Ross essential in NU offense

CHRIS VANKAT/DN

Nebraska running back Cory Ross sneaks past ISU linebacker Matthew Robertson Saturday afternoon during the Huskers' 27-20 double-overtime victory over the Cyclones. Ross led the Huskers in rushing with 32 yards on 15 carries.

In the midst of utter joy and disbelief, Cory Ross came to a stop in the back left corner of the end zone, dropped the ball on the ground and tried to figure out how in the world this ever happened.

In the days heading into Nebraska's 27-20 double-overtime victory over Iowa State on Saturday, Ross told ABC broadcasters in an interview that his football dream was to score the game-winning touchdown, at home, in double overtime.

So when Ross took an 8-yard swing pass from quarterback Zac Taylor in for a touchdown to put the Cornhuskers ahead in the second overtime, his dream unfolded before his eyes.

"I told (ABC) that my favorite scenario was going into double overtime and getting the ball," Ross said. "I couldn't even celebrate when I did it because it was actually happening. I don't really know how to explain it."

Along with being a Nostradamus of sorts, Ross ended the day as the Huskers' most productive offensive player, though he did so in a fairly unconventional way.

With 131 yards on eight receptions â€" a school-record for running backs â€" Ross continued his reputation as Nebraska's top offensive playmaker.

While the Huskers' were unable to establish any kind of running game â€" rushing for 36 yards on 25 carriers, the eighth lowest rushing total in school history â€" Ross was able to provide a much-needed spark as a receiving threat out of the backfield.

For both Ross and the Huskers, the biggest play of the day was a 70-yard screen pass that resulted in the Huskers first offensive touchdown in more than four quarters.

"When he gets the ball, he's really dangerous," Iowa State Coach Dan McCarney said. "He's a tremendous player. On that middle screen, we had a guy that was supposed to have accounted for him. He didn't, and when you give that guy that sort of daylight, you're in trouble."

Ross' effectiveness in the NU passing game was by no means a coincidence, as a large part of it was the fact that Huskers tied their all-time low by rushing the ball just 25 times in the game.

Coming into the game, Ross had been averaging 118.7 rushing yards per game. On Saturday, Ross totaled just 32 yards â€" though he did score a game-tying touchdown in the first overtime on a 1-yard run.

Though the Huskers were content with abandoning the ground game, the NU coaching staff said getting Ross the ball was as much a priority as ever.

"We wanted to get Cory involved in the passing game," NU Offensive Coordinator Jay Norvell said. "He gave us a little punch in our passing game and we wanted to be able to take some pressure off of our receivers. He did a great job of doing that."

Of all the numbers he posted, the most important element Ross provided was once again the ability to make the big plays the Huskers desperately needed against the Cyclones.

On top of his two game-saving touchdowns in overtime, Ross' 70-yard jaunt was the longest scoring play for the Huskers this season. The longest touchdown prior to it was a four-yard pass from Taylor to receiver Frantz Hardy against Wake Forest.

Needless to say, getting Ross the ball has become the Huskers' No. 1 offensive priority.

"Cory is an outstanding receiver," NU Coach Bill Callahan said. "It's a real luxury and we're lucky to have a back of his caliber that can exhibit those types of skills in the passing game."

Despite all of his productivity, the one knock on Ross' performance was the miscommunication on a handoff late in the fourth quarter that resulted in blown play and a fumble by Taylor that the Cyclones recovered.

Ross admitted after the game that the play was designed to be a run to the right, or a "99." In the midst of all the crowd noise, Ross heard "98" and went left, leaving Taylor alone in the backfield and forced to scramble for a first down.

But when grading his game as a whole, Ross' miscue is more than excusable.

Whether he's running routes or between the tackles, Ross has solidified himself as the Huskers' playmaker.

"It's real important," NU Running Backs Coach Randy Jordan said of getting the ball in Ross' hands. "He's a playmaker. His instincts and his vision are amazing. We try and get him the ball as much as possible."