The first non-redshirt sophomore to start a season at quarterback for Nebraska in 17 years played like the best of veterans.
Steve Taylor ran for two touchdowns and passed for two more Saturday night, while the NU defense held Florida State to minus-2 yards in the second half as the No. 8 Huskers rallied for a 34-17 win over the No. 11 Seminoles.
“I’ll tell you that’s a relief,” said NU Coach Tom Osborne, who had to get his team ready under the cloud of 60 possible player suspensions for violating NCAA rules on complimentary game passes.
“The first game, you never know what you’ve got. I thought we had a good team. I think the way we played tonight indicates we do have a good team.”
A crowd of 75,865 the 144th straight sellout at Memorial Stadium watched the first night home game in NU history in 50-degree temperatures and intermittent showers. That was a giant contrast from last year’s FSU-NU game in Lincoln when the on-the-field temperature at game time was 132 degrees.
Florida State, which had won two of three previous meetings from Nebraska in Lincoln, looked right at home early. The Seminoles scored on their first possession and led 14-10 at half, thanks to tailback Sammie Smith’s 57-yard TD bolt just 33 seconds before halftime.
But Taylor, the first non-redshirt sophomore to start the season at quarterback since Van Brownson in 1969, took Nebraska on four straight scoring drives in the second half.
After Florida State pushed its lead to 17-10 early in the third quarter on Derek Schmidt’s 46-yard field goal, Taylor went to work.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder from Spring Valley, Calif., capped a 10-play, 63-yard drive with a 6-yard TD run to tie it at 17 with 5:15 left in the period.
About four minutes later, he finished a 6-play, 51-yard drive with a 12-yard touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Todd Millikan, who also made his first collegiate start.
The Blackshirt defense, which sacked FSU quarterback Chip Ferguson seven times for 44 yards, snuffed the Seminoles again with a sack to force a punt.
Taylor responded by leading a 7-play, 67-yard drive, ending it with a 46-yard TD pass to wingback Von Sheppard to make it 31-17.
After another FSU punt, Taylor used 5 minutes and 47 seconds on a 10-play, 48-yard drive. That produced a Dale Klein 38-yard field goal with 1:23 to play that finished the scoring and the Seminoles’ chances.
“Steve is something special to us,” NU tackle Tom Welter said.
“We can miss a block and know he can still gain 30 or 40 yards. You love having a guy like that behind you.
Taylor nearly broke the Nebraska rushing record for quarterbacks with 139 yards in 22 carries. The record is 143 yards by John Bordogna vs. Iowa State in 1952.
Taylor, who led Nebraska in rushing, also completed 10 of 16 passes 7 of 8 the second half for 130 yards and no interceptions.
“I was worried before the game,” Taylor said. “But the line blocked well, the defense blocked well, I threw the ball well and the receivers caught it well. Everybody played well.”
NU’s defense, after a sometimes shaky first half, dominated the second half. The Blackshirts, who allowed 175 first-half yards, pushed FSU back with a minus-2 after intermission. The Seminoles’ two first downs the second half came by penalty.
“You take two plays out of there the pass to their back for a touchdown and the fake reverse for a touchdown and we played a great defensive game,” Osborne said.
“When somebody makes less than 200 yards and you give up two big plays, you’ve done something. I think they were fortunate to get 17 points.”
Senior middle guard Danny Noonan sacked, and nearly undressed, Ferguson four times in leading the defensive charge.
“Noonan played a great game,” Osborne said. “So did the rest of our defensive linemen. We don’t drop off much when we put our second unit in.”
Nebraska outgained Florida State 427 yards to 173.
For the second straight year against the Huskers, the Seminoles played turnover-free football. But Nebraska, which had three turnovers and a bad punt snap in last year’s 17-13 loss to FSU, lost the ball just twice Saturday, both on fumbles.
With the lack of turnovers for help, Florida State generated its own momentum just before halftime after Nebraska took a 10-7 lead on Taylor’s 20-yard TD run.
Keith Ross ran the kickoff back 14 yards and got a 15-yard bonus when Nebraska was flagged for a flagrant facemask penalty.
Only 46 seconds were left, but that was plenty of time for FSU reserve tailback Sammie Smith to show some magic.
On just his second carry of the night, Smith sprinted left, faked a reverse handoff to Darrin Holloman, turned the corner and started picking his way back across the field.
NU safety Jeff Tomjack missed Smith, cornerback Brian Davis was screen-blocked by FSU receiver Herb Gainer at the 25 and cornerback Charles Fryar dove and missed at the 10 as Smith completed his 57-yard touchdown run. Schmidt’s conversion gave FSU a 14-10 halftime lead.
“That was really a momentum swing,” Osborne said. “I was really concerned at halftime. But our guys really responded well.”
Florida State used a Nebraska turnover to start the second-half scoring.
Dana Brinson fielded a punt at his own 10, shook two tackles and broke out to the NU 36. But FSU safety John Hadley hit him from behind, Brinson fumbled and FSU’s Brian Davis recovered at the 35.
Three plays produced 9 yards, and on fourth and 1 FSU was guilty of illegal procedure on a quarterback sneak. The penalty forced the Seminoles to try a 46-yard field goal, which Schmidt made to increase Florida State’s lead to 17-10 with 10:12 left in the third quarter.
But Nebraska charged back with two touchdowns in the final 5:15 of the third quarter.
Sheppard’s 35-yard kickoff return gave Nebraska the ball at its own 37. Runs of 9 and 11 yards by Keith Jones, who had 58 yards in 17 carries, moved the Huskers into FSU territory.
Nebraska stumbled briefly and decided to gamble on fourth and three from the 33. Taylor rolled left on the option for 12 yards.
