||Wednesday, January 2
Crouch out to be a complete QB against Miami
By Gene Wojciechowski
ESPN The Magazine
PASADENA, Calif. -- There's a chance that Thursday night's Rose Bowl game will be the last time Heisman winner Eric Crouch ever utters the word, "hut," again, unless, of course, he joins the Peace Corps, the cast of "Survivor," or the Toronto Argonauts roster. That's because Crouch plays quarterback at Nebraska, which to NFL scouts is like playing piano in a marching band -- it doesn't translate well.
Nebraska coaches insist they run a multiple offense. And they do, much in the same way Pizza Hut makes a nice peppercorn steak. Crouch had more rushes than pass completions in 11 of the Corhuskers' 12 games this season. He had more rushes than pass attempts in seven of the 12 games.
All of this leaves Crouch a tiny bit wistful. Nebraska is in the national championship game partly because of its scorched-earth rushing offense. And Crouch didn't win a Heisman because of his arm (not one 200-yard passing performance in the last 28 games), but because of his legs, which accounted for 1,115 yards, 18 touchdowns and an ESPY-quality run against Missouri that is Husker legend.
But mention Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey, whom Crouch got to know during the week on the Heisman circuit, and the Nebraska QB allows himself a small what-if moment.
"It'd be fun to drop back and throw the football every play like [Dorsey] does," says Crouch.
Dorsey doesn't exactly chuck it all the time, but it must seem like it to Crouch, who had 129 fewer pass attempts than the Hurricanes' star. You get the feeling that just once Crouch would like to run to the sideline and find Steve Spurrier standing there with some bodacious series of pass plays all coached up and ready to go.
Instead, Crouch gets the diesel-fueled Big Red Machine and lots of plays that begin with the words, "power blast." And that's fine, mostly because Crouch runs those plays to suitable-for-framing perfection. The Big 12 Conference is littered with defensive ends who had their ankles broken by Crouch dekes and fakes.
Crouch is sure to be invited to the Senior Bowl or the Hula Bowl, the annual NFL meat markets where players are evaluated by every coaching and scouting staff in the league. But what do you do with a guy who is listed at 6-1, 200 pounds and throws the ball as often as Joe Paterno changes jobs? Does he switch to defensive back? To wide receiver? To tailback? To kick returner? After all, he is considered the third-fastest player on the Cornhusker team, tougher than a cafeteria-made chicken fried steak, and smart enough to make any position change.
"I'm going to stick with quarterback," he says. "I believe in myself, in throwing the football."
Does the NFL -- or even Dorsey's team, for that matter -- believe he can do it, though?
The Hurricanes have enough speed on defense to create problems for Nebraska's option attack. That means Crouch might have to do the semi-unthinkable at NU: throw to win.
"I see it everyday and I know what he's capable of doing," says Nebraska tight end Tracey Wistrom. "If you tried to make a highlight video of him, you'd need three or four tapes to do it."
Back in 1997, when Nebraska beat Tennessee in the Orange Bowl, Crouch, then a redshirt freshman, pretended to be UT quarterback Peyton Manning for the Huskers' scout team. "And I think he did a better job than Manning did," says Husker offensive tackle Dave Volk.
Four years later Volk's opinion of Crouch hasn't changed.
"He's as good a throwing quarterback as he is a running quarterback," he says.
We'll see. Miami gave up the fewest points and intercepted the most passes in Division I-A. If Crouch can do what he, Wistrom and Volk say he can do -- pitch and catch when it counts -- then the already considerable legacy of Nebraska's latest Heisman winner grows even more. If he can't, then the Hurricanes win the national championship and Crouch will have to reduce his NFL vocabulary by one word.
Gene Wojciechowski is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Coker the right man for Miami