Take that, 84-13. OK, this wasn't necessarily your equal in calamity, but the fine folks in Nebraska now have their own boogey­man to haunt their memory for generations to come.

Gophers 54, Nebraska 21.

The lack of competitive fight should be sobering to loyal Cornhuskers fans who felt the thud of crash-landing on rock bottom Saturday afternoon at TCF Bank Stadium.

Mention 84-13 to Gophers fans and they still break out in a cold sweat. Nobody needs to relive the horrors of 1983. Saturday's stampede might cause a reciprocal effect, a defining loss for a once-proud program in need of a coaching change.

In a strange twist, Gophers quarterback Demry Croft pulled off his best Turner Gill impersonation with a performance that displayed his growth as a starter and a new dimension for the offense.

Croft carved up the Huskers with his feet, producing a school-record rushing total by a quarterback with 183 yards. He carried the ball 10 times, scored three touchdowns and looked far more assertive in his decisionmaking on read-option plays.

"That's what we've always wanted when we moved to him to [be the starter]," Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said.

Before we praise Croft, a quick and necessary disclaimer: The Huskers are awful defensively and played like they quit on coach Mike Riley. Nebraska has a new athletic director, so Riley's status already seemed shaky. This should remove any doubt.

The Gophers certainly don't have to apologize for someone else's problems, and the way Croft performed inspires optimism. It's only one game against a poor defense, but he looked far more confident and decisive in directing the offense. We saw a young quarterback grow up a little.

The move to replace Conor Rhoda with Croft as the starter always made sense because Croft gives the offense a running threat. Rhoda refused to pull the ball on read-option plays, even when the situation screamed for it.

Croft has appeared hesitant to run at times, but he knew opportunities would be present after studying Nebraska's defensive scheme.

Exhibit A: In the second quarter, he faked a handoff to Kobe McCrary up the middle that caused the defense to crash down. Croft pulled the ball out of McCrary's gut, juked the safety and had a clear path to the end zone for a 73-yard touchdown run.

"If I gave it to Kobe, he would have gotten smacked by two guys," Croft said. "That wouldn't have been a good situation."

The second part was equally important. Croft made a defender miss.

Fleck said the coaching staff didn't insert designed runs for Croft into the game plan. His runs were merely the product of his decisionmaking.

"I thought he did a great job deciding when to pull it and when not to pull it," Fleck said.

Croft kept the ball on a pair of short touchdown runs inside the 5. The Gophers also used a speed-option wrinkle a few times, including one keeper by Croft for a 64-yard gain.

Croft's fakes were so smooth, he fooled the defense and even his own sideline. On two occasions, Fleck thought Croft had handed the ball to Rodney Smith, who opened his arms after one non-carry, causing Fleck to yell "fumble" into his headset.

Croft still had the ball.

"It's like a sleight of hand," Fleck said.

The Gophers offense has labored to score points, or muster anything in the passing game, so the coaching staff shrank the playbook and installed a plan heavy on quick-hitting passes.

Croft completed nine of 15 passes for 105 yards, but he had two throwaways and his receivers dropped two passes. He was mostly on target and in rhythm.

Fleck described the game plan as "tight and concise," which helped Croft's comfort level. He looked in complete control.

"It's kind of like 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears,' " Fleck said. "You find the porridge that's just right."

This felt like a fairy tale all right, the Gophers running circles around a blue-blood program to that degree. But Nebraska isn't Nebraska of 84-13.

The Huskers defense was just right, and the Gophers sent them home with a loss that will stick for a long time.