A pass interference penalty three plays later when Eric Williams was ruled to have bumped NU end Rod Smith gave Nebraska a first and goal at the 6. Taylor rolled right on the option from there, broke the tackle of FSU linebacker Paul McGowan and raced in for his second touchdown. Klein’s PAT tied it at 17 with 5:15 to play.
Defensive end Broderick Thomas’ sack help to stop FSU’s next possession at the FSU 4. After a 49-yard punt, the Huskers got help from another pass interference call to score another TD.
Fullback Ken Kaelin’s 12-yard run pushed NU to the FSU 34. Three plays later, Taylor looked for Rod Smith again and cornerback Marvin Mayhew was guilty of interference to move the ball to the 12.
On the next play, Taylor faked into the line and threw a touchdown pass to Millikan to boost Nebraska’s lead to 24-17 with 45 seconds left in the third quarter.
A Noonan sack on FSU’s next possession and Cleo Miller’s slight deflection of Louis Berry’s punt helped NU get the ball back at its own 33.
Taylor zipped a 13-yard pass to Robb Schnitzler to overcome an illegal procedure penalty. Three plays later, Taylor faked a handoff, looked over the middle, then gunned a 46-yard strike to Sheppard on the sideline for a touchdown. That made it 31-17.
“We wanted to run at them a lot and wear them down.” Osborne said. “And I think we did. Their defense got a little tired.”
Florida State opened the game the same way Nebraska did last season against FSU by taking the opening kickoff and driving for a touchdown.
The Seminoles’ first two plays produced a minus 2 yards. But on third and 12, tailback Victor Floyd broke up the middle for 13 yards on a draw, then fumbled.
That started a wild scramble on the wet turf with three different players touching the ball. It ended 20 yards downfield with Seminole guard Mark Salva recovering to preserve the drive.
Ferguson then went to work. He rifled a 13-yard pass to Darrin Holloman.
After Floyd was stopped for no gain, Ferguson sent Floyd out of the backfield and deep down the middle where he found him open at the goal line for a 30-yard touchdown. Schmidt’s extra point made it 7-0.
Nebraska threatened to come right back and score on its first possession, just as Florida State had done last year.
Taylor bootlegged left for 15 yards to the NU 48 on the Huskers’ first play.
The next three plays gained 9 yards, so Nebraska gambled on fourth down from the FSU 43. On a handoff up the middle, Keith Jones was stopped at the line of scrimmage, but on second effort he churned ahead for 2 yards and a first down.
Two plays later, Taylor drilled his first pass attempt to Jason Gamble for 13 yards. But Seminole linebacker Fred Jones hammered Gamble from behind and cornerback Deion Sanders recovered at the 23.
The Florida State offense sputtered for most of the rest of the half, snapping the ball just twice in Nebraska territory until the final minute, while Nebraska squandered a scoring chance before finally converting.
On the Huskers’ second possession, they got a 14-yard run from Sheppard, an 8-yarder from Kaelin and an 8-yard pass from Taylor to Sheppard to move to the Florida State 41.
Two plays later, Taylor rolled right and threw deep to wingback Ray Nelson in the end zone. Nelson caught the tipped pass, but it was called back because Kaelin jumped from his stance before the snap.
Nebraska stalled after the penalty and Klein came on to try a 49-yard field goal with a 10-mph wind at his back. The kick was straight, but it fell short at the back line of the end zone.
After an exchange of punts, Florida State got the ball at its 44.
Ferguson threw an 11-yard pass to Dayne Williams after a running play had lost 2 yards. On third and one at the NU 47, Williams was stopped for no gain though FSU fans howled about where the ball was placed after the run. On fourth down, NU defensive tackle Chris Spachman stuffed Ross for no gain on a sweep, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
But Nebraska couldn’t capitalize. An incomplete pass, a 3-yard run and an illegal forward pass when Taylor threw the ball after crossing the line of scrimmage stopped the Huskers.
The Blackshirts smothered FSU at its own 10 in three plays, forcing another punt.
This time, Taylor marched NU 54 yards in four plays for a touchdown.
The march started slowly with two incomplete passes. But Taylor shook loose, scrambled left, and raced 34 yards to the FSU 20. On the next play, Taylor started the option left, faked the pitch and kept the ball for a touchdown. Klein’s extra point tied it at 7 with 9:11 left in the half.
Nebraska appeared to have a halftime lead secured with a 10-play, 45-yard drive that produced a field goal.
A flagrant facemask penalty worth 15 yards against nose guard Thomas Harp kept Nebraska alive on a third and eight at the FSU 37.
Four plays later, Klein made a 33-yard field goal to make it 10-7 with 51 seconds left in the half.
Smith’s fake reverse for a touchdown gave the Seminoles the halftime lead, but Nebraska proved to be too strong the second half, outscoring FSU 24-3.
Nebraska’s next opponent is the NCAA on Tuesday. That’s the day the NCAA Council’s Subcommittee on Appeals hears the Huskers’ plea to reinstate the eligibility of the 60 players who were suspended 53 for one game and 7 for two games.
“There’s not much we can say that hasn’t already been said,” Osborne said. “We’ll get together today with some university lawyers and officials and try to come up with the best approach.
“Our point is that this type of offense is not an ineligibility matter. We’ve seen other cases recently where players received money and other benefits and those players weren’t declared ineligible. And on a case like ours with this pass list, if players come forward and are honest, it will be a problem at any school in the country.”
|Yards per carry||2.5||4.7|
Nebraska is 2-6 all-time against Florida State.
|Florida State||Sept. 6|
|South Carolina||Oct. 4|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 11|
|Kansas State||Nov. 1|
|Iowa State||Nov. 8|
Nebraska has played 4 games on Sept. 6. See them all »
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