2001 Heisman Trophy winner ponders the Huskers' new attack
We’ve seen a fair amount Nebraska football’s past bridging with its future following Scott Frost’s return as head coach. We also have an idea of what he looks for in a proper quarterback to run his offense.
But would one of Nebraska’s best quarterbacks of the past have a place in Frost’s modern-day offense? The Huskers have plenty of award-winning, dual-threat quarterback alums that could be peppered with questions about this very topic, but only one has held up the Heisman Trophy.
Eric Crouch showed off physicality and versatility during his 2001 Heisman season totaling 1,115 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing, 1,510 yards and seven touchdowns passing, and, of course, a 63-yard touchdown reception during another classic clash between Nebraska and Oklahoma.
Crouch has seen the game evolve, but could he see the player he was meeting the demands of Frost today?
“If we were taking this back to when I played at Millard North (High School) and compared it... I don’t even know if I would’ve been asked to be in a system like that,” Crouch said in a recent interview.
He pointed out how Frost will be demanding more from the passing game which has been evidenced by UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton’s work in his system. During Frost’s tenure as the Knights’ head coach, Milton had 731 passing attempts over two seasons, averaging 32 per game.
By contrast, Crouch only accumulated 345 attempts during his junior and senior seasons at Nebraska combined.
Touching back on his high school days, Crouch was never asked to pass much in the Mustangs’ “wingbone” system. Despite that, he does believe that there would be plenty Frost could take away from his past performances that would show potential for a truly great dual-threat college quarterback.
“I’ve always believed in my ability to throw the football. I think that would’ve eventually shown itself had I had the opportunity to throw the ball more in high school and in college. I do think he would’ve recruited me and given me that opportunity.”
Crouch understands that Frost would’ve obviously shot straight with his former high school head coach as he tried to ascertain what he couldn’t find much of on film. There wasn’t much to watch in regards to whether or not he had a strong arm or was accurate enough for quarterbacks coach Mario Verduzco to properly develop.
During the final National Signing Day of the 2018 cycle, Verduzco made a statement that raised some eyebrows: “Our quarterbacks aren’t going to be candy-asses.” Naturally, these were tea leaves that demanded a Heisman Trophy winner’s take.
“To me, that means running with a low pad level. That means delivering the hits, not taking them. That means running in bounds, not out of bounds. That means when you get hit, you get up quickly. You don’t lie on the ground.”
Frost has said his goal is for the Big Ten to adapt to Nebraska’s new schemes rather than having any concerns vice versa as he prepares to challenge the idea that speed and toughness don’t have to be mutually exclusive ideas at the Power 5 level.
In fact, Crouch feels very comfortable in saying that current and future signal-callers for the Cornhuskers should be more than able to accommodate both the taxing, physical nature of the Big Ten and the up-tempo demands of Frost’s offense. This would be barring a quarterback running the ball 30 times or so per game, that is.
The numbers back up his statements on paper as Milton averaged only eight carries per game for UCF in 2017 with his high point being a 13-carry, 113-yard effort in the Knights' Peach Bowl victory over Auburn.
Crouch is in the camp that believes Nebraska’s quarterbacks will have to be able to assert themselves moving forward much in the way that he and Frost did during their times under center. However, there’s another type of toughness that the former Heisman Trophy winner feels is necessary for the Big Red to excel in the future.
“In this type of offense, you’re going to get hit. You may put the ball on the ground, you may throw an interception, but you have to be able to bounce back.”
Finally, to truly appreciate what Crouch did and what Frost may do, we again look to the new head coach’s former quarterback.
Milton received four first-place votes in last season's Heisman Trophy voting following an amazing campaign that saw him pass for 4,037 yards and 37 touchdowns as well as tallying an additional 771 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground while leading UCF to a perfect 13-0 record.
The ultimate hypothetical of Crouch in Frost’s offense must be asked. We’ve seen what Milton can do as an underclassman in this scheme. Would the opportunity have been there for Crouch to have comparable results for a Heisman-level performance as a senior and to have raised that trophy yet again?
“There’s no doubt about it. I was just a competitor. I wanted to go out and win, I wanted to train hard, and I wanted to be the best. Any player that has that type of an attitude that’s willing to out-work, out-compete, and do the right things on a daily basis, there’s no doubt in my mind that I could’ve done it under that system.”
Perhaps more importantly than what Crouch could’ve done is whether or not such excellence can be repeated during Frost’s tenure as Nebraska’s head coach. Crouch believes so as Frost lived the life of a hard-hitting quarterback who won a national championship at the highest level himself.
We have a small sample size in what Milton was able to do under Frost at UCF. Now it's a matter of applying that as the focus shifts to see if Patrick O’Brien, Tristan Gebbia or Adrian Martinez can produce similar results for Nebraska.
Whether or not there’s a Crouch-level effort already simmering in the quarterback room is putting the cart so far before the horse that it’s over the horizon. However, Nebraska has gone all in on Frost and his program philosophies from top to bottom.
It’s time for the Huskers to claim those lofty goals again regardless of what the nation may think of them for doing so. Yes, that includes the idea of adding another Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback to the record books.
(Scott Frost photo courtesy of Nebraska Athletics)