LINCOLN — Nebraska’s combination of a versatile Eric Crouch and a vicious defense Saturday put the squeeze on California’s upset bid.
Crouch became the first Nebraska player in 26 seasons to catch, run and throw for a touchdown in the same game. As it turned out, the Huskers needed just one of those scores as the defense again put on a dominating show in the 45-0 victory that drew a record crowd of 77,617 for the dedication of the $36.1 million Memorial Stadium improvement project.
The defense and Crouch helped the fifth- and sixth-ranked Huskers overcome a running game that was missing in action against California’s aggressive defense. Nebraska finished with just 114 yards rushing, with third-string I-back Dahrran Diedrick leading the way with 29 yards on five late-game carries. Starting I-back DeAngelo Evans and No. 2 Dan Alexander were held to 5 and 26 yards, respectively.
“That doesn’t make a lot of sense if you look at it from an offensive standpoint,” said Crouch, referring to the high point total and the low rushing output. “But if you watched the game, you saw what our defense did for us. They put us in great position and they did that all day long. That made it easy on the offense.”
Nebraska, which finished with 301 yards, limited 1-1 California to 145 yards, 73 of which came in the first 15 minutes. The Golden Bears gained just 40 yards rushing, on 35 carries, and averaged 2.4 yards on their 61 offensive plays. California got no closer than 14 yards from the Nebraska goal, and saw its only chances to score bounce away when kicker Ignacio Brache twice hit the left upright on field-goal attempts.
“We’ll take it,” Nebraska rover back Mike Brown said. “You always need a little luck in football.”
Nebraska needed little Saturday, relying instead on a defense that has yet to be scored on this season. The only touchdown Nebraska has allowed in its two wins came when Iowa blocked a punt and returned it for a score in the Sept. 4 game at Iowa.
In two games, the Huskers have allowed a pair of offensively challenged opponents to gain a total of 314 yards and average a measly 2.7 yards per play. Against California, Nebraska recorded five sacks, had nine tackles that produced losses and forced three turnovers.
“I don’t think we’ve faced a great offense this year,” Brown said. “But we have a great defensive line, great linebackers and a great secondary. We’re capable of hanging with any team in the nation and we’re capable of doing some great things out there.”
What the defense did best against California was set up the offense. The Huskers forced three turnovers and allowed Nebraska to start three possessions deep inside California territory. Three other Husker possessions started near midfield.
Field position played an important role against a California defense that was committed to stopping Nebraska’s running game. The Bears often had eight or nine men within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, a strategy that did leave them vulnerable to the pass.
The Huskers made them pay as Crouch threw a 70-yard scoring pass to tight end Tracey Wistrom for the Huskers’ third touchdown.
Crouch then scored the Huskers’ fourth touchdown on a 60-yard, pass-run play from Bobby Newcombe. Overall, Nebraska completed five of nine throws for 187 yards, an average of 20.8 per attempt.
“I’d never caught a pass in a game,” Crouch said. “Bobby threw a perfect pass, and that play worked perfectly. It designed to have me catch the ball and take it right up the middle, and that’s exactly what happened.”
Crouch also scored touchdowns on runs of 1 and 4 yards. That allowed the sophomore to become the first Husker player since Johnny Rodgers to score touchdowns in the same game on a run, a pass and a catch. Rodgers achieved the feat during the Huskers’ 40-6 victory over Notre Dame in the 1973 Orange Bowl.
“It didn’t even dawn on me until someone brought that up on the sideline,” Crouch said. “I wasn’t thinking about whether anyone had done it here before. I just thought it was neat because I hadn’t ever done it before.”
Crouch finished the game with 21 yards rushing on nine carries. He completed both of his passes for 102 yards, and had the one catch for 60 yards. Nebraska scored on all four of the possessions that he was at quarterback, and added a fifth score when he was in the game as a receiver.
Newcombe rushed for 11 yards on 12 carries, four of which were quarterback sacks. He threw 7 passes and completed 3 for 85 yards, and directed Nebraska to three of its touchdowns.
“Obviously, we can perform a little better,” said Newcombe when asked if he was happy with how he played against the Bears. “It’s only the second game of the season, and we hope to improve on it.”
Crouch said he’s content in his role as Nebraska’s No. 2 quarterback and No. 1 playmaker.
