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Published Thursday, November 23, 2000

NU offense looking for redemption

Last modified at 10:49 p.m. on Wednesday, November 22, 2000

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  By Terry Douglass
The Independent

For Nebraska's offensive unit, Friday's game against Colorado serves as one last shot at redemption in the regular season.

It's hard to imagine that an offense that is ranked first in the country in rushing average (354.6 yards per game), fifth in total offense (462.4 yards per game) and fifth in scoring (42.2 points per game) could be looking to prove itself in the 11th game of the season. However, that's just the case for the Nos. 8- and 9-ranked Cornhuskers (8-2, 5-2 Big 12), who have experienced meltdowns on the offensive side of the ball in losses this season at Oklahoma and Kansas State.

Coming off a 29-28 loss to Kansas State on Nov. 11, Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch says the entire team needs to make a statement against Colorado (3-7, 3-4).

"There's a lot riding on this game for us as far as an offense, defense and special teams," Crouch said. "We've got to go out and prove ourselves in all aspects."

That's especially true for the offense. Against Kansas State, the Huskers were limited to 239 yards of total offense, marking their lowest output since gaining 185 yards in the third game of last season against Mississippi State.

Nebraska head coach and offensive coordinator Frank Solich said that the Husker offense needed to work on more than just fine-tuning simple X's and O's.

"It had to do more with technique and more with really taking advantage with situations that you're presented with," Solich said. "We had our chances to win that football game just as Kansas State had many chances to win that football game. Certainly, when you have chances, you've got to make them work. Some of that comes down to execution and so we hope to execute better."

Solich said an inability to complete passes hampered the effort in the loss at Kansas State. Crouch, who has been bothered for much of the season by a sore shoulder, completed just 2 of 13 attempts for 39 yards against the Wildcats in cold and wet conditions at Manhattan, Kan.

"We were a one-dimensional football team," Solich said. "Any time you're a one-dimensional football team, you've got problems."

It would seem that Nebraska could be more balanced on Friday as Colorado is ranked last in the Big 12 and 98th nationally in pass efficiency defense. So, does that mean that Solich will call for more pass plays against the Buffaloes?

"Only if we throw better," Solich said. "It doesn't make a lot of sense to double the number of throws that we would have in a ballgame if we don't raise the completion percentage dramatically. We need to be able to throw well.

"We will attempt to be a very good passing football team in this game. Will that mean that we throw it 20-25 times, 15 times? I guess that remains to be seen, but we will not abandon our philosophy, which is to run the football."

Crouch has taken his share of criticism for his passing performances in Nebraska's two losses. The junior quarterback, who has completed 46 percent of his pass attempts this season, was 12 of 27 against Oklahoma, leaving him 14 of 40 (35 percent) in the Huskers' two setbacks.

"The best way to handle that is to not let it affect you and kind of push it aside," Crouch said of his detractors. "I've always done a good job of not letting those things get to me, so I'll continue thinking the same way.

"You've just got to make sure that you're out there giving your best. If you're giving 100 percent all the time, then that's all you can ask for. You don't always get the bounces or breaks all the time, but that's part of the game."

Despite its problems, Crouch said that he doesn't feel that the Nebraska offense is generally one-dimensional. He said that the combination of his sore shoulder, the unfavorable weather conditions and being put in several second-and-long and third-and-long situations helped contribute to the Huskers' poor passing night at K-State.

"I've never thought of this offensive unit as one-dimensional," Crouch said. "I feel that we've got great talent in all areas to get the job done in anything we want to do. I feel like we could call any play in our play book at any time and be able to execute that."

As for his shoulder injury, described by Solich as a bruised AC joint, Crouch said his shoulder feels fine and that he's not using injuries as an excuse for sub-par performances.

"I've been throwing all week and taking all the reps, so I don't think that's going to have any affect at all on this game," Crouch said. "It might not be 100 percent. I feel that I probably haven't been 100 percent all year, but I don't think it has been a factor in how I've played.

"I expect myself to be able to make plays being a little bit injured. Sometimes, when you get in the flow of the game and the adrenaline gets going, you don't feel that much."

In hopes of improving execution, Crouch indicated that Nebraska might have scaled back its offense for the Colorado game.

"We're kind of cutting it back and working on plays that we think are going to be good plays," Crouch said. "We're working on timing of routes and allowing me to know where the receivers are going to be in passing routes, so that makes a big difference, I feel. Going into the game, I feel our confidence level has risen."

Colorado ranks 73rd nationally against the run, giving up an average of 163 yards per game. However, Nebraska guard Russ Hochstein said he expects the Buffs to follow the blueprint that both Oklahoma and Kansas State have used to slow down the Husker running game. It worked well as the Huskers rushed for 195 yards against the Sooners and 200 against the Wildcats.

"We're going to get a lot more of the same," Hochstein said. "I'm sure a lot of people are going to do what Oklahoma and K-State did against us. You'll see a lot of linebacker play and a lot of slants and stuff like that. We need to prepare for that and we are preparing for that."

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