Crouch's reception vs. Oklahoma one for the ages
Updated: Saturday October 27, 2001 8:30 PM
By Stewart Mandel, CNNSI.com
LINCOLN, Neb. -- You know Eric Crouch, runner, and Eric Crouch, guy who hands off to some bruiser.
On Saturday, the nation met Eric Crouch, receiver. And they may never forget it.
In his 35th start, facing defending national champion and undefeated Oklahoma, the senior quarterback produced quite possibly the most memorable moment of his distinguished career. But he needed the help of a teammate whose prior accomplishments were slightly more . . . well, non-existent.
Holding a fragile 13-10 lead against its archrival and the second-ranked team in the country with roughly nine minutes remaining, No. 3 Nebraska needed to do something big. So on first down at its own 37, coach Frank Solich called "Black 41 Flash Reverse Pass."
Running back Thunder Collins went in motion, taking the quick pitch from Crouch. Rather than breaking up field, he pitched the reverse to split end Mike Stuntz -- a true freshman who didn't even play the previous week against Texas Tech.
Unbeknownst to anyone -- especially the Sooners' defense -- Crouch had sprinted down field as a receiver, and even more unbeknownst, the leftie Stuntz is a former high-school quarterback. He hurled a long pass toward Crouch, who was wide open on the near side.
OU's Kory Klein was the closest defender -- about 10 yards behind.
Crouch dashed untouched into the end zone, putting the Huskers up 20-10 and essentially icing things against an OU offense that couldn't put together another drive -- nevertheless two.
Considering the implications of the victory, such an improbable play could one day go down in history as part of Nebraska lore, along the lines of Johnny Rodgers' punt return in the 1971 "Game of the Century," or the famed Orange Bowl "fumblerooski."
"Against a great defensive team like Oklahoma, if you don't take a few chances, if you don't run a few plays along those lines, you're not going to move the ball at all," a gutsy Solich said afterward.
Said linebacker Jamie Burrow: "Coach Solich was standing there, congratulating all of us as we came off the field. I saw him and said, 'You crazy son of a gun.'"
The Huskers' had installed the play in practice just this week. In a sure sign they had at least one thing up their sleeves, Friday's team walkthrough was moved from Memorial Stadium to an indoor field house, free from the possible view of onlookers.
To set it up, Nebraska lined up in the same formation twice before, stopping at the part where Collins takes the pitch. The first time, the I-back was stopped for minimal yardage. The second time, early in the third quarter, he turned a corner and broke for 39 yards, coming within one broken tackle of going the distance.
So when he took the "flash" a third time, OU's safeties moved forward to stop the run, leaving a wide-open seam for Crouch.
"They all bit pretty hard," said Collins.
Nebraska would not even have gotten the opportunity to run it if not for a costly Oklahoma mistake on the preceding play. The Sooners had Crouch stuffed on a third-and-2 run but defender Corey Heinecke was flagged for a 5-yard inadvertent facemask penalty, giving the Huskers a first down. They wasted no time making OU pay.
Recounting the play later, Stuntz, looking far scrawnier than his listed 6-foot-2, 185-pound frame and every bit as wide-eyed young as his 18 years, beamed a huge grin as he approached the podium and peered into the lights of his first postgame news conference. He had been warned the play might be coming two series earlier and started discreetly tossing with teammates to loosen up. And he entered the game for one play just two before the big one.
But he apparently also had ample spare time on the sideline.
"I saw some of those things they kept running [on the video board] during the game, 'Nebraska-Oklahoma, One for the Ages,'" he said. "There was one they showed on trick plays, where I was kind of thinking, 'What if this [the pass] makes it up there?' We even talked about it during meetings, all the trick plays between Nebraska and Oklahoma."
In addition to catching Oklahoma sleeping, the play required perfect execution from all parties involved. Collins said he worried a little about the wind. Stuntz seemed to clutch for just a second before throwing, checking his grip on the ball (and nearly sending Solich's heart to the floor when he thought Stuntz might take off running).
But Crouch had no such reservations.
"Once I saw the safety kind of focus in on what was happening behind the line, I knew all I really had to do was kind of jog out there and wait for him to throw it."
Mere moments after Crouch had scored, with the crowd still in a frenzy, the stadium video board showed a computer-animated image of Crouch striking the Heisman pose, followed by an image of the trophy itself.
His numbers Saturday -- 10-of-18 passing for 102 yards, 13 carries for 21 yards -- were not Heisman-esque. But in terms of value to his team -- one likely to be ranked No. 1 in the BCS standings Monday -- no one else comes close.