LINCOLN — If everyone worked for a boss like Sean McVay, workplace morale might skyrocket.
When the 31-year-old head coach of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams learned that Zac Taylor, his assistant wide receivers coach, was being inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame this weekend, he insisted that Taylor attend the event at Memorial Stadium.
Nebraska’s game Saturday against Northern Illinois was Taylor’s first at Memorial Stadium since finishing his career with the Huskers in the 2006 season. That season Taylor was named the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year.
So, Zac, how were you able to get away the day before your Week 2 matchup with the Washington Redskins at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum?
“Because my head coach is a stud,” Taylor said. “He found out about this, and I never imagined I’d be able to miss a walkthrough and come to this field. But he insisted and set it all up for me, so I’m really appreciative of that.”
Much has changed since Taylor became the first Husker quarterback to have a 3,000-yard passing season. The additional seats in East Stadium and new academic and strength and conditioning facilities all caught his attention on his first trip back to Lincoln.
“It’s a weird feeling,” Taylor said. “I didn’t really have any expectations. You just want to come here, live in the moment. It’s really neat getting the chance to come out here, see all the fans and watch the team play.”
Because he has his own group of players for whom he’s responsible with the Rams, Taylor said it’s difficult to stay up with the day-to-day goings on at his alma mater.
“I do as best I can,” he said. “As a coach, you’re worried about your own team. But I always pull for the team, pull for the coaches. They’ve got a great staff and I look forward to seeing them play.”
Taylor said his initial reaction to being selected to the Hall of Fame was one of surprise.
“I was shocked,” he said. “I never in a million years, with all the champions and players they’ve had here, I never pictured this happening for me. It’s a great honor, and I’m really thankful for it.”
Taylor couldn’t make the Friday night induction dinner — his flight didn’t get to Lincoln until around midnight. He was set to leave Lincoln immediately after the game to return to Los Angeles for Sunday’s game.
He also wasn’t planning on doing any scouting of current NU quarterback Tanner Lee or any other players.
“This was not a working trip,” Taylor said. “This is just a fun trip to relax and enjoy the show.”
When Northern Illinois cornerback Shawun Lurry jumped a route in front of Nebraska wide receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El and returned the interception 87 yards for the first touchdown of the game, fans in one section of Memorial Stadium appreciated it more than everyone else.
That section at the south end of West Stadium was packed with Huskies fans and parents of players. With every stride Lurry took toward the north end zone, the roar from the NIU supporters increased.
The cheering lasted well through Christian Hagan’s extra point kick. There also was a solid minute of ‘NIU, NIU’ chants from the Huskies faithful.
It’s been a long time since Husker fans had to hold on to their red balloons through the first half to celebrate Nebraska’s first score of the game.
Not since 2007 against Oklahoma State had Nebraska been shut out in the first 30 minutes of a game at Memorial Stadium.
As the Huskers headed to the locker room Saturday after Drew Brown’s blocked field goal attempt, the sky above Memorial Stadium filled with red balloons though NU headed to intermission down 14-0. It would be difficult to carry concessions or make a bathroom stop hanging onto a balloon.
But not everyone gave up or needed a midgame snack. After Tanner Lee scored on a 4-yard run with 8:05 remaining in the third quarter, the skies again were populated by a good number of balloons.
An 11 a.m. kickoff and rain in Lincoln beforehand kept Memorial Stadium from filling as quickly as it did for the Sept. 2 opener against Arkansas State.
Just before kickoff there were still several rows of empty seats in the upper bleachers of East Stadium and just a few vacant seats in the upper reaches of the student sections in South Stadium.
After Nebraska’s sluggish first half, both of those areas of the stadium became noticeably emptier. That’s not an uncommon occurrence in South Stadium in recent years, even when the Huskers are ahead.
Senior linebacker Chris Weber was presented with the Sam Foltz Memorial Scholarship in a pregame ceremony.
The scholarship is presented annually to a member of the football team who embodies Foltz’s traits of leadership, excellence in the community and the classroom. Foltz died in an automobile crash in July 2016 before his senior season.
Weber is a fifth-year senior co-captain with a 3.957 cumulative grade-point average. The Elkhorn graduate is president of Nebraska’s Uplifting Athletes chapter.
How would you grade Nebraska's performance against Northern Illinois?
Nebraska's defense allowed just one touchdown, but the Huskers nonetheless fell 21-17 to Northern Illinois. How would you grade NU's overall performance?