Eric Crouch will be in Manhattan on Saturday working his second game as a college football analyst for FOX Sports when Kansas State takes on Miami. But unless you absolutely fell in love with the way he called West Virginia’s blowout win over Marshall last weekend, you likely know him best as the former Nebraska quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy in 2001.
Crouch became the 13th player in college football history to run and throw more than 1,000 yards in a season when he was a senior. K-State fans often compare his record-breaking year to the one Collin Klein had last season. When Crouch won the Heisman he rushed for 1,115 yards, passed for 1,510 yards and scored 25 touchdowns. A year ago, Klein rushed for 1,141 yards, passed for 1,918 yards and scored 40 touchdowns.
Their playing styles are noticeably similar, and Crouch is looking forward to watching Klein play in person this weekend.
Crouch was nice enough to take a few minutes out of his busy schedule to talk about that and more on Wednesday. Here are the highlights of our conversation:
What memories will come back to you when you return to Bill Snyder Family Stadium?
It will bring back a lot of memories, for sure. Not great memories, but one that sticks out to me was the facemask no call. But I’m not the kind of guy that holds a grudge. I’m not upset about Kansas State or anything, that’s water under the bridge. I had a fun time playing at Nebraska, and all our games with Kansas State were competitive. My freshman year I was down there and that was a very tough atmosphere to play in on the road. I came back as a junior and it started icing the last 30 minutes of the game. That really made it difficult to come from behind and try to win. I’m 0-for-2 down there, and it will be that way for a long time.
Did you ever get any grief about that? No offense, but there aren’t many Nebraska quarterbacks who never won in Manhattan.
No (laughs) people haven’t given me any grief about that. But I don’t want to start anything either.
Will it be strange at all coming to K-State now that the Wildcats and Huskers are in different conferences?
Maybe a little, but probably not. Every time I think of my college career, K-State was part of it and they always will be. I guess it’s a little different because Nebraska has left the conference, but my history will always lie in the Big 12.
What are the keys to this game?
The way I look at it, the key for Kansas State is to establish that front line. Both teams have similar offenses, the way they like to keep it balanced and mix it up. It will be important for them to establish that line of scrimmage and be tough and open holes. Kansas State is the veteran team here and Miami is the young team. Miami can’t let its young guys get caught up in the atmosphere. They need to stay focused and do their jobs.
Do you see many similarities between Collin Klein and yourself?
Yeah, he carried the ball 317 times last year, so there are definitely some similarities. He is a guy who can run and pass, which makes it dangerous for defenses to try and defend him. He probably throws a little more than I did and has the opportunity to do a little more in the passing game than we did. We really focused on the option and the play-action pass. He drops back in the pocket a little more. His ability to do both really puts your defense at a disadvantage. He’s a guy who can beat you with the deep ball and he is also a guy who can punish you with the run. That can really wear a defense down.
As a run-first quarterback, did you ever feel the need to try and prove yourself as a passer in games?
Oh all the time. It was, “You can’t throw. You’re inaccurate.” But when you are in a system that, for me … We threw about 16 passes a game. We had to have a great play action or an option pass or something where we could trick those guys and throw to a wide open guy. We had very few opportunities where we could throw the deep ball. When we did it was on play action. Those are tough percentage passes. We weren’t the kind of team that threw quick routes and hook routes and screen passes and all those things, we weren’t about that. We were about throwing the deep ball and play action and throwing on the run, which are all hard passes to complete.
K-State is run first, too. I’m sure when it comes to the mindset of Collin Klein, he believes in himself as a passing quarterback, that he can really do both well. It just so happens that he is a really good running quarterback. You have to be able to use both of those. But when you run the ball and punish people, you get labeled as a runner. And if you’re labeled as a runner that means that you are not a passer to most people. I always looked at myself as a dual-threat quarterback. I can do both. Whatever the coach calls. That’s the same way the Klein feels. Whatever play they call he can deal with it.
Do you think he is underrated as a passer?
I think so, but he runs the ball a lot. I’m sure he has a lot of confidence in himself and thinks he can do both. I know I always wanted to do more. I was always like, “Come on coach, let me throw the ball!” He’s a guy who knows he can run, but he also wants to prove he can throw the ball.
I’m not sure if you knew this or not, but Klein’s numbers last year were better than the numbers you put up when you won the Heisman.
Yeah, I knew that.
What do you think that says about how much college football has changed in the last decade? You won the Heisman, Klein didn’t even make the all-conference team at his position.
That just tells you how much this game has changed. I carried the ball maybe 200 times. He had 317 carries, that’s almost more than 50 percent more carries than I had. But offenses are trending toward their starters playing the whole time and offenses are putting up a whole lot of points. Offenses, instead of 70 plays they want to run 90 plays. That may not be the case for Kansas State, but that’s just a typical trend in college football statistically. You are seeing a lot of broken records — A lot of broken records. Offenses are getting faster and more creative.
It says a lot about his performance, too. He’s not going unnoticed. Any time a quarterback rushed for 1,000 yards he puts himself in an elite group.
When was the last time you tried to play competitive football?
I still live in Omaha and have been here since 08. I played in the UFL last year and started the first game as a quarterback, but I hurt my knee and had to have surgery. That is kind of the “wah-wah-wah” of my career.
You were drafted in the third round by St. Louis, but not as a quarterback. How difficult was that?
I wish I would have just stuck with my heart and what I wanted to do with my professional football life. Quick interesting story here: The Rams drafted me in the third round as a receiver, but the Packers were going to draft me as a quarterback in the fourth. I just wish I could have been able to back up that far and go to Green Bay. I think it would have been a great fit for me. I could have had a whole different career. But I listened to my agent. He thought it would be best to get my foot in the door in the third round and play any position. We didn’t know at the time the Packers were going to draft me as a quarterback. They never told me that. I ended up going to Green Bay a few years later and then they told me. I was like, “Gosh, I wish you could have told me that.” There is no difference between the third and fourth round. I would have been playing in a place where I would have fit in and felt comfortable. Green Bay is a lot like Lincoln.
If Klein pursues a NFL career, do you think he will face the same challenges?
I do. It’s a good possibility they may ask him to do different things. I kind of compare him to when Tim Tebow came out and everyone asked if he was going to play tight end. My advice to him would be to do what you really want to do and don’t let anyone else make that decision for you. Do that and it will pay off down the road. He is a good enough quarterback to be playing on Sundays. Does he have things he could impress? Yes, but he has a whole year to do that.
Obviously he needs the most work in the passing game, but NFL teams more and more are liking quarterbacks that can get outside the pocket and make plays. He won’t be able to lower his shoulder anymore, because defenders are bigger and stronger in the NFL and you don’t want your quarterback to risk injury. He will have a lot of question marks, but he shouldn’t worry about the NFL right now. He needs to worry about college and playing your best right now. Everything else will sort itself out in time.
Last question, how do you think Saturday’s game will play out?
I think it is going to be a pretty evenly matched game. The best thing about this game is that it is a big game for both programs. That isn’t always the case this early in the season, and there are not so many huge games this weekend. But this one will be big.