Monday, November 27, 2006
Lincoln, Neb. Zac Taylor needed Nebraska.
Nebraska needed Zac Taylor.
What started as a marriage of convenience has been blissful, indeed.
Until Nebraska came calling two years ago, Taylor's best offer coming out of junior college was from Marshall.
Taylor, who grew up in Norman, Okla., the son of a former Oklahoma Sooner, always wanted to play in the Big 12. Here was his chance.
Nebraska coach Bill Callahan needed a quarterback for his West Coast offense. Joe Dailey, the starter in Callahan's first season, was not the right fit, as a 5-6 record proved. Callahan could see that Taylor had a good arm but, more important, a great demeanor.
Ask his coaches and teammates, and they'll tell you Taylor is the No. 1 reason the 23rd-ranked Huskers (9-3, 6-2) will play No. 13 Oklahoma in Saturday's Big 12 championship game in Kansas City, Mo.
"We really couldn't have done what we've done here the last two years without Zac," offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said.
"He's allowed us to accelerate this program faster than any player I've ever been around," Callahan said.
"I'd be lying if I said I thought we could be here without Zac," fullback Dane Todd said.
Callahan and local media are touting Taylor for All-Big 12 honors. It's not because he set the school's single-season passing yardage record in consecutive years, or because he's completed 62 percent of his passes or because he's thrown 24 touchdown passes and just four interceptions.
The bottom line, Callahan said, is that Taylor has single-handedly gotten the West Coast system up and running at a place where, before 2004, throwing the ball was the exception rather than the rule the previous 25 years.
Taylor not only has proven adept at changing plays at the line, he has been given the task of making calls for the offensive line.
"When you've got a player who can come in and digest everything you want to do from a philosophical standpoint and then go out on the field and do it, that just lifts your program," Callahan said. "Players like that come around only so often. Nebraskans should be real proud of this kid and what he's brought to this program in a very short period of time."
Expectations were modest for Taylor when he arrived, even after he beat out Dailey for the starter's job in the spring of 2005. Taylor was to be a so-called bridge quarterback, one who would keep the program on the track while heralded recruits Harrison Beck and Josh Freeman were groomed.
But Beck, as a sophomore, couldn't oust Taylor and transferred. Freeman reneged on his verbal commitment and ended up at Kansas State, where he's the starter.
All the while, Norvell and Callahan said, Taylor did all that was asked of him and more, and now he's 17-7 as a starter.
"Whatever you want to call me, that's fine," Taylor said. "As long as I'm walking out of here with a ring on my finger, you can call me the worst quarterback to ever step on the field. I think I did a pretty good job. I can rest easy walking out of here."
Taylor led Nebraska's comeback against Kansas University in a 39-32 overtime victory and was the juice behind a near-upset of Texas.
But Taylor's signature game was the 28-27 victory over Texas A&M. After blowing a 21-10 halftime lead, the Huskers found themselves down 27-21 in the final two minutes. Taylor finished the game-winning 75-yard drive with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Maurice Purify.
"Zac has done so much to help turn us around in a positive way, taking over the team when he has to, just like in the A&M game," running back Brandon Jackson said. "One play he got knocked (down), and he got up, his eyes rolling, and he wanted to finish the game with a win."
Yes, Taylor is durable. He's taken more than his share of licks the past two seasons. He missed a couple series against Kansas State last season after taking a hard shot, and a big hit caused him to miss the last play of the first half in Friday's 37-14 win over Colorado.
"We knew he was tough, but we didn't really realize how tough he was," Norvell said. "He's much tougher than we ever anticipated."
Taylor was a football vagabond before he showed up at Nebraska. He wanted to play in the Big 12 - his dad, Sherwood Taylor, was a defensive back at OU from 1977 to '79 - and he made a verbal commitment to Oklahoma State when he was a high school senior.
But OSU changed coaches before he enrolled, and he wound up at Wake Forest. He didn't fit in there, so he transferred to Butler County (Kan.) Community College, where he led his team to the national championship game.
Callahan said he was impressed with Taylor's knowledge of offenses and offered a scholarship.
"Once Nebraska comes calling, it's kind of 'game over' for me," Taylor said.
Taylor will leave as the standard for Nebraska passers. He'll also be known as the quarterback who led the Huskers back to prominence.
"I'm glad I came here. I'm glad I could help," Taylor said. "Hopefully, I'll leave it in good hands for somebody else when I take off."