Coliseum saw one of the biggest upsets in college football history.
Tom Harmon went into broadcasting after his playing career ended. He did the play-by-play for UCLA starting in the 1960s. So he announced his son's games during Mark's two-year stint as a Bruin.
First Quarter
Nebraska got the ball to start the game and drove 37y in nine plays to set up a 45y FG attempt by Rich Sanger that fell a few inches short of the crossbar.
UCLA took over at their 28 and immediately introduced McAlister to the college football world. He exploded for 35y into UN territory on his first carry. But the drive stalled; so Mexican-born soccer-style kicker Efren Herrera tried a 42y FG only to have CB Joe Blahak block the kick, giving the Huskers the ball at their own 37.
On the next play, FB Bill Olds fumbled and DE Cal Peterson recovered for UCLA on the UN 35. The Bruins didn't move far but it was enough for Herrera to kick a 27y FG.
UCLA 3 Nebraska 0 (4:26)

Mark Harmon looks for opening

Second Quarter
The underdog's best friend - the turnover bug - bit Nebraska early in the period when RB Gary Dixon lost the ball after a 13y run, and Peterson was Johnny-on-the-spot again at the UN 46.
Acting like he'd been running the wishbone his whole life, Harmon threw his first collegiate pass on the first play, and it could not have turned out any better. WR Brad Lyman out­fought Blahak for the ball at the 10 and ran into the end zone. UCLA 10 Nebraska 0 (13:25)
Later in the period, All-American RB/WR and Heisman candidate Johnny Rodgers returned a UCLA punt 50y which, combined with a holding penalty on the Bruins, gave the Corn­huskers 1st-and-10 at the 11. But another mistake, this time an offensive pass interfer­ence penalty, forced a second field goal attempt. This time Sanger split the uprights from the 18. UCLA 10 Nebraska 3 (5:48)
Rodgers sparked the Huskers' drive that tied the score. First, he made a key 3rd-and-9 catch to place the ball 12y into UCLA territory. Then he drew a 42y interference penalty. Finally, he ran the last 11y to the end zone. Sanger converted. UCLA 10 Nebraska 10 (2:26) End of Q2: UCLA 10 Nebraska 10

L-R: James McAlister, Johnny Rodgers, David Humm
Third Quarter
Another Nebraska turnover gave the home team an excellent chance to retake the lead. Sophomore QB David Humm overthrew Rodgers, the ball landing in the hands of CB Jimmy Allen, who returned the interception 37y to the UN 15.
It took five plays but the Bruins converted the break into a touchdown when Harmon took it over from the two. UCLA 17 Nebraska 10 (7:21)
The Huskers' turnover woes continued on their next possession. Dixon lost his second fumble when he ran into one of his offensive linemen at the UN 33. However, the Black­shirts forced a 33y Herrera FG try that went awry.
Starting from their 20, Nebraska unleashed their longest drive of the evening, driving 53y in 12 plays to the 27. Just when it seemed inevitable that the favorites would tie the game, Allen picked off Humm again, this time at the 10.
End of Q3: UCLA 17 Nebraska 10

Fourth Quarter
Three plays into the period, Humm found TE Jerry List open for a short completion that turned into a 44y touchdown. UCLA 17 Nebraska 17 (14:01)
The Bruins drove deep into enemy territory but lost the ball when McAlister fumbled at the 17.
UCLA took over at their 43 with over six minutes to play. Harmon drove his unit into Husker territory but soon faced 3rd-and-11 at the 33. Mark went to the air and found TE Jack Lassner, who snagged the ball between three defenders for a first down at the 20. With time ticking away, UCLA ran the ball three times for seven yards, then brought out Herrera for a 30y field goal that sailed true. UCLA 20 Nebraska 17 (0:22)
Amazingly, Humm got the Huskers to the UCLA 40, but his desperation pass to Rodgers on the final play fell incomplete to end Nebraska's 32-game unbeaten streak.

Harmon rushed for 77y and completed four of eight passes for 65y and a touchdown.
McAlister ended with 90y on 18 carries.

Post Game
Coach Devaney: "Our players knew UCLA was going to be ready to play. It was not a matter of overconfidence at all. When we went out in the second half tied at 10, I thought we were going to win. But we never really managed to take the momentum away from them."
Coach Rodgers: "I didn't know how good our defense would be. We're not pros, all sopho­mores and juniors, but I knew we had speed and character and attitude. Emotion was a big factor for us. We were ready to play."

Homer Smith, UCLA's offensive coordinator who was tasked with installing the wishbone, was pleased with Harmon's commitment to the system. "Mark had been so eager about learning the wishbone," Homer recalled, "and had worked so hard that I was really grati­fied he did so well after all the investment he had made."
Bruin RB Kermit Johnson joined in the praise. "I gained a lot of respect for Mark. If you look back, Mark had to take some helluva shots for that wishbone to work right. He ran the wishbone just like no other quarterback has run it. There were times he took shots just to draw defenders to him to eliminate them and then pitched the ball."

UCLA finished the 1972 season with an 8-3 record, good enough for a #15 ranking in the final Associated Press poll. Nebraska went 9-2-1 to earn the #4 slot.

If the name Mark Harmon didn't ring a bell while you read this arti­cle, you're probably not a fan of one of the longest running scripted TV shows in history. He has played Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs on NCIS for 18 years.

Reference: College Football's Most Memorable Games, 1913 Through 1990: The Stories of 54 History-Making Contests, Fred Eisenhammer and Eric B. Sondheimer (1991)

Tom Harmon

Pepper Rodgers

Bob Devaney

Rich Sanger

Efren Herrera

Joe Blahak

Bill Olds

Gary Dixon

Jerry List

Homer Smith