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Published Sunday, September 12, 1999

Crouch finding role with team

Last modified at 12:31 a.m. on Sunday, September 12, 1999

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photo: HuskersHQ
Independent/Barrett Stinson
Husker quarterback Eric Crouch (right) turned receiver for a play during the second quarter and went all the way after catching a pass from Bobby Newcombe, leaving California┬╣s Damian Marzett behind.
By Terry Douglass
The Independent

LINCOLN -- Nebraska's Eric Crouch never fancied himself as a wingback, but after his performance Saturday against California, it might just be something he can learn to live with ... at least for now.

Crouch, who said he was devastated by losing a preseason battle for the starting quarterback spot against Bobby Newcombe, was Nebraska's shining star for a second straight week as the Cornhuskers beat the Bears 45-0. Crouch had a hand in four touchdowns -- two running, one passing and one receiving -- to once again spark his team.

His performance came just one week after rushing for three touchdowns and 92 yards on just five carries in a 42-7 win Sept. 4 at Iowa. Crouch was named the ABC/Chevrolet player of the game for the second straight outing.

Crouch said Saturday that if he would've known that he'd play such an important role in Nebraska's offense, he might not have been so unhappy about being named the No. 2 quarterback.

"You always want to be the starter and be the guy who starts the game off," Crouch said. "But right now, I'm playing enough where I feel comfortable any time."

Crouch's mood was a far cry from two weeks ago when Nebraska coach Frank Solich told him he'd be Newcombe's backup. After learning of the decision, Crouch declined to speak with the media on several occasions and there were rumors that he even considered quitting the team.

Crouch put an end to those rumblings last Tuesday, but admitted he was extremely disappointed.

"You set goals and my whole life, I feel like I've been an overachiever," Crouch said. "I've really tried to stress to myself that I want to be the best. I think that just goes along with the type of person I am. I'm really hard on myself about those things.

"When the decision was made, it was hard for me. I had to go talk to a lot of family members, a lot of close friends and get things straightened out about what my role really was. I even talked to the coaches about it."

Once he accepted the fact that Newcombe would be the starter, Crouch said he started looking for other ways to help the team. One day in practice before the Iowa game, he said he asked NU receivers coach Ron Brown if he could play some at wingback.

That turned out to be a great move for Crouch, and the Cornhuskers. Against Cal, Crouch capped a marvelous second quarterback by catching a Newcombe pass on a jail-break screen play and speeding 60 yards for a touchdown to put Nebraska ahead 28-0.

Earlier in the quarter, Crouch scored on a 1-yard run and also hit tight end Tracy Wistrom for a 70-yard TD strike from his quarterback position. He became the first player to score a touchdown running, passing and throwing in a single game since Florida's Jacquez Green in 1997 against Auburn. There are no records indicating if the feat has ever been accomplished in a single quarter.

Crouch, who split practice time this week at quarterback and wingback, said his touchdown reception was the first catch he's ever made in a real game and that it's taken him some time to get used to his new position.

"It was a little interesting because it was a different angle," Crouch said. "Catching the ball and running with it is something I've never done before, so it took me a couple of days to get used to it and get used to the hits you take at wingback."

Crouch finished the game with 21 yards and two TDs rushing on nine carries at quarterback. He was also 2-of-2 passing for 102 yards and a touchdown to go with his 60-yard receiving TD.

"I did look at the stats after the game and I was in all three categories, so that was a little interesting," Crouch said. "But any time I can get on the field and make some things happen, that's what my goals are."

Crouch's all around play impressed Newcombe, who was asked if Nebraska has any plays designed for him to appear at wingback this year.

"That's a secret," Newcombe joked. "We haven't exactly put that in, but Eric has done a great job of running some routs and catching the ball and running with it afterward. He's also done an excellent job of throwing the ball as well."

For the second straight week, Newcombe struggled to get the Husker offense rolling. He finished the game with 11 yards rushing and a touchdown on 12 carries -- he was thrown for 35 yards in losses -- and was 3-of-7 passing for 85 yards, including the 60-yard TD to Crouch.

However, Crouch wasn't about to knock Newcombe's performance.

"I think Bobby looks pretty good out there and I'm just focusing on the way I play," Crouch said. "I've just tried to put all those other things aside and just go out there and practice. I'm just enjoying myself and looking forward to the games on Saturday."

Despite his stellar play, Crouch said he isn't expecting any changes in Nebraska's depth chart.

"It's working right now," Crouch said. "I think that anything that's working right now is something the coaches will probably stick with.

"Any time I'm in the game I just try to make things happen and let everybody know that this isn't just a show from Eric Crouch or DeAngelo Evans, but it's a team sport. Everybody's got to put in 100 percent for us to be successful this year."

As for now, Crouch said he's happy to be a Husker.

"I do feel like things have settled down," Crouch said. "I feel like I've found what my role is on the team right now and as of today, it's second-team quarterback ... coming in at wingback or wherever and doing what I can to help us win.

"Now, I kind of feel like I can help this team out in a lot of ways. If I can keep doing that every week I'm going to feel pretty good about this team and myself."

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