Eric the Red
Crouch leads Cornhuskers to convincing victory.

By DAVE MATTER of the Tribuneís staff

Story ran on Sunday, September 30 2001

Nebraska isnít mounting a million-dollar campaign to push quarterback Eric Crouch for the Heisman Trophy. But with one marvelous record-breaking run yesterday on Faurot Field, consider Crouch back in the running.

Mark Schiefelbein photo
Missouri defensive tackle Keith Wright (77) and Nick Tarpoff (79) celebrate after the Tigers stopped the Nebraska offense on an early third-down play.
Should he win the coveted award in December, he probably wonít thank the Missouri defense. But if the Nebraska sports information staffers were looking for the one Crouch highlight clip to dazzle the voters, they found it yesterday in a 36-3 victory over the Tigers.

In the closing minutes of the third quarter, his fourth-ranked Cornhuskers ahead 16-3 but backed up on their own 5-yard line and facing a third-and-8, Crouch looked for a short pass to his left. With his receivers covered, Crouch danced around the end zone, eluded the reach of a diving tackler and escaped for a first down - a first down that ended 95 yards later in the north end zone.

"He just got away from us," said a distraught Nick Tarpoff, MUís redshirt freshman defensive end who missed the tackle in the end zone. "I didnít wrap him up, and thatís my fault totally. I should have had him for a safety."

Instead, Crouch eclipsed the longest run from scrimmage in Nebraska history and the longest ever allowed by the Tigers. The play broke open what had been a fairly close game and sealed MUís 23rd straight loss to the Cornhuskers.

"In football," Tarpoff said, "the pendulum swings both ways, and obviously it swings their way when something like that happens."

Crouch, whose longest previous run was 62 yards, said he felt someone - Tarpoff - nipping at his heels before he broke free and dodged two tacklers near NUís 20-yard line.

Mark Schiefelbein photos
Missouri's Nick Tarpoff (79) loses his grip on Nebraska's Eric Crouch.
"It could have been the old knife in the heart kind of thing, and it was certainly a big momentum shifter," said Crouch, who finished with 191 yards rushing and 120 passing. "I knew there was a hand on me, and I felt someone on my foot. So I was just trying to break some tackles and make something happen.

"I kind of amazed myself."

And the 64,204 in attendance - at least a third of whom were wearing Nebraska red. The Tigers were just as awed as they watched Crouch run away with the ball and the victory.

"They were just waiting for a play like that where he can get into the open field and really hurt you," said junior linebacker Sean Doyle, who had a game-high 13 tackles. "Theyíre going to start getting their engines rolling, and thatís when teams usually fold against them."

Ed Pfueller photo
Away from Tarpoff, Crouch turns upfield from his own end zone.
Sophomore center A.J. Ricker watched the play unfold from the sideline.

"Any time you see something like that, it brings the whole team down," Ricker said. "You should have heard it on the sidelines. Everyone was cussing. Thatís a back-breaker right there, but good teams overcome stuff like that."

MU coach Gary Pinkel said the Tigers (1-2, 0-1 Big 12) set up the third-down play perfectly, covering all of NUís receivers and swarming Crouch toward the end zone.

"Heís an absolutely phenomenally player," Pinkel said. "We absolutely stuffed" Crouchís run "at the point of attack like you want to. And he turned it into a big, big play. He just made the play, and thatís why he is who is he is."

Crouchís run surpassed previous NU record-holders Craig Johnson and Roger Craig, who had 94-yard runs in 1979 and 1981, respectively. Nebraskaís Tyreese Knox had owned the longest run from scrimmage against Missouri - 92 yards - set in 1986.

Jenna Isaacson photo
After weaving through a handful of Missouri defenders, Crouch is on his way to a 95-yard touchdown run, escorted by receiver Wilson Thomas.
For Missouri, it was a day of far too few big plays. Facing Nebraskaís tough run-stopping defense, Pinkel said MU planned to throw the ball early and often. After coolly directing the Tiger offense in the first half, quarterback Kirk Farmer cooled off in the second half.

Farmer was a late addition to the starting lineup after recovering from a torn medial-collateral ligament suffered on Sept. 8, but he showed few signs of rust in the first quarter. By halftime, Farmer was 12-of-25 passing for 114 yards. But dropped passes and poor throws in the second half stalled the Tigers against Nebraskaís defense.

MU picked up just three first downs in the second half, two from Nebraska penalties. The Tigers completed 3 of 15 passes after halftime and were 0 for 6 on third-down conversions.

"You have to throw and catch. Thatís the bottom line," Pinkel said.

Farmer finished with 128 yards on 15-of-39 passing before being relieved by junior Darius Outlaw late in the fourth quarter. The Tigersí ground game totaled just 67 yards on 23 carries.

Meanwhile, Nebraska (5-0, 1-0 Big 12) made up for a slow start - a blocked field goal, a fumble and an interception on its first three drives - with its typically efficient running game. Nebraska scored on six of nine possessions starting in the second quarter with a pair of touchdown runs by I-back Dahrran Diedrick.

While Crouchís run electrified the NU faithful, it was a second-quarter pass that might have done the most damage.

On first-and-10 from MUís 41, Crouch lofted a wobbly throw down the left sideline to Wilson Thomas, who beat cornerback Antoine Duncan for the crucial gain. Two plays later, Diedrick was in the end zone, and Nebraska led 13-3 with 23 seconds left before halftime.

"Thatís the last thing you ever, ever want to do is give them momentum," Pinkel said. "If they get a field goal on that drive itís OK, but you canít do that. Good teams donít do that. Good teams donít give up those momentum plays at the end of the half."

Nebraska held the ball for at least 10 minutes in each of the final three quarters. Crouch added a 15-yard TD run, and his replacement, Jammal Lord, scored on a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter.

On Crouchís record night, the Nebraska quarterback single-handedly outgained the Missouri offense 311 yards to 205, gaining some new supporters for the campaign trail.

"I wish him luck," MU junior defensive tackle Keith Wright said. "I watch a lot of the Pac-10 games, being from California, and I think all those guys have got a run for their money. Heís a leader. When their teamís down, he steps up. Heís their commander."

Reach Dave Matter at (573) 815-1788 or