LINCOLN — Five days before Nebraska’s first football game this season, Coach Tom Osborne made the following statement about quarterback Steve Taylor:
“He has a lot more confidence, knows what he is doing and has great skills. He is in position to have a great, great year.”
That’s strong stuff from the normally reserved Osborne.
But Taylor’s chances of fulfilling that prophecy looked even better Saturday after he fired a school-record five touchdown passes to lead No. 2 Nebraska to a 42-33 victory over No. 3 UCLA. A crowd of 76,313, the 150th straight sellout, watched at Memorial Stadium.
The Huskers needed everything Taylor who suffered a bruised shoulder in the first quarter could muster because UCLA limited them to their second-lowest rushing total in the 1980s (117 yards), outgained them 361 total yards to 334 and scooped up four fumbles.
“If somebody had told me we would only run for 117 yards and would lose four fumbles, I’d have said we’d get whipped by 21 points, “ Osborne said. “So we’ve got a lot of things to improve.
“Again, I don’t want to be a spoilsport and say I didn’t appreciate this. Those guys gave a great effort today, and we played a heckuva football team.”
Maybe the greatest effort came from Taylor.
A week ago, he rushed for a quarterback’s school-record 157 yards in nine carries in a 56-12 victory over Utah State.
On Saturday, the junior from Fresno, Calif., surpassed All-Americans David Humm and Vince Ferragamo and second-team All-American Turner Gill in the school record book with TD passes of 9 yards to tight end Tom Banderas, 11 yards to I-back Ken Clark, 48 yards to split end Rod Smith and 35 and 33 yards to tight end Todd Millikan.
And the 6-foot, 195-pound right-hander did it in pain, suffering a bruised left shoulder late in the first quarter.
“It was kind of a shaky situation when we looked at Steve possibly leaving the game, “ Osborne said. “He was playing in a lot of pain.
“We had to quit running options because of that, which I think hurt our running game. But I just didn’t want to beat him up after he got hurt.”
Taylor’s performance also tied the Big Eight record of five touchdown passes set in 1938 by Ralph Miller of Kansas against Washburn University of Topeka, Kan. Miller is the longtime successful basketball coach at Oregon State.
The former NU school record was four touchdown passes twice by Ferragamo (vs. Kansas State and Texas Christian in 1976) and once each by Humm (vs. Kansas in 1972) and Gill (vs. Colorado in 1981).
Taylor, a 41.9 percent passer a year ago, completed 10 of 15 passes (66.7 percent) for 217 yards and no interceptions. He also carried the ball 12 times for 27 yards.
The defense also pitched in, stopping Heisman Trophy candidate Gaston Green’s streak of 100-yard rushing games at eight.
The UCLA senior scored three touchdowns, but netted just 46 yards in 19 carries. His two TD runs of 5 and 2 yards and two two-point conversions in the final 3:46 trimmed Nebraska’s 42-17 lead to 42-33.
For the game, he scored 22 points on three touchdowns and two conversions.
The Huskers’ first defense sparkled early.
UCLA, thanks to two Nebraska turnovers and a 31-yard punt, snapped the ball in NU territory on 16 of its first 17 plays. But the Bruins only got seven points, on Green’s 4-yard TD run.
Near the end of the game, however, UCLA drove 69 and 35 yards for touchdowns.
“The defense was kind of hard to figure, “ Osborne said. “At times, they played real well. And then at times it looked like we were going to let them go down the field as fast as they wanted to.
“I think we did wear down on defense, and that was the reason for some of our problems at the end.”
When UCLA took its 7-0 lead in the first quarter, wingback Dana Brinson sprinted Nebraska back into the game.
The junior from Valdosta, Ga., returned the ensuing kickoff 47 yards, then added pass receptions of 14 and 24 yards in the TD drive.
Brinson averaged 16.8 yards each time he touched the ball Saturday.
UCLA Coach Terry Donahue said Nebraska’s kicking game and play-action pass attack were the keys to the game.
