AMES, Iowa — Nebraska took care of upset-minded Iowa State with a Saturday performance that featured a difference-making quarterback and a statement-making defense.
Eric Crouch topped the 300-yard mark in total offense for the first time in his career in leading the Huskers to a hard-fought 49-27 Big 12 Conference win over the previously unbeaten Cyclones. The victory, before 50,074 at blustery Jack Trice Stadium and an ABC regional television audience, should send the unbeaten Huskers back to the top of the national rankings.
Nebraska had dropped out of the No. 1 spot in the Associated Press poll after its 18-point victory over Missouri on Sept. 30. But No. 1 Florida State's loss at Miami coupled with Nebraska's win is expected to move the Huskers back atop the AP ratings. Nebraska had maintained its hold on the No. 1 ranking in the coaches poll in spite of its spotty performance against Missouri.
"It's not going to have a huge impact on us," Nebraska tight end Tracey Wistrom said. "We don't worry about other scores that much. We just know we have to go out and take care of business whenever we get the chance."
Wistrom caught four of the seven passes Crouch completed for 101 yards. Crouch's three other completions produced 63 yards, giving him 164 yards passing to go along with a game-high 138 yards rushing. His 302 yards of total offense improved the career high of 283 yards he had a week ago against Missouri.
That effort had improved upon the 252 yards of offense Crouch produced in the Sept. 16 win over Iowa. With each game, the junior quarterback from Millard North does things that leaves his coaches shaking their heads in admiration. And that's not easy, Coach Frank Solich said, considering Crouch was the Big 12's co-offensive player of the year in 1999 as a sophomore.
"When you look at the kind of season Eric had last year, you say he's probably not going to beat it. He had a spectacular season last year," Solich said. "But he's already beaten it with the way he's played this year. There's no question he gives you an extra dimension.
"We've got ourselves a great one there. I think we all know it, the people that follow Nebraska football know it, and I think people around the country are getting to where they know it."
Crouch downplayed the impact he had in producing Nebraska's fifth win of the season, its 11th straight over the past two years and its eighth straight against the Cyclones.
"I don't focus on the yardage, I don't focus on the total offense," Crouch said. "But I do take a lot of pride in what I do out there. As an offense, we just have to keep executing at the right times. We have the athletes, the whole ball of wax, to get it done."
What the Huskers also had against the Cyclones was a defense that turned the balance Iowa State had relied on in its first four wins into a one-dimensional attack. Nebraska, which had surrendered 492 yards against Missouri, held Iowa State to 37 yards rushing on 25 attempts. Ennis Haywood, the country's fourth most productive rusher coming into the game with a 153.8-yard average, finished with 27 yards on 11 carries.
"Coming in, we knew they had a good rushing offense and that Ennis was one of the top backs in the country," Husker rush end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. "To come out and hold them to 37 yards rushing says a lot about our defense.
"Today, for the first time outside of our Notre Dame game, we showed flashes of being a great defense. We need to work on keeping this going. We need to stay consistent on defense and avoid any breakdowns."
Most of those came Saturday when Iowa State quarterback Sage Rosenfels dropped back to pass. Rosenfels completed 22 of 42 passes for a career-high 346 yards and two touchdowns. Rosenfels' performance tied him for the fourth-best single game passing performance in school history.
"I thought we gave them our best today," said Rosenfels, who had been averaging 218.8 passing yards per game. "I think this game does a lot of things for us. It gives us confidence that we can play down to the wire with the best teams in the country and it shows that the reason we lost is because we beat ourselves.
"We stopped ourselves more than they stopped us."
Nebraska did make enough stops at key times to turn the game in the Huskers' favor. Nebraska gave up 187 yards in the first half, when Iowa State used two big plays to take a 14 - 13 lead, and 110 more after Nebraska had all but decided matters by using a three - touchdown blitz in the fourth quarter to take a 42 - 20 lead.
That left Iowa State with 86 yards in the decisive 26 minutes of the second half, when the Huskers overcame their one-point halftime deficit to go up by 22 points when Crouch scored with 4:05 to play. The Cyclones' offense went three and out two of five possessions in that span, with a third ending with Nebraska safety Troy Watchorn's interception.
