To start the 1995 Nebraska football season, the famous Husker "Pipeline" was almost empty.
Aaron Graham was back from 1994 at center.
The rest, well, “We were babies and I was a baby when it came to experience,” says Aaron Taylor, who would go on to win the 1997 Outland Trophy, be named All-American twice and help the Huskers to national championships in 1995 and 1997.
Nebraska lost four offensive linemen from the 1994 national championship team, including Rob Zatechka, Brenden Stai, Joel Wilks and Zach Wiegert. All four went to the NFL.
“We’re supposed to step in for those guys?” Taylor said. “Sure, we wanted to and we were ready to prove ourselves, but two of us were sophomores — Eric Anderson and me — and Steve Ott and Chris Dishman were a little older. But let’s face it, the pressure was on.”
Worries disappeared when Nebraska rolled up 650 yards in the season opener, scored 240 points in the first four games and ran roughshod through the Big Eight and eventually Florida in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.
“We were pretty darn good,” said Taylor, who grew up in Wichita Falls, Texas. “I was a guy who Texas Tech thought was too short to play. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State told me they would be getting back to me. And yet, here I was with Nebraska on the greatest college football team ever."
Taylor and his offensive line teammates more than held their own against Jared Tomich, Grant Wistrom, Jason Peter, Christian Peter in "the pit" and in one-on-one scrimmages for 20 plays a week.
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“'The pit' was gladiator stuff. Coach (Charlie) McBride wanted those drills (in the North Stadium) to toughen up his defensive line and Coach (Milt) Tenopir wanted the same thing, so we hit and hit and got better,” said Taylor, who lives in Omaha and works for Union Pacific. “I thought we pushed so hard in the spring of 1995, we could have whipped anybody.”
Nebraska broke the school record, averaging 52.4 points a game, surpassing the famous 1983 “Scoring Explosion” offense.
“We didn’t allow a sack all season,” Taylor said. “A lot of that went to Tommie Frazier making it so hard for anybody to get near him anyway, but we knew we helped.”
Taylor knew he was surrounded by talent.
“Coach (Tom) Osborne had put together all these great individuals and made us a team,” Taylor said. “We had guys behind us on the depth chart who practiced and played just as hard as we did. It was like that for every position. Steve Volin, Matt Hoskinson, Jon Zatechka were in there in the line. And we were coached to know how to block and get some openings for a long list of great backs.”
Even though Taylor was the smallest starter in the offensive line, 6-foot-1 and 305 pounds at guard, he said the “smaller” offensive line was so athletic, it was perfect for the option offense.
“We had guys 6-3 and me, and we were getting to the second level, to block linebackers and, at times, to the third level to block defensive backs,” he said. “I talk with Scott Frost (former NU quarterback and now Oregon offensive coordinator) and he points out we were running the kind of schemes they run now, and everybody is going gaga about how inventive they are. Same blocking schemes.
"But nobody has ever matched our results."