“They were the better team and they won, “ he said. “I was proud of my team, but we made too many mistakes to beat a team as good as Nebraska.”
One of the Bruins most crucial errors occurred in the first series of the second half with Nebraska leading 14-10.
On the second play, quarterback Troy Aikman scrambled right, ran out of time and took shots from tackle Tim Rother and end Broderick Thomas. The ball squirted loose and linebacker Doug Welniak recovered at the UCLA 12.
Fullback Micah Heibel gained 2 yards and Taylor kept for 4 and 5 to the UCLA 1. Clark hopped over the middle on the next play for a touchdown. Chris Drennan’s conversion kick put NU ahead 21-10 less than two minutes into the second half.
After three plays and a punt, Nebraska struck on one play.
Taylor faked a handoff into the line, faded back and lofted a bomb to split end Smith. He snagged it at the 10 over cornerback Darryl Henley and carried it in for a 48 - yard touchdown and a 28-10 lead.
“I think it will shock the world, “ Smith said, “that we had five touchdown passes.”
UCLA threatened on the next series as Aikman pulled the Bruins out of a third-and-14 hole with a 59-yard pass to split end Willie Anderson to the NU 26.
Green bolted for 5 and 6 yards to the 15. But on third and 3 from the 8, Aikman pitched low and wide to Green on the option, helping Nebraska smother him for a 3-yard loss.
Then on a 28-yard field goal try, holder Kirk Maggio bobbled the snap and NU reserve cornerback Cartier Walker grabbed it to stop the drive.
UCLA forced a Nebraska punt and roared back 60 yards for a touchdown.
Aikman drilled passes of 13 yards to Anderson and 19 to tight end Charles Arbuckle in reaching the NU 6.
From there, backup I-back Eric Ball raced untouched around right end for the touchdown to help UCLA cut Nebraska’s advantage to 28-17 with 3:11 to go in the third quarter.
But the Huskers discouraged UCLA’s comeback hopes with an eight-play, 74-yard drive.
Taylor passed 27 yards to Smith to salvage the drive on a third and nine. Clark’s 2-yard burst on fourth and 1 from the UCLA 37 continued the march. And Taylor capped it with a 35-yard bomb to Millikan, who sidestepped two defenders to score with 14:54 to play.
The Huskers made it 42-17 when Taylor set his record nine minutes later with a 33-yard play-action pass to Millikan.
UCLA bounced back to drive 69 yards for a touchdown. Green scored from the 5, then ran for two points to make it 42-25 with 3:46 to play.
A Clete Blakeman fumble gave UCLA the ball at the NU 35 with 2:29 to play, and the Bruins scored again. Green capped the drive with a 2-yard TD run and ran for two points to make it 42-33 with 47 second left to play.
But Nebraska’s Morgan Gregory recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.
“At halftime, we thought we had a chance, “ Donahue said. “But the third quarter got away from us.
“When you don’t generate enough yardage running, you get behind on down and distance. We put Nebraska in the same situation, but they were able to hit their play - action passes, and we didn’t execute as well.”
Turnovers stopped Nebraska on its first two possessions of the game after UCLA won the coin toss, deferred its choice to the second half and kicked off.
On the fourth play from scrimmage, Taylor and sophomore center Jake Young making his first collegiate start missed connections on the snap. But Taylor scooped it up and burrowed 2 yards for a first down by half a football.
But the bobbled snap was a sign of problems to come.
After another first down thanks to an 8-yard Taylor-to-Brinson pass, the center snap got away again. UCLA linebacker Carnell Lake recovered at the Bruins’ 49. The Huskers stopped UCLA on three plays, got the ball back on a punt, then turned it over four plays later.
Taylor, optioning right, flipped the ball to I-back Keith Jones, who dropped it. Henley recovered for UCLA at the NU 32.
But the Bruins again failed to convert the mistake into points.
A holding penalty helped move UCLA to the NU 25. Two plays later, the Huskers’ Thomas clobbered Green, knocking the ball loose, and Welniak recovered at the Nebraska 22.