"I don't know if the yardage we allowed is an indicator of the improvement we made this week," said Craig Bohl, Nebraska's defensive coordinator. "From the naked eye, I thought we made progress on defense. Iowa State had done a good job of rushing the football, so we're pleased with being able to take the rush away from them."
The Cyclones, who were 11th nationally in total offense after four games, had been averaging 227.5 yards rushing and 449 yards overall. They finished with 383 yards against the Huskers but had a pair of passes intercepted and gave up their first sack of the season.
Meanwhile, Nebraska had 500 yards while averaging 6.5 yards on their 77 plays. The Huskers, who had one turnover, owned a time-of-possession advantage of 33:11 to 26:49.
Nebraska also completed 8 of 16 third-down plays to 5 of 15 for Iowa State. Two of Nebraska's biggest third-down conversions came on a 70-yard drive that allowed the Huskers to open up an eight-point lead early in the final quarter.
The Huskers had taken a 21-14 lead early in the third quarter when Correll Buckhalter scored the second of his three touchdowns on a 1-yard run. Crouch then passed to tight end Aaron Golliday for the two-point conversion, but the Cyclones countered with an 11-play, 80-yard drive. Haywood got the touchdown that pulled Iowa State within 21-20, but kicker Mike McKnight missed the conversion to keep Nebraska ahead by a point.
The Huskers were protecting that lead when they took possession at their 30-yard line with 1:36 left in the third quarter. Crouch directed them on an 11-play drive that saw the Huskers convert a pair of third-down plays. The first came on Willie Miller's short run three plays into the drive, and the second came on a 20-yard Crouch-to-Wistrom pass on third and 10 from the Cyclones' 35.
Wistrom appeared to have scored on the play as he dove into the end zone, but the officials ruled he stepped out of bounds at the 15-yard line.
"I don't think so," he said, grinning. "I'm sure they do a pretty good job of keeping an eye on that. To be honest with you, I didn't realize I was that wide open."
Two plays later, Crouch passed 8 yards to Wistrom for a first down at the Iowa State 4-yard line. After Crouch was dropped for a 7-yard loss, Miller bulled up the middle for a 9-yard touchdown run, his first of the season.
The game unraveled on the Cyclones from that point on. A trick play on the first play after the kickoff backfired on Iowa State, as Watchorn intercepted a wobbly pass from wide receiver Lane Danielson. He had taken a lateral from Rosenfels and was hammered as he attempted to throw.
The Cyclones were penalized on the play for a personal foul, giving Nebraska the ball at the Cyclones' 18-yard line. Buckhalter scored on a 1-yard run three players later to build the lead to 35-20 with 9:55 to play. Crouch all but cemented the outcome with a 1-yard run to cap a 58-yard drive on Nebraska's next possession.
"We felt like we could do just about anything we wanted to offensively," Wistrom said. "That's why we were a little frustrated at the half. We weren't following through on things once we got close to the end zone. But we knew it was only a matter of time until we started taking advantage of those opportunities."
Nebraska got a first-half touchdown from Buckhalter on a 9-yard run and field goals of 40 and 24 yards from Josh Brown. But Brown missed from 39 and 48 yards, which allowed Iowa State to take a 14-13 lead into the halftime break.
The Cyclones had burned Nebraska with a 53-yard scoring pass from Rosenfels to Craig Campbell on their second possession of the game. Iowa State's second touchdown came when Jamarcus Powers intercepted a Crouch pass and returned it 40 yards for the score.
"That's a quarterback's worst nightmare right there," Crouch said. "But you can't take that back. You just have to keep coming out and trying to make the next big plays."
That's what Crouch did, allowing Nebraska to improve to 2-0 in conference play heading into Saturday's game at Texas Tech.
"I really feel good about how we've responded," Solich said. "It's not been easy for us, and there are times when our backs have been against the wall. But when that's happened, we've responded.
"We gave them some big plays but we ended up making big plays ourselves. I thought our guys did an excellent job today."
|Yards per carry||1.5||5.6|
Nebraska is 86-17 all-time against Iowa State.
|San Jose State||Sept. 2|
|Notre Dame||Sept. 9|
|Iowa State||Oct. 7|
|Texas Tech||Oct. 14|
|Kansas State||Nov. 11|
Nebraska has played 17 games on Oct. 7. See them all »
©2019 BH Media Group