“We’re stretching teams out and we’re putting a lot of points on the board,” Crouch said. “I don’t know if the coaches are going to change anything or if they’re planning on making any changes.
“Right now, things are working, so I can’t argue with anything that’s going on. I’m getting on the field. I’m not sitting around watching things happen. I getting a chance to make plays and help this team win.”
Nebraska Coach Frank Solich offered his usual “they-both-did-some-nice-things” assessment of his quarterbacks’ play. He did admit that Newcombe struggled at the start of the game for the second straight week.
“Bobby got off to a slow start but he played better as the game went on,” Solich said. “We only had 57 snaps, which is not a lot. It’s tough to generate a lot and feel comfortable with what you’re doing, either as a player or a coach.
“There were times when you get a big play and the drive is over and you haven’t had a chance to get any momentum going. It was that kind of a day for our quarterbacks. But they both did things that helped us get it done, and that’s what this is designed to do.”
Newcombe managed to get Nebraska on the scoreboard late in the first quarter, running five straight option plays that gained 36 of the 51 yards on the drive. The other 15 came on a late hit, one of California’s 14 penalties in the game. Newcombe got the touchdown on a 12-yard run with 28 seconds left in the period.
Crouch directed an 80-yard touchdown drive on his first series, scoring on a 1-yard run to make it 14-0 with 8:44 left in the second quarter. On the Huskers’ next possession, Crouch threw his 70-yard scoring pass to Wistrom, who was 10 yards behind the closest California defender when he caught the ball.
“At times, Cal was committing 10 people to stop our run,” Solich said. “Of course, there were certain plays that ended up hurting them when they did that. We knew we would just not run up and down the field on a team that commits as much as they did to stopping the run.
“You just hope you have enough offense to take advantage of what they’re doing, and we were able to do that to some degree.”
Nebraska’s lead grew to 28-0 when Newcombe and Crouch teamed on a ‘jailbreak slant’ play for the 60-yard touchdown pass with 53 seconds left in the first half. Split out to the left, Crouch started in motion toward the Nebraska formation, then broke up field. Newcombe fired a perfect strike, and Crouch outran the California defense to the end zone.
“We’re run ‘jailbreaks’ before and we’ve practice them a lot,” Solich said. “Sometimes if we get 6 yards on them, we’re jumping up and down. There are a lot of times when we’ve run them that they haven’t worked that well. We haven’t spent a lot of time on it this year, but we thought it had a great chance against a penetrating defense.”
Nebraska converted a pair of California mistakes — a blocked punt and Ralph Brown’s interception of Kyle Boller’s pass — into 10 more points in the third quarter. Another turnover — receiver Michael Ainsworth’s fumble at midfield — set up Nebraska’s final scoring drive. Newcombe directed the eight-play march, with Alexander getting the touchdown on a 5-yard run.
“We made a lot of mistakes and we didn’t force any,” California Coach Tom Holmoe said. “They didn’t get very many penalties and are very disciplined. We had quite a few penalties, and the big plays made a real difference.”
California’s biggest play of the day was a 24-yard pass from starting quarterback Samuel Clemons to tailback Marcus Fields. The Bears’ longest run was 9 yards, also by Fields. Other than an 11-play drive in the first quarter that accounted for 52 of California’s total yards, the Bears didn’t have a possession that lasted more than six plays.
That made for another dominating effort for Nebraska’s defense, although Solich said it’s important to keep the performances in perspective. Iowa and California ranked at the bottom of their conferences last season in offensive output. They are young and inexperienced this season.
“But I don’t want to take away from the performance of our defense,” Solich said. “They’ve done all that we’ve asked them to do and everything you can do from a defensive point of view. But they will get tested down the road much more than they have these first two games.”
The Husker defenders can’t wait.
“I’m not concerned about our defense getting a false sense of how good we are,” Ralph Brown said. “We don’t take what we do for granted. No matter who we play, we’re going to play our hearts out.
“We’re going to keep doing the same thing, week in and week out.”
|Yards per carry||1.1||2.4|
Nebraska is 3-0 all-time against California.
|Southern Miss||Sept. 18|
|Oklahoma State||Oct. 2|
|Iowa State||Oct. 9|
|Texas A&M||Nov. 6|
|Kansas State||Nov. 13|
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