Ames, Iowa - There was a moment Saturday in the second half of Nebraska's 49-27 win over Iowa State when an entire offensive unit, an entire team, an entire state held its breath.
It happened on the first play of the fourth quarter. Nebraska had thrown just one pass with the strong north wind behind it in the third quarter. But on first-and-10 from the NU 40-yard line, quarterback Eric Crouch lofted a ball down the sideline.
I-back Correll Buckhalter caught it for an important 25-yard gain in what was then a one-point game. But another important scene took place near the line of scrimmage, where Crouch looked like he might not peel himself off the grass this time.
Of course, the junior out of Millard North did get up, albeit slowly. That moment, however, and a similar one later in the fourth quarter after a Crouch run to the 1-yard line only underscored what everyone associated with the Huskers already knew.
Take it straight from tight end Tracey Wistrom: Crouch's importance to Nebraska cannot be overstated.
"It's hard to describe what he means to us," Wistrom said. "Whatever awards and honors he gets, he deserves it. And he should be up for all of them."
Nebraska's quarterback continued to look like a Heisman Trophy contender Saturday, establishing a career high with 302 yards of total offense against the Cyclones. NU's school record is 319 yards by Jerry Tagge in 1971. Crouch rushed for a season-best 138 yards on 19 carries and completed 7 of 17 passes for 164 yards.
But it was the big plays that defined Crouch's day. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound quarterback turned in a 40-yard run on the Huskers' first touchdown drive and a 22-yarder en route to the second touchdown. He connected with Buckhalter for 25 yards and Wistrom for 20 on third-and-15 to extend Nebraska's third touchdown drive.
On the next NU score, Crouch rushed for 10 yards to the 1, and he put Nebraska in the red zone with a 32-yard naked bootleg on third down to set up the touchdown that put the Huskers up 42-20.
"I really don't focus on the yardage," Crouch said. "I don't focus on the total offense either, but to come out after the game and hear about it, it's something I take a lot of pride in."
Crouch must feel proud today if he has studied his total-offense production over the past three weeks. His 252-yard output Sept. 23 against Iowa established a new career high, and he improved that figure last week with 283 yards against Missouri.
Saturday was Crouch's first game over 300 yards. It gave him 1,144 total-offense yards for the 2000 season - a 228.8 yard average - and 4,362 for his career. He moved past Scott Frost into seventh place on NU's all-time charts Saturday.
Crouch now sits 1,114 yards behind NU record-holder Tommie Frazier and is on pace this season to take over the top spot late in the Huskers' Nov. 11 game at Kansas State.
"Eric has shown people this year that he is able to do a lot of things," said Buckhalter, who ran for three touchdowns Saturday in addition to his big catch.
ISU Coach Dan McCarney last week called Crouch as good as any player he'd coached against in 24 years as an assistant or head coach. After the win Saturday, NU Coach Frank Solich said Crouch gives the Huskers "an extra dimension" on offense.
Solich said Crouch is playing at a level even higher than last season, when his 2,158 total yards marked the highest total by any non-senior in Nebraska history.
"I commented to Eric today that he seemed to really be putting a nice zip on the ball," Nebraska Receivers Coach Ron Brown said, "especially in the first quarter, when he had to work against that wind. He really made some nice throws. Our throwing this year is clearly becoming a major strength of our offense."
Crouch, whose lone interception Saturday was returned 40 yards for a touchdown by Jamarcus Powers, did it all with a gimpy set of wheels, he said. Not only did he endure the punishment of several big hits, Crouch said, but he still had not completely recovered from the wins over Iowa and Missouri.
Prior to the Sept. 30 Missouri game, Crouch missed two days of practice to rest his sore body. He said he may be forced do that again this week as the Huskers prepare to visit Texas Tech Saturday.
"I was probably at about 85 percent today," Crouch said. "That's part of the game. It's just an accumulation of the games we're playing. The hits I am taking and the beatings won't stop. You've just got to play through it. I'll be ready to go again next week."
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