LINCOLN, NEB., SEPT. 12 -- About once a year or so, a Nebraska quarterback will shock everybody in the stadium by throwing a touchdown pass. About once every five years or so, the Cornhuskers get really loose and fall in love with the forward pass.
Today, second-ranked Nebraska was forced out of its usually brutish running game in the opening minutes by a UCLA defense that was too efficient for its own good. So, Nebraska changed its game plan completely and went to the air, getting a school-record five touchdown passes from quarterback Steve Taylor to beat third-ranked UCLA, 42-33, before yet another sellout crowd in Memorial Stadium.
Taylor, who last week set a single-game rushing record for a Nebraska quarterback, today became only the second player in Big Eight history to throw five touchdown passes in a game, and the first since a guy named Ralph Miller -- the Oregon State basketball coach -- did it for the University of Kansas 49 years ago.
Taylor outplayed Gaston Green, UCLA's Heisman-touted tailback, by a big margin. Green gained only 46 yards in 19 carries, with two of his three touchdowns coming in the final six minutes after the Cornhuskers (2-0) had taken an insurmountable 42-17 lead.
Taylor completed 10 of 15 passes for 217 yards, and didn't throw an interception even though he suffered a bruised left shoulder toward the end of the first quarter. UCLA Coach Terry Donahue and his staff may have left town wishing they had offered Taylor, who grew up in southern California, something a little more glamorous than the chance to be a Bruins defensive back.
Broderick Thomas, a Nebraska defensive lineman, did Taylor's bragging for him afterward. "Steve is just as good as Kerwin Bell or any other quarterback in the country," Thomas said. "The thing is, he's at a running school. He showed out today, though."
Nebraska, year after year one of the premier rushing teams in the country, did not come into the stadium planning to throw the ball and was almost apologetic about its uncharacteristic performance.
Its 117 yards rushing in 47 carries was Nebraska's second-lowest rushing total in this decade and that infuriated Coach Tom Osborne nearly as much as Taylor's performance delighted him.
"If somebody had told me we ran for 117 yards and fumbled four times against a team like this, I'd a said we got whipped by 21 points," Osborne said. "I don't want to be a spoil sport, but 117 yards in 47 carries, that's abysmal, that's terrible, that's not even football. I'd be happier if we'd run up and down the field a little bit."
Two circumstances conspired to force a dramatic alteration in Osborne's strategy. First, a fired-up UCLA defense was not going to be trampled as the Bruins had been in consecutive losses (42-10 and 42-3) to Nebraska in 1983 and '84.
"We rushed it on 'em so bad in those two games that they came in ready to stop that today," Nebraska tight end Tom Banderas said. "They stuffed us. But if you can't get it here, you gotta get it there, so we did."
The second factor was Taylor's injury. Osborne elected not to run any more option plays so that Taylor's shoulder wouldn't be exposed to more punishment than absolutely necessary.
Backup quarterback Clete Blakeman was ready to come in, but Taylor talked Osborne out of it. "I knew that to have the best chance of beating a team as good as UCLA, the team would need me in there," Taylor said.
After Green's short touchdown run gave the Bruins a 7-0 lead toward the end of the first quarter, Taylor dominated the game. His nine-yard pass to Banderas tied it early in the second quarter.
His 11-yard pass to fullback Ken Clark made it 14-7. A 48-yarder to Rod Smith made it 28-10 and two more deep throws to Todd Millikan -- one for 33 yards, the other for 35 -- in the fourth quarter gave the Cornhuskers a cushion they would need.
Putting the ball in the air 15 times hardly means Taylor is ready to transfer to the University of Miami. His efficiency was what was most impressive. He completed nine of his first 12 passes, and helped convert eight of Nebraska's first 12 third-down plays.
UCLA, a notoriously slow-starting team, wasn't as inept as it had been in '83, '84 and in last year's 38-3 opening-day loss to Nebraska's Big Eight rival Oklahoma. The Bruins, in fact, could have made a better showing had it not been for critical mistakes.
Early enough in the game for it to matter, the Bruins twice got inside the Cornhuskers 20 and failed to score. Once, the snap of a short field-goal attempt was too high. Another time, on a critical third down, a Troy Aikman pass that would have gained 30 or more yards was dropped. The Bruins also had a punt blocked and kept getting suckered into illegal motion penalties.
Mistakes by UCLA turned a 14-10 game at halftime into a rout. As Donahue said, "I thought the momentum shifted to Nebraska in the third quarter. We fumbled and the pass we dropped across the middle that would have given us a first down was crucial. Plus the bobbled snap on the field goal. . . . Those three things hurt our chances to win."
UCLA 7 3 7 16 33 Nebraska 0 14 14 14 42
UCLA -- Green 4 run (Velasco kick)
N -- Banderas 9 pass from Taylor (Drennan kick)
N -- Clark 11 pass from Taylor (Drennan kick)
UCLA -- FG Velasco 23
N -- Clark 1 run (Drennan kick)
N -- R. Smith 48 pass from Taylor (Drennan kick)
UCLA -- Ball 6 run (Velasco kick)
N -- Millikan 35 pass from Taylor (Drennan kick)
N -- Millikan 33 pass from Taylor (Drennan kick)
UCLA -- Green 5 run (Green run)
UCLA -- Green 2 run (Green run)
A -- 76,313.
UCLA Nebraska First downs 23 17 Rushes-yards 53-94 47-117 Passing yards 267 217 Return yards 0 16 Passing 18-29-0 10-15-0 Punts-average 6-27 3-36 Fumbles-lost 4-3 5-4 Penalties-yards 9-70 5-30 Time
RUSHING -- UCLA: Green 19-46, McCracken 5-22, Mel Farr 5-16, Primus 7-12, Ball 3-10. Nebraska: Knox 4-30, T
PASSING -- UCLA: Aikman 14-22-0, 211 yards, McCraken 4-7-0, 56. Nebraska: Taylor 10-15-0, 217.
RECEIVING -- UCLA: Arbuckle 6-92, Anderson 5-105, Craig 4-43. Nebraska: Brinson 3-46, R. Smith 2-75, Millik