Associated Press photo
Soon-to-be Big Ten foes, Nebraska and UCLA have met 13 times over the years.
Two of those meetings came as top-5 matchups. The first was on this day 35 years ago.
For virtually all of Tom Osborne’s tenure as head coach, Nebraska was known for its power running style. Against UCLA in 1987, however, it was quarterback Steve Taylor who stole the show with five touchdown passes in a 42-33 win for the Cornhuskers.
Setting the Stage
Nebraska had won three straight over UCLA, dating back to Osborne’s head coaching debut in 1973 as it arrived at Memorial Stadium on Sept. 12, 1987. Ranked No. 2 in the country, the Cornhuskers had opened the year with a rout of Utah State and was coming off a 10-win season and top-5 finish.
Fresh off a top-15 finish, UCLA had routed San Diego State in its opener. The Bruins were aiming for their first win over Nebraska since an upset over the No. 1 Cornhuskers in 1972.
Taylor Steals the Show
For nearly a quarter, the defenses dominated in Lincoln. By the time all was said and done, however, the Cornhuskers and Bruins would play the highest-scoring game in the history of the series.
Gaston Green’s touchdown run gave UCLA a 7-0 lead after a period. From there, however, Taylor took over.
Taylor finished 10-for-15 passing for 217 yards but half of his completions went for touchdowns. He put the Cornhuskers ahead for good with touchdown tosses to Tom Banderas and Ken Clark in the second quarter. At the half, Nebraska held a 14-10 lead.
In the third quarter, the Cornhuskers blew things open. Less than four minutes in, the lead ballooned to 28-10. After Clark scored on a 1-yard touchdown run, Taylor found a streaking Rod Smith for a 48-yard score.
Eric Ball found the end zone late in the third quarter for the Bruins, but Taylor put the nail in the UCLA coffin with fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Todd Millikan, covering 35 and 33 yards, respectively. UCLA was held to just 94 yards rushing on 53 carries, but Green scored twice in the last four minutes to make the final score more respectable.
While neither Taylor nor UCLA’s Troy Aikman were intercepted, the teams combined for seven lost fumbles. Aikman passed for 211 yards in the loss. UCLA’s Willie Anderson was the top receiver with five catches for 105 yards.
UCLA’s loss in Lincoln wouldn’t keep it down long. The Bruins bounced back with eight straight wins but a loss to rival USC in the regular season finale would ultimately decide the Pac-10. UCLA clinched a top-10 finish with a win over Florida in the Aloha Bowl.
Nebraska’s season would follow a similar path. The Cornhuskers started 9-0 and ascended to No. 1 but a November loss to Oklahoma would give the Sooners the Big 8 crown.
Nebraska finished sixth in the AP Poll following a heartbreaking 31-28 Fiesta Bowl loss to Florida State. The Cornhuskers finished the 1987 season ranked in the top 10 in scoring offense and scoring defense.
Their highest-scoring game of the year was a victory over UCLA in a top-5 shootout. It was played on this day 35 years ago.