LINCOLN — Feasting on Rice satisfied Nebraska's hunger to get back to playing football.
The fourth-ranked Huskers scored on their first three possessions of each half Thursday night in hammering out a 48-3 triumph before the 243rd consecutive sellout crowd, of 77,344, at Memorial Stadium.
Quarterback Eric Crouch scored two touchdowns and passed for three more in helping Nebraska improve to 4-0 with its 17th straight victory at home.
"While he was in the game," Nebraska Coach Frank Solich said, "I thought he was special."
That also was the most appropriate way to describe the atmosphere and setting as the Huskers took the field for the first time since their Sept. 8 win over Notre Dame. That win came three days before terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., forced this nation's attention away from fun and games.
For three hours Thursday, the Huskers reveled in the chance to get back to football.
"This is an emotional time for everyone," Crouch said. "The whole world has been affected by what's happened. I was proud how we persevered as a team. I thought we presented Nebraska and the country well tonight.
"For about three hours tonight, we got to do something that took our minds off all the negative things that have been happening. I think it was something that everyone needed."
Nebraska originally was scheduled to play Rice on Sept. 15, but the game was postponed by tragic events on the East Coast. The rescheduled contest gave Nebraska its first Thursday night game at home and its first Thursday game in almost three decades.
And that gave Solich a nervous moment or two.
"I didn't know for sure how they would respond," Solich said. "We've never been in this situation before. But when it was time to play football, I thought our team responded with great intensity. I was pleased with how the players responded.
"As coaches, we want to congratulate our players for the way they played today and the way they went about things. We also want to congratulate the fans for showing up on a Thursday and filling the stadium."
A patriotic pre - game display primed the fans, and Crouch kept the intensity high with one of his best performances as a Husker. The senior from Millard North completed 9 of 11 passes for 165 yards. He threw touchdown passes of 37 and 11 yards to tight end Tracey Wistrom and 42 yards to Wilson Thomas.
Crouch also led Nebraska with 97 yards rushing, averaging 8.1 yards per carry. He pushed his career rushing total to 2,564 yards in becoming the Big 12 Conference's all - time leading rushing quarterback. He passed former Missouri quarterback Corby Jones, and also moved into eighth on Nebraska's all-time rushing chart.
Crouch amassed his 262 yards of total offense in spite of sitting out the final quarter and a half.
"I don't think you can get much more done than what he got done tonight, " Solich said. "I think he kind of wished he could have played a little bit more, but he's very unselfish and he understood. It wouldn't have made sense to play him any more and run the risk of him getting injured.
"I thought it was just a complete football game for him."
Any concern about how the layoff might affect the Huskers were quickly eliminated as Crouch directed Nebraska to three touchdowns on its first 11 snaps.
The Huskers added a fourth score late in the first half, then opened the third quarter with three more scoring drives that hiked their advantage to 48-0 with 3:06 left in the period. Rice, losing for the first time in three games, avoided the shutout when Brandon Skeen kicked a 25-yard field goal with 7:49 to play.
Overall, Nebraska piled up a season-high 497 yards. The Huskers did yield a season-high 365 yards to a Rice team that came into the game as a 36-point underdog, fell behind by seven touchdowns but refused to fold.
In winning, Nebraska completed non-conference play unbeaten for the fifth straight season. The Huskers now begin preparing for Big 12 Conference play, which begins Sept. 29 at Missouri.
Nebraska scored on its first three possessions to take a 21-0 lead with 2 1/2 minutes remaining in the first quarter. Two of the touchdowns came on scoring passes from Crouch, the first a 37-yarder to Wistrom and the second a 42-yarder to Wilson Thomas.
Wistrom's catch capped a three-play, 39-yard drive that had been set up when Rice experienced difficulty getting plays off and moving the football on its first possessions. The Owls were called for a delay of game and a false start on their first two snaps, threw an incomplete pass that was almost intercepted in the end zone on their third and gained 6 and 2 yards on a pair of runs.
That left Rice facing fourth and 11 from its 12, and a short punt gave Nebraska the football at the Rice 39-yard line. Three plays later, Rice teamed up with Wistrom for the score that put Nebraska ahead 7-0 with 12:12 left in the first quarter.
Nebraska needed four plays to cover 71 yards on its second possession, with true freshman Mike Stuntz opening the drive with a 25-yard run on a lateral from Crouch. Crouch followed with runs of 16 and 30 yards to move the ball to the Rice 3-yard line, and fullback Judd Davies bulled in from there to make it 14-0 with 8:34 remaining in the quarter.
Crouch's pass to Thomas ended the next drive, which covered 74 yards in four plays. The drive started with Crouch completing a 21-yard pass to John Gibson that gave Nebraska a first down at its 47-yard line. The Huskers got another first down when Thunder Collins rushed for gains of 4 and 7 yards, and Crouch followed by hooking up with Thomas on a 42-yard pass that gave the Husker split end his first career touchdown.
Nebraska's defense, which had been allowing an average of 171 yards in its first three games, gave up 161 in the first 30 minutes. But the Owls got no closer to the Nebraska end zone than 24 yards away, and their only real scoring threat ended when DeJuan Groce blocked Brandon Skeen's 41-yard field goal attempt.
|Yards per carry||4.2||5.5|
Nebraska is 1-0 all-time against Rice.
|Troy State||Sept. 1|
|Notre Dame||Sept. 8|
|Iowa State||Oct. 6|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 20|
|Kansas State||Nov. 10|
|Miami (FL)||Jan. 3|
Nebraska has played 9 games on Sept. 20. See them all »
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