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Zac Taylor was a record-setting ball-slinger and Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year during his time at Nebraska a decade and a half ago. And yet the Husker quarterback-turned-NFL coach is often forgotten when legendary Nebraska signal-callers are discussed.

Perhaps that’s because fans would just as soon forget the Bill Callahan era in Lincoln. Perhaps it’s because Taylor lacked the cannon arm and blue-chip pedigree of, say, Harrison Beck, who left Lincoln after losing the QB competition to Taylor. That prompted Beck’s mother to infamously grouse: “It’d be different if he was sitting behind Matt Leinart or Brady Quinn. Zac’s OK; I wish him all the best, but he’s just OK.”

Perhaps it’s because there were a few too many losses and no major bowl wins. But just OK? Most would beg to differ, even if they aren’t ready to place Taylor on the proverbial Mount Rushmore of Husker quarterbacks. 

One thing’s for certain: In his third year as an NFL head coach, Taylor is doing far better than just OK.

As he prepares to lead his Cincinnati Bengals in Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Los Angeles Rams, it seems appropriate to look back at a performance from Taylor’s two years as a Husker. Obvious choices would be the astonishing domination of Colorado in Boulder when the Buffs were two-touchdown favorites in 2005, or the improbable drive in the final two minutes to win at Texas A&M in 2006 and clinch the Big Ten North championship. Instead, we have chosen what seems particularly fitting: an underappreciated game from an underappreciated quarterback. 

Nebraska 39, Kansas 32 (OT)

On this nerve-wracking September evening in Lincoln, Zac Taylor completed just 15 of his 33 passes, but that didn’t stop him from posting spectacular numbers and delivering crucial plays in the Huskers’ conference opener against Kansas.

Three of Taylor’s throws went for touchdowns of 75 or more yards, the first time that’s believed to have happened at any Big 12 school. Those three plays accounted for more than half of his 395 passing yards, which at the time was the second-highest single-game total in program history. (Ho-hum: Taylor also owned the No. 1 and No. 3 spots on the chart.)

Taylor wasted no time getting going against the Jayhawks. On the game’s second play from scrimmage, Taylor connected with a wide-open Terrence Nunn down the left sideline for 75 yards, and Nebraska was on its way to a 17-0 lead. A 78-yarder down the right sideline to Frantz Hardy in the second quarter made it 24-7, with Taylor delivering the ball on the run just before being forced out of bounds.

This, however, would not be a good old-fashioned rout of Kansas. After an ineffective first 15 minutes, KU found a rhythm on offense and proved difficult to stop. Aided by a suddenly sputtering Husker offense and a pair of Nebraska fumbles, the resurgent Jayhawks reeled off 18 consecutive points over the next 30 minutes of play. With a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, Kansas seized the lead, 25-24.

The Huskers began their subsequent possession poorly. A sack followed by a bad center snap had Nebraska quickly facing third-and-18 at its own 25 with under 4½ minutes remaining. Needing to make something good happen, Taylor dropped back and heaved a bomb down the left sideline. Thirty-five yards downfield, Hardy outmaneuvered a Jayhawk defender, latched onto the ball just inside the KU 40 and raced into the end zone.

“I just threw it up,” Taylor said afterward, “and Frantz made a play on it.”

Hardy’s 75-yard touchdown catch was followed by what turned out to be an equally big play, though it covered just three yards: a bullet from Taylor to a tightly defended Nate Swift at the goal line for a two-point conversion. That gave Nebraska a 32-25 lead with 4:13 remaining.

The Jayhawks, however, weren’t finished. Kansas quieted the crowd by driving 81 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown and the tying extra point. This thing was going into overtime.

The Jayhawks won the coin toss, putting extra pressure on Taylor and the offense to deliver. And deliver they did. On the second play of OT, Taylor connected with wide receiver Nate Swift on a crossing route for 21 yards to the Kansas 1, and I-back Cody Glenn did the scoring honors on the next play. 

Now it was Kansas’ turn on offense. The Jayhawks used a fourth-down conversion to keep their hopes alive, but the Nebraska 9 was as far as they could get. After surrendering 574 yards to the visitors, the Huskers’ Blackshirt defense forced three consecutive incompletions to end the game.

The 39-32 victory gave Nebraska a 1-0 start in Big 12 play en route to the North Division championship. As it turned out, the three longest touchdown passes of Taylor’s Nebraska career all occurred on this almost-forgotten September night.

2006 Nebraska-Kansas football 1Q1 USATSI_2187124 Brandon Jackson
Terrence Nunn TD 2006 vs Kansas
2006 Nebraska-Kansas football 1Q2 USATSI_2187130 Todd Peterson
2006 Nebraska-Kansas football 1Q3 USATSI_2187131 Terrence Nunn
2006 Nebraska-Kansas football 2Q1 USATSI_2187126 Cortney Grixby
2006 Nebraska-Kansas football 2Q USATSI_2187127 Tierre Green and Andrew Shanle celebrate
2006 Nebraska-Kansas football 2Q2 USATSI_2187128 Bill Callahan and Zac Taylor
2006 Nebraska-Kansas football 2Q3 USATSI_2187129 Andre Jones
2006 Nebraska-Kansas football 3Q USATSI_2187132 Corey McKeon and Tierre Green
2006 Nebraska-Kansas football 4Q1 USATSI_2187133 Nate Swift
2006 Nebraska-Kansas football 4Q2 USATSI_2187134 Tierre Green and Andrew Shanle tackle
2006 Nebraska-Kansas football 4Q3 USATSI_2187136 Frantz Hardy
2006 Nebraska vs Kansas

More images from Taylor’s Nebraska career