When the quarterback is playing his best game, chances are the football team has its best game.
For quarterback Demry Croft and the Gophers, both were true on Saturday.
Croft rushed for a school record 183 yards with three touchdowns on just 10 carries in the win against Nebraska. Croft’s performance led to a Minnesota win against Nebraska, 54-21, at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday.
“I thought [Croft] showed what he could do,” said head coach P.J. Fleck. “They provided some things for us to get simpler, we got simpler, and I thought [Croft] did a tremendous job running the offense.”
A Gophers quarterback has never run for at least 183 yards and three touchdowns in a game — until now.
Croft set the record for most rushing yards in a game by a Gophers quarterback in Saturday’s game with just 10 carries. Croft broke MarQueis Gray’s 2011 performance of 174 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
“I give credit to the offensive line,” Croft said. “They were able to make openings and a lot of green space.”
Croft broke the rushing record with 10:17 on the clock in the fourth quarter, when he started running as if he might pitch it, but instead he tucked it to run 64 yards before getting tackled just shy of the end zone at Nebraska’s 1-yard line.
Then, Croft finished what he started, shaking and making defenders miss so he could run 1 yard for his third touchdown of the day.
Though the Gophers (5-5, 2-5 Big Ten) focused on the run game, made evident with 409 total yards on the ground, Croft threw 9-15 for 105 yards and zero interceptions versus Nebraska (4-6, 3-4 Big Ten).
Croft’s offense scored on 9-10 drives, only punting after a sack set the offense back for a fourth-and-long situation.
Croft used his legs to break the 7-7 tie with the Cornhuskers at 3:08 left in the first quarter. He pulled the inside option, faking a handoff to running back Kobe McCrary. The quarterback jogged into the end zone untouched for a 14-7 lead.
Croft increased the lead to 20-7 when he pulled the ball for a 73-yard touchdown run, the longest rush of the day.
“[Croft’s] definitely embracing the leadership role,” Smith said. “Embracing this culture in the offense. And [I’m] proud of the strides he’s made, and he’s continuing to grow each and every day.”
Fleck said he was tricked by Croft’s slight of hand when running the option on certain plays.
“We’ve been teaching that for a long time, and I think that’s where [Croft’s] made the most progress,” Fleck said. “It’s not even just, you give the ball or you pull the ball, it’s how you do that.”
After the final Croft touchdown drive, former starting quarterback Conor Rhoda came into the game to run out the clock.
He took the knee after the Gophers defense had back-to-back sacks, and the Gophers got back to .500 on the season with their second Big Ten win of the year.
Looking ahead, Croft and the Gophers will head to Illinois to play No. 25 Northwestern. The offense’s season-high 54 points is a show of progress as they look to make an upset against two ranked teams — No. 8 Wisconsin and No. 25 Northwestern — to finish the season and get a bowl game berth.
“We know that Northwestern is a good football team, and we will get their best shot,” Smith said. “Just controlling what we can control so that we’re prepared coming out Saturday.”