LINCOLN — Bill Callahan found a quarterback. A heap of records went up in smoke. Frantic Memorial Stadium patrons witnessed their first overtime game.
Fingernail clipper salesmen will not have a good week in the Cornhusker State.
Nebraska outlasted Iowa State 27-20 in a double-overtime aerial frenzy, remaining undefeated and stamping itself as a contender in the Big 12 North.
Meanwhile, Zac Taylor, the previously unproven junior-college quarterback, threw for 431 yards, completing 36 of 55 throws.
"It's the greatest feeling in the world coming off that field," Taylor said. "Greatest game I've ever played in."
After trading touchdowns in the first overtime, Taylor hit Cory Ross for the go-ahead score. Iowa State couldn't match. Bret Meyer missed Austin Flynn on fourth down from the 16, and NU stormed the field for the second time in two games.
There was a time not so long ago when fans only stayed for the fourth quarter of an Iowa State game so traffic could clear out. When a breezy October afternoon in the Midwest meant buckle the chin-strap, sink the cleats into the turf and collide with somebody. Strongest man wins. You know, three yards and a cloud of dust.
But as 77,433 held their breaths under the lights, it was clear that era is gone with VCRs, K-Mart and cheap fuel.
Nebraska buried the past Saturday, then danced on its grave. Taylor looked at the 15-play script Saturday before the game and saw 11 pass plays.
"We just kind of wanted to open things up," Taylor said.
Taylor chucked it 55 of NU's 80 plays — that mark tied its record for most passes in a game, and also matched fewest rushes. At one point in the first half, the Huskers threw it 18 consecutive snaps. NU finished with 36 rushing yards, the fewest since 1969.
NU's offense has taken left hook after left hook on the chin the past month. When Husker Nation signed up for the West Coast offense, 107th in total offense wasn't part of the deal.
Yet Callahan and his kids kept preaching patience. They kept saying this offense sparkles in practice.
"I wasn't lying to you," Callahan said.
NU's strategy: Generate big plays. The best way, coaches determined, was through the air. Attack the middle of the field with crossing routes and let receivers run with the ball.
Couple that with the Cyclones' 41 passing attempts and Saturday looked like a flag football game. Mike Leach would've smiled. Tom Osborne would've screamed.
All those throws weren't enough to decide this one in regulation. With three minutes left in a 13-13 game, Nebraska was driving for a go-ahead field goal when a broken third-down play from the ISU 10 resulted in a Taylor scramble. The quarterback fumbled as he was tackled and the Cyclones recovered, prolonging a game that seemed destined for overtime from the start.
Nebraska took the opening kickoff and marched 68 yards for a field goal. Taylor completed all six of his throws. That diet would be a glimpse of things to come. Taylor was 19 of 32 at halftime.
Nebraska moved the ball seemingly at will in the first half. Scoring was another story. Each time Taylor moved NU into the red zone, the offense broke down.
Iowa State had its chances, too. Meyer hit Todd Blythe perfectly in stride on its first offensive play. It would've amassed at least a 40-yard gain. Blythe dropped it.
The foes were tied 3-3 at half.
In the third quarter, Nebraska finally got the big play. On second-and-22 from the NU 30, Taylor found Ross on a middle screen. Ross sprinted the distance untouched, embarrassing two ISU defenders with jukes along the way.
"Coach called it," NU offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. "That's his favorite play."
The Cyclones answered. Flynn beat double coverage on third-and-16 for a 41-yard gain. That led to the first touchdown Nebraska had given up in 10 quarters. ISU took the lead later in the third quarter on a Bret Culbertson field goal.
"We just knew we were going to win the game, one way or another," Taylor said. "Nobody ever got down."
When Taylor did go down, he popped back up.
Midway through the fourth quarter, on second-and-eight from the Iowa State 45, Taylor found Nathan Swift for 31 yards down the sideline just as a Cyclone leveled him.
"He had one scrimmage the third week of spring, and I'm telling you, about four times he got splattered on the turf," Norvell said. "You don't want him to take those shots — he's got to protect himself — but he believes it's his job to stay in the pocket and make throws."
Taylor's completion to Swift broke Joe Dailey's mark of 342 passing yards. It also set up Jordan Congdon's game-tying 23-yard field goal.
Norvell praised Taylor's toughness and competitiveness. The quarterback understands how to protect the ball, when to run, when to shift in the pocket, Norvell said.
"In the first four games, he's proven to his teammates that he's a tough kid and he'll do whatever it takes to win," Norvell said.
"You've got to love that about the kid. To have a Nebraska passing record, that's a kid from Norman, Oklahoma. Who would've ever thought that?"
|Yards per carry||1.5||1.4|
Nebraska is 86-17 all-time against Iowa State.
|Wake Forest||Sept. 10|
|Iowa State||Oct. 1|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 8|
|Kansas State||Nov. 12|
Nebraska has played 18 games on Oct. 1. See them all »
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