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Heavy hits part of
Huskers' Fiesta practice

By John Adams
News-Sentinel sports editor
Dec. 16, 1999

The University of Tennessee football team is already playing catch-up. It will begin Fiesta Bowl practice tonight down by five.

That's five days, not points.

Nebraska opened bowl practice Dec. 6. It practiced three times last week and twice more this week.

The practice days will even out before their Jan. 2 meeting. The practice hits won't.

Nebraska will have full-contact workouts Saturday and Sunday. After another contact practice Dec. 24 in Tempe, Ariz., the Cornhuskers are expected to celebrate Christmas Day with a full-scale scrimmage.

That's the Nebraska way. When the Cornhuskers played UT in the 1998 Orange Bowl, they had a 100-play scrimmage eight days before the game.

The heavy-hitting regimen has helped Nebraska win three national championships in the last six years. It didn't help at all against Arizona in last year's Holiday Bowl.

Nebraska only managed 12 first downs and 128 yards rushing in a 23-20 defeat that left it with four losses for the first time in 30 years. It was an inauspicious bowl debut for first-year head coach Frank Solich, an assistant for 19 years under former coach Tom Osborne.

"If you think you have covered all the bases and feel well prepared, you probably aren't," Solich said of last year's bowl preparation. "You better go back and rethink things.

"You have to make sure your team understands you're playing a great opponent, and it will only take two or three mistakes to turn it the other way. I think I probably already knew that, but last year was a reminder."

Last year's defeat will figure in this year's preparation. Solich was disappointed in Nebraska's execution of the option against Arizona. Consequently, his team worked overtime on the option last week.

Experience, as well as repetition, should help. Sophomore quarterback Eric Crouch, who started five games last season, is now being compared to Nebraska's most deft option quarterbacks.

Crouch rushed for 889 yards and passed for 1,269 yards this season. He accounted for 23 touchdowns (16 rushing, 7 passing).

"He probably runs the option as well as anybody," Nebraska center Dominic Raiola said. "He really knows what he's doing now. He looks at the defense and knows what's going to work. There probably isn't anything they (Tennessee) can show us that he hasn't seen before.

"I think you're going to see a great performance from him in the Fiesta Bowl."

There is a precedent. Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost scored three touchdowns as the Cornhuskers pummeled UT 42-17 in the 1998 Orange Bowl.

Although Frost was bigger, Crouch has the same knack for breaking tacklers, and he's faster.

"He's built like a rock," Raiola said of the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Crouch. "He's the toughest football player I've ever played with."

Toughness comes with practice at Nebraska.

John Adams may be reached at (865) 342-6284 or adams@knews.com

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