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Crouch Does Little Things in Big Win
ESPN The Magazine
LINCOLN, Neb. -- It looked so eerily familiar. Oklahoma, riding a 20-game win streak, had just pinned its opponent up against its own goal line after a quick kick. Momentum, which means more in college football than probably any other major sport, was turning.

Three weeks ago, a similar scenario had unfolded. The Sooners' victim on Oct. 6 was Texas. More specifically, it was Longhorn QB Chris Simms, who got swallowed up by OU's pressure D and self-destructed. On Saturday, Nebraska's Eric Crouch had ambled right into Oklahoma's cross hairs. But the Cornhusker QB came off the ropes swinging, breaking off a 19-yard run up the right sideline. The play is simply called "34 Quarterback Keep." It's designed for NU's linemen to slant down (hopefully using OU's stunting front against the Sooners) and for Crouch to do the rest. He did. He sprinted away from trouble and won the game right there. "In my mind," said Cornhusker coach Frank Solich, "that was the game's biggest play."

Five plays later, Crouch sealed the deal by hauling in a 63-yard TD reception to give NU a 20-10 lead.

On the surface, his numbers don't appear that impressive: Thirteen carries, 21 yards rushing. Ten-for-18 passing for 102 yards, no TDs and an INT. But look closer: Because of Eric Crouch, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops is no longer 8-0 against top 10 teams. He's 8-1. Nebraska will sit atop the BCS.

As Crouch stood in front of the media, answering question after question about his exploits as a receiver and his now surging Heisman candidacy, it wasn't hard to tell how huge this performance was to him. He is polite, well-spoken and abnormally grounded. Crouch is one of those college stars like Shane Battier or Warrick Dunn, who seems like he's been in college for 10 years. And it sure hasn't been a smooth ride. Four years ago, when everyone was set to anoint Bobby Newcombe as the new Tommie Frazier, Crouch was set to bolt Lincoln. Crouch ended up sticking it out, and winning the QB job, but took more than his share of lumps along the way.

Like Solich, he was tagged as a guy who couldn't win the big game. And truth is, Crouch had been hardly stellar in crunch time. He entered Saturday's Game of the New Century 7-5 vs. ranked teams and having completed around 40 percent of his passes. Off the field, his personal life is such a hot topic around football-sick Nebraska, you think he was the lead singer of some boy band.

To his credit, the 22-year-old QB answers everything. Even those questions that should be out of bounds. Against the top ranked team in the BCS, he answered a more important question. He says he's not worried about silencing any critics, but conceded seeing the placards some NU fans brought that had "Crouch: the Right Option" did make him smile. "I am happy about all of that," he says of the Heisman ground swell.

These days, everything that seems to revolve around the Heisman circus sprouts from the hype generated by gaudy stats. Crouch doesn't give you that. He's not Woodrow Dantzler and he's not David Carr. Just keep in mind, that when it comes to evaluating the true measure of a quarterback, don't scan the stat sheet, check out the scoreboard.

Bruce Feldman covers college football for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at

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