Walking off the practice field four days before taking on Oklahoma, Solich rejected the notion that this game might define his career. "It appears that whenever you're in a ball game, that game, at that moment, is as big as it gets," he said. "No one game defines what kind of coach, or team, or program you are."
Perhaps so, but a loss to the Sooners would have more clearly defined the sort of coach Solich wasn't: the kind who wins the big games. As it turned out, Solich, who also serves as offensive coordinator, was congratulated for having the nerve to call 41 Flash Pass. Moments after the touchdown senior linebacker Jamie Burrow, who made a game-high 16 tackles, went over to him and shouted, "You crazy son of a gun!"
That's Solich, all right. A real madman. Asked for an example of what Solich might do if he was feeling particularly zany, a colleague thought for a moment and then offered this: "Maybe have an extra handful of M&Ms while he breaks down video."
The size of the smile on Solich's face in the postgame locker room contradicted his contention that this victory was routine. "He was beaming," said Crouch. "Everyone was really happy for him."
The other Cornhuskers were no less thrilled for Crouch, whose touchdown reception—his second at Nebraska—further enriched his already amazing career as a four-year starter. For jaw-dropping appeal, however, last Saturday's catch didn't compare with his 95-yard touchdown run against Missouri on Sept. 29. Dropping back to pass in that game, Crouch was nearly sacked in his end zone, but he escaped the clutches of a defensive end, juked a safety at the 11, hip-faked a cornerback at the 22 and went the rest of the distance untouched.
A week later, against Iowa State, he rushed for four TDs in the first half of a 48-14 win, in the process breaking the NCAA record for career rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (51) He is also one of four players in NCAA history to exceed 3,000 yards rushing (3,117) and passing (4,059). All that arguably makes him the best quarterback Nebraska has ever had, but he still doesn't measure up to the likes of former Cornhuskers signal-callers Tommy Frazier and Scott Frost in one category: He hasn't won a national championship. He has time.
With the meeting with the Sooners still four days away, he had stood fidgeting under the bleachers of Memorial Stadium. "I'm so excited, I want to play the game right now," said Crouch, who had off-season surgery to repair a ligament in his right shoulder. Unlike last year, he said, this season the shoulder does not hurt when he throws. The numbers back him up: Crouch went into the Oklahoma game leading the Big 12 in passing efficiency, with a quarterback rating of 143-7 compared with 121.6 in 2000. Nonetheless, the Sooners weren't petrified by the prospect of facing a healthy Nebraska passing attack. Linebacker Rocky Calmus identified his defense's main goal as "getting Crouch to try to beat us with his arm."
After watching Oklahoma take a 7-0 lead on Hybl's four-yard pass to tight end Trent Smith, Crouch obliged. On the Cornhuskers' ensuing 80-yard touchdown drive, he completed four passes for a total of 58 yards. Each completion had the added benefit of forcing the Sooners' defensive backs—superb strong safety Roy Williams in particular—to soften their run support. By keeping Williams honest, Crouch could hand off to I-back Dahrran Diedrick, who broke through the interior of the Oklahoma defense for an 18-yard run before scoring on a two-yard plunge.
Give the Sooners' defense credit, though. After Nebraska took a 13-10 lead early in the third quarter, Calmus & Co. dug in and held the Cornhuskers to three-and-out series on three consecutive possessions. It appeared that the momentum had swung in Oklahoma's direction, when Stuntz jogged onto the field.
Were the Sooners suspicious? "I took a look at their sideline, and one of their coaches was making a passing motion," said Stuntz, who had lined up as a receiver in his only other appearance on Saturday. "I got a little worried."