- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 28, 2001


LINCOLN, Neb. The entire complexion of college football changed in a flash make that a 41 flash reverse pass.
Thanks to a play call that was as boldly out of character for Nebraska football as it was brilliantly executed, the third-ranked Cornhuskers stunned No. 2 Oklahoma 20-10 at Memorial Stadium yesterday.
The victory snapped Oklahoma's 20-game winning streak and undoubtedly will elevate the Cornhuskers (9-0) to the top slot in tomorrow's BCS standings, giving Nebraska the inside lane in the Rose Bowl race.
Forget the Fumblerooski. If the 'Huskers go on to win the national championship this season, Nebraska fans will be telling their children about the Flash for years to come. Nothing that happened in more than 50 minutes of football between the Big 12 powers presaged the season's defining play to date.
With 6:20 remaining, neither the Cornhuskers nor the Sooners (7-1) had accomplished much of anything offensively. Nebraska held a 13-10 lead, but the 'Huskers' Heisman hopeful quarterback, Eric Crouch, had been largely neutralized by Oklahoma's option-stifling scheme.
Crouch scrambled 19 yards for his biggest gainer of the day, digging Nebraska out of horrendous field position on a drive which began at its 3-yard line. But after that run and a face mask penalty gave Nebraska a first down at its 37, probably every one of the 78,031 spectators expected the 'Huskers to shift into clock-eating mode. Nebraska football is power football punish the defense with runs out of the stacked I formation, kill the clock and protect the football.
That's when Nebraska coach Frank Solich, Tom Osborne's longtime offensive coordinator, authored a shocker. Solich slipped third-string split end and former high school quarterback Mike Stuntz into the game opposite wingback Thunder Collins. On first down from the 37 with the ball on the left hash mark, Crouch handed the ball to motion man Collins on what appeared to be an end-around to the wide side of the field.
Instead Collins flipped the ball to Stuntz heading the other direction. Oklahoma's secondary bit on the reverse action, but rather than running the ball Stuntz pulled up and lofted a perfect strike down the left sideline to Crouch, who had slipped out of the backfield and gotten open behind the Oklahoma secondary.
Crouch caught the ball at the Oklahoma 38-yard line and then used his 4.4 speed to streak away from two hapless defenders (tackle Kory Klein and cornerback Derrick Strait) for a 63-yard score and a 20-10 lead with 6:17 remaining.
"We figured it was a perfect time to call it," said Crouch, who finished with 102 yards passing, 21 yards rushing and 63 yards receiving. "I snuck behind the defense, Mike delivered a perfect pass and that kind of put the game away. … I've been waiting for a big win my entire career. I've had a lot of good ones, but this is certainly the biggest."
It was the kind of season-defining play that reminded one of Charles Woodson's touchdown catch against Ohio State in 1997, Desmond Howard's parallel-bodied grab on fourth-and-1 against Notre Dame in 1991 or Doug Flutie's Hail Mary heroics against Miami in 1984.
It was, quite simply, a haymaker for Nebraska and a potential Heisman-maker for Crouch. So much so that seconds later, as Nebraska players celebrated in the end zone, the Jumbotron at Memorial Stadium ran a replay of a different Crouch run, froze the frame with Crouch's left arm outstretched and then morphed the photo into the famous stiff-arming statue. The Nebraska faithful went berserk at the image, and even Crouch admitted he caught a glance of the picture.
"I guess it was pretty cool," said Crouch, who has never promoted himself for the award.
If the play provided a defining moment for Crouch, it also represented Solich's finest hour. In his first three-plus years at Nebraska, Solich has endured criticism as a poor heir to Osborne's throne. He's been criticized for being too predictable for attempting to run Osborne's system without the athletes Osborne had. Well, yesterday, Solich became a star in his own right.
He shattered the conservative Nebraska standard with a play he installed in the offense just this week. He had the guts to ask a freshman split end (Stuntz) to throw his first college pass during the pivotal drive in the biggest game of the season. And in doing so, he beat college football's current guru, Oklahoma's Bob Stoops, at his own gambling game.
The irony that Nebraska's knockout play was vintage Stoops was lost on no one. In fact, Stoops had called the very same play earlier in the game, only to have wide-open backup quarterback Nate Hybl fall down in the second quarter as Mark Clayton's pass fell incomplete.
"When I saw [Crouch] running down the sideline, I almost had to half chuckle to myself, 'I'll be a son-of-a-gun,'" Stoops said in obvious appreciation of the Solich call.
One can only hope we'll see similar heroics if these two titans tangle once again on Dec. 1 in the Big 12 title game in Dallas.

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