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HUSKER FOOTBALL: Crouch's passing leaves Owls flat-footed
BY BRIAN ROSENTHAL Lincoln Journal Star
Eric Crouch stood on the Nebraska sideline, holding his helmet in his right hand during the third quarter of Thursday night's football game with Rice.

It was a rare break for Crouch, who watched backup quarterback Jammal Lord direct the Husker offense with a 42-0 Nebraska lead.

"It was a little different," Crouch said. "It's probably been a while since that's happened, but it's a great opportunity to take a rest."

Crouch certainly deserved it.

Nebraska's senior quarterback accounted for five touchdowns and 262 yards of total offense in No. 4 Nebraska's 48-3 rout of previously-unbeaten Rice.

"I don't think you can get much more done than what he got done tonight," NU Coach Frank Solich said of Crouch. "I think he wished he could've played a little bit more. When he was in the game, I thought he was special."

Crouch completed 9 of 11 passes for 165 yards and three touchdowns, marking the third time in his career he's thrown for at least three touchdowns in a game. He also ran 12 times for 97 yards, increasing his career rushing total to 2,564 yards. That was good enough to make him the Big 12 Conference's all-time leading rushing quarterback, an honor Missouri's Corby Jones (2,533 yards) had held until Thursday.

If you're searching for a down side to Crouch's day, then consider his Heisman-like performance was kept under wraps. No one aside from the 77,344 fans at Memorial Stadium witnessed his performance.

That didn't bother Crouch, who seemed more concerned with putting together an overall solid performance.

"It felt like I got back on track," Crouch said. "(Before) I felt like I was a little off track, a little out of sync, running the football, getting some touches and making some big plays."

Not Thursday. Crouch launched a 37-yard touchdown pass to Tracey Wistrom on Nebraska's third play from scrimmage, broke runs of 16 and 27 yards on the Huskers' next series, then later connected with split end Wilson Thomas for a 42-yard touchdown.

By the end of the first quarter, Crouch had accounted for 143 of NU's 184 yards of total offense. That number increased to 224 of 283 by halftime.

"His precision is good, he's got great touch on the ball now," said Thomas, who caught four passes for 76 yards. "It's just his experience, being a quarterback at Nebraska."

Wilson beat his defender one-on-one and caught Crouch's play-action pass at the right pylon marker. That gave NU a commanding 21-0 lead and marked the first time this season the Huskers had scored touchdowns on three straight possessions.

Crouch, who scored on runs of 6 and 25 yards and had four runs longer than 10 yards, finished his night with an 11-yard TD pass to Wistrom. He threaded the ball through a pair of defenders, straight into Wistrom's hands.

"I knew we'd throw the ball well. All week long in practice, our passing game was probably at an all-time best," Crouch said. "It just shows how much confidence I have in my receivers and my offensive line. It's just something we feel is getting better and better every week, and we just want to use it."

Seven of Crouch's eight completions in the first half went for first downs, and the NU offensive line only allowed one sack of Crouch.

"I had a lot of time back there, and the offense blocked very well," Crouch said. "They're starting to mold together as a unit. With all the inexperience we had at the beginning of the year, I think those guys are doing a good job feeling comfortable out there. Really, if you think about it, they're physical guys. That's not the part of the game we had to worry about. From day one, it's been the mental part. They're young."

Crouch, who now has more than 6,000 career total yards, tops at Nebraska, improved to 28-5 as a starter.

This time, though, he didn't have to finish.

Reach Brian Rosenthal at 473-7436 or brosenthal@journalstar.com.

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