An 11-yard sack of Taylor stopped Nebraska and John Kroeker’s 31-yard punt gave UCLA the ball at the NU 41.
This time, the Bruins slugged out a 10-play touchdown drive. Green followed 305-pound tackle David Richards off right tackle for a 4-yard touchdown. Alfredo Velasco kicked the point to put the Bruins up 7-0 with 1:21 left in the first quarter.
The Huskers roared right back to tie the game with Brinson the star.
He bolted 47 yards up the middle with the ensuing kickoff to the UCLA 48. Two plays later, he caught a 14-yard pass from Taylor.
Then on third and eight from the 36, Brinson slithered down the middle to grab a 24-yard pass from Taylor. A 5-yard face-mask penalty tacked onto the end pushed the Huskers to the 7.
UCLA threw Clark for a 2-yard loss, but Taylor rolled right and threw 9 yards to tight end Tom Banderas for a touchdown. Drennan’s PAT tied the game at 7 with 12:16 left in the half.
The special teams helped set up Nebraska’s next score.
The Huskers’ Walker, a sophomore from Atlantic City, N.J., sped around right end to block Harold Barkate’s punt. It was downed after 3 yards, giving NU the ball at the UCLA 34.
“One of our goals, strangely enough, was to block a punt, “ Osborne said. “I don’t remember ever setting a kicking goal to block a punt.
“But we set it and did. Maybe we better set that goal again.”
Brinson provided the early offensive spark again, this time with a 19-yard option reverse run to the Bruins 12.
CLARK’S TOUCHDOWN CATCH
After Heibel gained 2 yards and Taylor slipped for a loss of 1, the Huskers faced third and nine at the 11.
Taylor sent Clark out of the backfield to the goal line, where UCLA linebacker Ken Norton Jr. had him covered. But Norton had his back to the ball, and Clark maneuvered past him to catch the touchdown pass as Norton was called for holding. Drennan’s point after gave NU a 14-7 lead with 7:43 left in the half.
Nebraska’s defense brought a roar from the crowd during the next series. The Blackshirts dumped backup quarterback Brendan McCracken for a 2-yard loss and forced an incomplete pass. Then Rother sacked McCracken for a 9-yard loss, creating a fourth and 22 at the 8.
Brinson’s 16-yard punt return put Nebraska in business at the UCLA 37. But on the first play, Jones carried up the middle and fumbled, and safety James Washington flopped on it at the 34.
From there, the Bruins ground out three first downs. The flashiest was split end Mike Farr’s leaping grab of an Aikman pass for 25 yards.
UCLA worked to the Nebraska 6 on Green’s 7-yard burst around right end. But on third and 3 at the 6, linebacker LeRoy Etienne and safety Mark Blazek hammered Green for no gain.
“That was one of the best defenses I’ve played against, “ said Green, who had averaged 151 yards in his past five road games.
The Bruins called time out to consider going for it, then decided to try a 23-yard field goal. Velasco nailed it to cap the 60-yard drive and cut Nebraska’s lead to 14-10 with 57 seconds left.
UCLA, outscored 124-26 in its past three games against Nebraska, impressed Osborne.
“I think we played a good football team, “ he said. “I was really impressed and a little surprised with their strength up front.”
Osborne said the Huskers have plenty to work on during this week’s open date before the Sept. 26 game at Arizona State.
“I think we’ve got a good team, “ he said. “But if we had run up and down the field a little more, I’d have felt better. Defensively, if we had stiffened up toward the end, I’d have felt better.
“We know a little more about our team now than we did. But we’ve got a lot of work to do in the next two weeks.”
|Yards per carry||1.8||2.5|
Nebraska is 7-6 all-time against UCLA.
|Utah State||Sept. 5|
|Arizona State||Sept. 26|
|South Carolina||Oct. 3|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 17|
|Kansas State||Oct. 24|
|Iowa State||Nov. 7|
|Florida State||Jan. 1|
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