So you missed that 6:30 dinner reservation last night, huh? Sorry, but Zac Taylor’s not going to take the blame for that one.
“Hopefully,” the Nebraska quarterback said in the euphoric moments following Saturday’s come-from-behind, 27-20 double-overtime victory against 23rd-ranked Iowa State, “they at least got to see a great game.“
That they did. And for dessert, they got to savor the long-awaited breakout performance by the man who had drawn the brunt of finger-pointing in Huskerland this fall.
When he was through torching the Cyclones with the kind of zip and pinpoint accuracy that hadn’t been seen in Memorial Stadium since last spring, Taylor had established the school passing record of 431 yards.
All of a sudden, a guy from Norman, Okla. — who Nebraskans would almost expect to be a 43 percent passer (which he was before Saturday) — looks like Joe Montana.
Which part of this is the joke — the first three games, when Nebraska could manage but two offensive touchdowns, or Saturday’s 36-for-55 effort that included a pair of scoring strikes to everybody’s favorite 5-foot-8-and-under league player Cory Ross.
“This is perfect,” said Taylor, quite aware that his offensive line kept ISU sack master Jason Berryman out of his back pocket for all but one play and that his receivers were honed in on his throws with radar-like efficiency. “First game of Big 12, when things get serious, and the whole team stepped up.”
That’s true, but it’s in games like Saturday’s when a team really needs its quarterback to be the moneymaker. And quite frankly, what the Huskers had gotten from Taylor before Saturday looked suspiciously counterfeit.
His best day had been a 192-yard effort in the season opener against Division I-AA Maine. By halftime Saturday, Taylor, who was 6-for-6 on NU’s opening drive, had 198.
Perhaps, it was a pre-game meeting of jersey No. 13s that changed his karma?
“It’s him coming up to you before the game saying ‘You do your part, I’ll do mine,’” linebacker Corey McKeon said when asked what impressed him most about Taylor’s performance. “Zachie Tay — did he throw the rock around or what?“
The numbers were gaudy. He found 10 different receivers and connected with Ross eight times for 131 yards (the most ever in a game by a Husker running back). But that really doesn’t tell the story of Taylor’s big day.
The real test of his skills came after the Huskers fell behind for the first time this season, 13-10 late in the third quarter. With the Cyclones giving the typical blue-collar effort that had netted them eight wins in their last nine games, Taylor starting working overtime.
On a fourth-quarter drive that produced a game-tying field goal, he stood his ground before taking a vicious hit from defensive tackle Nick Leaders and lofted a pass that Nate Swift hauled in on the ISU sideline for a 31-yard gain to the Cyclones’ 14-yard line.
“I just liked his toughness,” offensive line coach Dennis Wagner said. “I can think of so many number of times he had to pick himself up off the turf today. He was a lion. He came to play. We needed his leadership, and he supplied it.“
On a day that Nebraska had its lowest rushing total (36 yards) since 1967, Taylor’s mettle was tested again after he lost a fumble at the Cyclones’ 10 on a busted third-down play with 1:30 remaining in the fourth quarter. And yet again after the visitors went up 20-13 on the opening possession of the first overtime.
The record will show that ISU cornerback DeAndre Jackson was flagged for interference against wide receiver Frantz Hardy. But it was Taylor who recognized on the second-and-10 play that Hardy left Jackson no choice but to bring out a flag unless he wanted to give up six points.
On the next play, Taylor hit Ross in the left flat to put the Huskers a yard from pay dirt, and after they reached it to force a second extra session, he completed his last three passes — the final one an easy 8-yard TD flick to Ross — then watched a defense that had carried the headlines seal the deal by stopping Iowa State on four plays from the NU 15.
“He’s a mentally tough kid,” offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said of Taylor. “He’s not (been) happy about the way we’ve been playing — (but) the way he’s executing in practice, that’s been encouraging to me for some time.“
On the first Saturday of October, Taylor may have shed his good-practice, game-day-bust image. Considering Nebraska is staring at a game against a Texas Tech team that has the most dangerous offense in the country, his timing couldn’t have been better.
“The whole offense needed it,” Taylor acknowledged. “It feels good. They (opponents) know what we’re capable of now, and I’m sure they’ll plan for that. But we’ll make adjustments and keep trucking along.“
Just like he and his teammates forced you to do with those early dinner plans last night.
“It kind of cuts into my night life,” McKeon said in mock disappointment. “But as long as it’s only every once in awhile, and it’s a win, that’s OK.”
Reach Curt McKeever at 473-7441 or email@example.com.