COLUMBIA, Mo. — The talk outside Nebraska’s locker room Saturday after NU smashed Missouri 42-7 concerned Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway losing his title as the Big Eight’s best quarterback.
Word has it the new man for the job is NU’s Steve Taylor, who dazzled the Faurot Field crowd of 55,594 about 13,000 in Husker red with four touchdowns passing and one running.
His performance, tight end Tom Banderas’ record-tying three touchdown catches and the defense’s clamp on Missouri’s flexbone offense helped boost the second-ranked Huskers’ record to 8-0 overall and 4-0 in the Big Eight.
Who’s backing Taylor over two-time all-conference choice Holieway, who led Coach Barry Switzer’s Sooners to the national title in 1985?
NU Coach Tom Osborne, for one.
“I think Steve Taylor is the best quarterback because he’s my quarterback,” Osborne said. “I’m sure Switzer would argue, and maybe some others. But he’s a great player and can do a lot of things very well.”
If you want a second opinion, ask Taylor.
“I think I am the best,” said the Fresno, Calif., junior, who ran 22 yards for a touchdown and passed 4, 9, 29 and 54 yards for four more. “In fact, I know I am.
“Jamelle has been All-Big Eight the past two years, but that’s in the past. I think he won because he was on a better team than I was.
“I don’t think there’s much comparison between Jamelle and me.
I’m faster, I’m quicker and I throw better. We’re about the same in leadership.”
Taylor acknowledged that he hasn’t led Nebraska to a victory over Oklahoma.
“I haven’t, but I think we’re going to do that this year,” he said. “We’ll be ready for Oklahoma, but I don’t know if they’ll be ready for us.”
Missouri Coach Woody Widenhofer didn’t appear convinced about Taylor’s prowess before Saturday.
In an interview last week, Widenhofer recalled Taylor’s NU-record five touchdown passes against UCLA earlier this season and said:
“I don’t think he can throw five touchdown passes and have a great day on us like he had then.”
Taylor fell one TD pass short of making a liar out of Widenhofer.
“I wasn’t trying for five,” Taylor said. “I probably could have had five if I had stayed in the game afer the third quarter.”
But four all in the first half were enough to add Widenhofer to Taylor’s list of supporters.
“He beat us,” Widenhofer said. “One difference between this Nebraska team and other Nebraska teams is the passing game. You have to consider him a Heisman candidate.”
Taylor’s eyes opened wider at the mention of a Heisman Trophy.
“I’m honored to be a candidate,” said Taylor, who has rushed for 455 yards and six touchdowns and passed for 802 yards and 13 touchdowns. “Next year, I think I’ll have a legitimate chance.
“This year, maybe I can get into the final four. But the main thing is to win a national championship.”
The defense did its share Saturday to keep the No. 1 dream alive.
Nebraska dislocated Missouri’s flexbone, limiting the Tigers to 75 yards rushing 226.1 yards below their seven-game average of 301.1.
“The defense did a surprisingly good job of shutting down the Missouri running game,” Osborne said. “Every film we looked at, they had moved the ball quite well.”
Missouri’s defense proved to be more run-conscious than expected, Nebraska’s coaches said. The Tigers blitzed little, but got burned a lot by involving its defensive backs in stopping the run, Osborne said.
“We ran fairly well, but again our play-action passes bailed us out,” he said. “It was kind of like UCLA where we had a lot of misdirection plays and threw the ball and had some big touchdown passes.”
The Huskers gained 356 yards rushing and 156 passing for 512 total. Missouri, 4-4 and 2-2 with previous losses only to Top-20 teams Syracuse, Indiana and Oklahoma State, finished with a seasonlow 176 total yards.
One of the few down moments in Nebraska’s celebration came on the last play of the first half when center Jake Young strained his left knee.
Osborne said surgery doesn’t appear necessary, but Young’s status won’t be known until later this week.
The game was hardly a snap for Nebraska in the beginning.
On the Huskers’ first two possessions, Taylor and Young missed connections on the exchange from center and lost the ball, first at the Missouri 14 and then at midfield.
“We had that problem early in the year,” Osborne said. “I thought everything was fine. But we came down here and the same thing happened.
“On the first one, Steve never got the ball. On the second, he might have been pulling away a little.”
But after that, Nebraska put on a hold that the Tigers couldn’t break until they were down 28-0 late in the second quarter.
On NU’s third possession, Taylor hit tight end Todd Millikan with a 54-yard touchdown pass. The next drive, he changed plays at the line of scrimmage and found Banderas with a 9-yard TD pass.
After Lorenzo Hicks’ interception broke Missouri quarterback John Stollenwerck’s streak of passes without an interception at 74, NU scored in two plays again.
Taylor, from the Missouri 29, retreated left, slipped the grip of Tiger tackle Kevin White at the 45 and found wingback Dana Brinson wide open at the goal line for his third touchdown pass.
“I was just determined not to let them sack me,” Taylor said.
“I love scrambling when I’m 100 percent. I feel very much at home doing that.”
Nebraska’s defense stopped Missouri on three plays again, setting up the Huskers’ fourth straight touchdown.
Backup fullback Bryan Carpenter, who led all NU rushers with 90 yards in 10 carries, broke a 20-yarder to the Mizzou 4 before Taylor called an audible again and hit Banderas for a touchdown.
So with 4:46 left in the first half, Missouri whose three previous losses were by a combined 18 points trailed 28-0.
The Tigers didn’t fold.
Stollenwerck completed back-to-back passes of 25 yards to Craig Lammers and 43 yards to Tommy Stowers to set up Robert Delpino’s 1-yard scoring run.
The touchdown was the first against the Nebraska defense in 14 quarters, dating back to the third quarter of the South Carolina game.
Missouri created another chance just before halftime. Cornerback Pat Ray blew off tackle to block John Kroeker’s punt, which ricocheted out of bounds at the NU 3.
“There was a mistake,” Osborne said. “One of our guys got an “out’ call. But instead of going out, he thought someone checked out of it so he blocked the wrong man.”
But on second-and-goal at the 2, Husker cornerback Charles Fryar punched the ball out of Stollenwerck’s hand on the option play.
Defensive end Broderick Thomas recovered at the 8 with 19 seconds left in the half.
“It looked like it was going to be 28-14 at half,” Osborne said.
“But that fumble hurt them badly.
“I didn’t think they were necessarily going to win the game when they blocked the punt. But I thought they were going to make it very interesting.”
Chris Drennan missed a 27-yard fieldgoal attempt on Nebraska’s first second-half possession.
But after three plays and a punt, the Huskers roared 53 yards in six plays for a touchdown. Taylor finished it with a 22-yard option keeper to make it 35-7 with 7:14 left in the third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, backup quarterback Clete Blakeman found Banderas with another 4-yard scoring pass. That tied the NU record for most team TD passes in one game, set this season against UCLA. It also broke the Missouri record for most TD passes allowed in a game.
Osborne said Nebraska’s passing totals 10 of 15 weren’t surprising.
“I thought Missouri’s defense was good enough that we would have to play wide-open,” he said. “That’s why we had a lot of passes and reverses.”
|Yards per carry||2.3||5.5|
Nebraska is 65-36 all-time against Missouri.
|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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