TEMPE, Ariz. — Among his Nebraska teammates, confidence rose as high as the temperature on the turf of Sun Devil Stadium whenever quarterback Steve Taylor got his hands on the ball.
On a mid-90-degree Saturday afternoon, the Cornhuskers ran hot and not in a 35-28 victory over Arizona State before a crowd of 71,264. Taylor completed his two-game sweep of Pacific 10 Conference schools by doing something spectacular, one way or the other.
He scored the first touchdown and the last--the game-winner from three yards out with 3:37 to go. Taylor rushed for 122 yards, but he also fumbled twice and threw an interception, all of which led to 17 Sun Devil points.
Taylor, whose fourth-quarter fumble at the Husker 13 put Arizona State in position to tie the score, 28-28, couldn't upset his offensive linemen with something like a little mistake at one of the worst possible times.
"We have so much confidence in him, it's not even funny," tackle Bob Sledge said.
Such high regard was soon rewarded. Right after Anthony Harris' one-yard touchdown run tied the score, Nebraska I-back Keith Jones, who had 145 yards, broke loose for a 62-yard run to the Sun Devil eight.
One play later, Taylor was in the end zone, and Nebraska had protected its No. 2 ranking, escaping with nothing more serious than a mild case of sunburn.
Taylor, who directed a Nebraska offense that produced 376 yards on the ground, said he felt bad about the fumbles, but not that bad.
"I'm a player, I'm human like everyone else, but it's what you do afterward that counts," Taylor said. "My linemen have confidence in me. I don't like fumbling just like they don't like jumping offsides."
The 3-0 Huskers certainly had a lot to worry about playing Rose Bowl champion Arizona State.
Primarily, there was the heat, which was regarded as an advantage for the home team. Arizona State should be used to it. After all, the Sun Devils even have a player named Saute. Really.
But Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne prepared the Huskers during practice in Lincoln by working out indoors with the heat turned up to 90 degrees.
So heat was a factor, right? "When the game started, I didn't think I was going to make it," Husker defensive end Broderick Thomas said.
Maybe the only cool thing that happened Saturday was the cold shoulder given to Sun Devil quarterback Dan Ford after the game.
Ford, who completed 15 of 35 passes for 200 yards, had 3 passes intercepted, one in the end zone when he apparently threw to the wrong receiver during a scoreless first quarter.
Jim Colletto, Arizona State's offensive coordinator, criticized his quarterback after the game in fairly blunt terms.
"Danny is not the kind of quarterback who can win games for us, but what he can't do is lose them," Colletto said. "As long as he doesn't hurt us like he did today, we'll be OK. He has to learn what it takes to be a college quarterback."
In his defense, Ford also had a pass dropped in the end zone when Tony Johnson botched a perfect throw late in the first half. Alan Zendejas then kicked his second field goal (the first was after Taylor's fumble), this one from 28 yards out to cut the Huskers' lead to 14-6 at halftime.
Said Ford of Colletto's remarks: "Well, he's the coach. I can get the job done. I can make the big play. But if I hadn't made the bad plays, it would have been fine."
Losing, even though it was close, wasn't at all fine with ASU Coach John Cooper.
"I don't ever want us to be satisfied with playing a team close," Cooper said. "We've got to search down deep inside and find out what kind of team we really are."
What the Sun Devils really are is a good comeback team. But then so are the Huskers.
By halftime, Taylor already had 96 yards, and although he faded because of the heat in the second half, he still came up with the big plays.
Taylor's 12-yard touchdown pass to Rod Smith gave Nebraska a 28-21 lead, right after a one-yard run by Harris had tied the score again.
When Taylor was hit while scrambling and fumbled the ball to the Sun Devils' Nathan LaDuke, ASU got even five plays later on another plunge by Harris.
Just before Taylor took them on the 82-yard drive that would win the game, Smith said he had something to think about in the Nebraska huddle.
"We knew we had to keep scoring because they were going to keep scoring," he said. "I looked around and I saw that in everyone's eyes."
Some of the scoring that kept going on was a little daring. ASU pulled even at 14-14 on a two-point conversion. Actually, it had to be done twice because a motion penalty wiped out the first one.
Husker trickery involved a 26-yard pass from backup quarterback Clete Blakeman to tight end Todd Millikan on a fake field goal attempt. Millikan was stopped on the one, but Jones scored on the next play for a 21-14 lead.
Taylor, sacked by Saute Sapolu, fumbled the ball on first down at the Nebraska 20, and Harris' four-yard run tied the score again at 28-28.