Taylor’s long road to Lincoln has paved the way for success

By Nathan Walters  |   Wednesday, September 27, 2006  |  Comments( 4 )

Nebraska Cornhuskers
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Zac Taylor is the quarterback at Nebraska, and nobody is going to challenge him for that position. He has been clicking on all cylinders not only since the beginning of the 2006 season, but also back into 2005. The Cornhuskers have won five of their last six games with Taylor under center, and two of those wins came against rival Colorado in the regular-season finale and a come-from-behind victory over Michigan in the Alamo Bowl.

However, for the quarterback that has set numerous Nebraska passing records in just over a year, Taylor did not start off his career in the Cornhusker State. In fact, it started in the most unlikely of places for a Husker hero to be born.

Taylor was raised in Norman, O.K., and his father, Sherwood, played defensive back at Oklahoma, lettering from 1977 to 1979. His younger sister, Katheryn, competes in swimming in the Special Olympics in Oklahoma. So, needless to say, Taylor did not see himself wearing the scarlett and cream of Nebraska.

Taylor began his collegiate career at Wake Forest. After redshirting in 2002, Taylor served as the Demon Deacons' backup quarterback in 2003. He played in three games and completed the only pass he attempted. He then left the Wake Forest program, stating it ran too much of an option offense for him to feel comfortable because of his slow speed. Again, that seemed to take him worlds away from the Cornhuskers, who excelled using the power running game and option at that time.

But then Nebraska head coach Frank Solich was fired at the end of the 2003 season, and the Cornhuskers hired former Oakland Raiders head coach Bill Callahan. Callahan came in and immediately scrapped the option offense for his version of the West Coast Offense. However, in order to perform well in the offense, a good passing quarterback was vital. It was simply something the Cornhuskers did not have in 2004.

Sophomore quarterback Joe Dailey threw 17 touchdowns and 19 interceptions in 2004, and the Cornhuskers suffered through their first losing season and didn't go to a bowl game for the first time since John F. Kennedy was in the White House. At the same time, though, Taylor, who had transferred to Butler County Community College in El Dorado, Kan., was having a stellar season.

As a sophomore, Taylor passed for nearly 3,000 yards and 29 touchdowns to earn second-team NJCAA All-America honors. His leadership helped the Grizzlies to the NJCAA championship game, where they lost to Pearl River (Miss.) JC. The day before the championship game, Taylor received a phone call from Nebraska offensive coordinator Jay Norvell telling him the Huskers had serious interest in having him in Lincoln for the 2005 season.

Two weeks later, at a Nebraska basketball game against Creighton in Lincoln, Taylor said he would sign his letter of intent to attend Nebraska in the spring of 2005 in order to compete for the starting quarterback job. He stated it was, "an easy decision, really," and the Cornhuskers finally had an established drop-back passing quarterback.

The Huskers didn't need any depth, as they had three scholarship quarterbacks on campus already and heralded recruit Harrison Beck joining the fray in the fall. What they needed, though, was Taylor's experience and proven ability.

In the spring of 2005, Taylor performed better than Dailey and was awarded the top quarterback position for the spring game. He capped his first spring in Lincoln with a standout spring game effort, connecting on 20-of-27 passes for 357 yards and three touchdowns. Dailey was dropped down to third-string quarterback and subsequently transferred to North Carolina.

Taylor was a major cog in Nebraska's 2005 offensive success, but it took the quarterback, receivers, running backs and line until late in the season to really get their act together. Taylor was sacked 38 times, and the running game finished dead last in the Big 12, averaging a meager 96 yards per game.

Taylor only completed two touchdown passes and ran for another in the first three games, and the Cornhusker defense had scored more points than the offense. Then, at home against Iowa State, Taylor put up numbers Husker fans had never seen before. He completed 36 passes for a school-record 431 yards and two touchdowns in the Huskers' 27-20 double-overtime victory.

In the middle of the season, though, the Cornhusker offense sputtered again. During a three-game losing streak that included losses to Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas, Taylor threw as many interceptions as touchdowns (five) and was sacked 15 times, with nine of them coming in the Oklahoma game.

But then, as Taylor put it, "The light bulb came on," against Kansas Sate. Taylor completed 21-of-31 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns in the Huskers' victory over the Wildcats. Then, against rival Colorado in Boulder, he completed 27 passes for 392 yards and two touchdowns in a dominant 30-3 win over the Buffaloes.

Against Michigan in the Alamo Bowl, Taylor only completed 14 passes for 167 yards, but he threw three touchdowns, including the game-winning TD pass to receiver Terrence Nunn with 4:29 left in the game. In the game Taylor was aided by the 161 yards gained on the ground by diminutive running back Cory Ross.

Over the last three games, Taylor threw for 779 yards, seven touchdowns and only two interceptions. It was the first time since 1999 that the Cornhuskers had finished the season with a three-game winning streak, and a good feeling surrounded the program after the 8-4 season.

After Nebraska beefed up the receiving corps by adding junior college stars and decided to play running back by committee, fans were anxious to see what the 2006 Huskers looked like. The first game of the '06 season, against Louisiana Tech, they would see just how far the offensive attack had progressed in the offseason.

Taylor completed 22-of-33 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns, and the Cornhusker faithful continued to put more and more faith in the senior quarterback and captain of the team. Against Nicholls State one week later, he completed 19-of-22 passes for 202 yards and a career-high four touchdowns.

Then, against USC in Los Angeles, he completed eight of the 16 passes he threw for 115 yards and had the only Cornhusker touchdown of the game, a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter.

A week later, against Troy, Taylor completed more than 82 percent of his passes for 268 yards and one touchdown in the Huskers' 56-0 rout of the Trojans. That day he passed Cornhusker greats Turner Gill and Tommie Frazier in career passing yards for fourth all-time at Nebraska. Gill, now the head coach for Buffalo, led the Nebraska "scoring explosion" in 1983, and Frazier had a record of 41-3 and led the Cornhuskers to consecutive national titles in 1994 and 1995.

In the 2006 season, Zac Taylor has been nothing but stellar under center for the Cornhuskers. He has completed more than 70 percent of his passes thrown this season, has 872 yards in four games and his passer rating of 178.3 is the third best in the country. The Cornhusker offense is second in the nation in scoring with almost 43 points per game, and Taylor has only been sacked twice.

With the Cornhuskers having high aspirations in the Big 12 North this season, it may be surprising that a young man from Oklahoma is leading the way. However, with such an "easy decision" behind him, there are plenty of hard decisions for this offensive captain to make this season. And that starts with Big 12 play this weekend in Lincoln against the Kansas Jayhawks, a team that beat Nebraska for the first time since 1968 in a 40-15 rout of the Cornhuskers in Lawrence last season.

Get more on Zac Taylor and the Nebraska Cornhuskers at RealFootball365.com
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