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Published Sunday, September 12, 1999

Crouch can do no wrong


Last modified at 10:33 a.m. on Monday, September 13, 1999
 

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Terry Douglass
LINCOLN -- Question: Do you have to be a starter to win the Heisman Trophy?

If he could possibly sustain his current rate of production, Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch might not make that question as ridiculous as it sounds. Crouch, the Cornhuskers' second-team quarterback, put on a first-rate show Saturday as NU blasted California 45-0 at Memorial Stadium.

This Crouch kid, who has become the darling of call-in radio show listeners and stars in letters-to-the-editor columns, has shown he deserves the hype. Run for a touchdown, pass for a touchdown and even catch a TD pass, no problem. Heck, he did it all in one quarter.

Crouch has carried the ball on 15 occasions this season, including his one pass reception, and ended up in the end zone six times. The ratio blows the mind. Oh, and by the way, he also threw a 70-yard scoring pass.

It seems that since Crouch lost the quarterback derby to Nebraska starter Bobby Newcombe, everything he touches turns to gold. The three touchdown runs on five carries last week against Iowa were remarkable. But what Crouch did against the Bears was outrageous.

I went to the game as a company man. If coach Frank Solich says Newcombe is the man, then I believed him. But what Crouch is doing on the field is impossible to deny. The season has been short, but Crouch has outplayed Newcombe in both go-arounds with fewer opportunities.

There's no debating that Newcombe is a superb talent and any program in the country would trade their biggest booster to have him, but Crouch is simply a player on an unstoppable tear.

Newcombe has to be feeling the pressure. He won't say it, but he has to know that Crouch is the man with the hot hand right now. Newcombe also must know that there's a sold-out stadium's worth of people across the state who'd rather see him at wingback -- or even on the sidelines -- if it will mean Crouch is the full-time quarterback.

So far this season, Newcombe just hasn't been the pre-knee injury Newcombe. As a freshman, Newcombe was the electrifying multi-threat that Crouch has suddenly become. But instead of dashing through holes and scrambling for big yards, Newcombe has looked sluggish and indecisive at times this year.

"I thought that Bobby got off to a slow start, but started to play better as the game went on," Solich said. "They both did things that helped us get the thing done and that's what it's all designed to do."

Newcombe said last week that there's a lot of pressure on the starters. Maybe it's become too much for him the handle. Maybe Newcombe is trying too hard.

Raw statistics are no way to compare Newcombe and Crouch. The number of plays at quarterback haven't been the same and Newcombe's rushing total has taken a hit because of sacks that weren't always his fault.

Granted, there's no way Crouch can play every game like he has the first two. If he could, Beano Cook would be proclaiming him the annual Heisman winner through the year 2001. And don't even start thinking about how Brent Musburger would tout Nebraska's new Golden Boy.

But seriously, is the Husker offense better with Crouch?

"I think the offense responds better as the game goes along," Solich said. "That's the way it is with most offenses. I don't think, generally speaking, if you look at Nebraska teams against good defenses, it's not a deal where things come early and easy. It's a deal where things get set up and then you're able to take advantage of it.

"You need to understand that it's not one guy who takes that football team down the field. There's 11 guys that have got to get it done."

However, the fact remains that Crouch is currently The Man -- everywhere except on the depth chart.

Who could guarantee world peace right now? Eric Crouch.

Who can leap tall linebackers in a single bound? Eric Crouch.

Relationship problems? Call Eric Crouch.

Right now, Crouch can do no wrong.

"I just feel like any time I go in the game, it's a chance for me to let this team shine," Crouch said.

Newcombe or Crouch, I've never really cared as long as the best man gets most of the snaps. The season is still young, but I have to admit that I've went from being in Newcombe's camp to sitting squarely on the fence.

A few more games like this, and maybe Frank should join me.


Contact Independent sports editor Terry Douglass via e-mail at sportsdesk@theindependent.com or by phone at (308) 381-9414.



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