Devils Den Blog

The Top 5 Moments in Sun Devil Stadium History: #1, No. 17 ASU defeats No. 1 Nebraska 19-0, Sept. 21, 1996

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With Sun Devil Stadium about to go under major renovations, ASU Devils Den has decided to take a look back at the top moments the Sun Devil football team has experienced at Sun Devil Stadium as we know it now, as decided by the staff. This is the final post of this five-part weekly series.

ASU was coming off of a 6-5 season in 1995, and had opened up the 1996 season with a three-point win over Pac-10 rival Washington, 45-42, and a thorough dismantling of North Texas, 52-7, when the two-time defending national champion, winners of 26 straight games and No. 1 team in the country, the Nebraska Cornhuskers came to Tempe on Sept. 21, 1996.

This game provided a real chance for the Sun Devils to show the country how much they had improved over the offseason. ASU and NU had met in Lincoln the previous season, with the Huskers winning convincingly, 77-28.

That loss in 1995 had really stuck in the craw of the Sun Devil players.

“Last year we went into their stadium and they embarrassed us real bad,” defensive tackle Shawn Swayda said after the 1996 game. “Nobody gave us a chance to win this game, I think even the coaches had their doubts. On Friday night, we (the ASU players) said, ‘Hey, everyone’s doubting us, we’re the only one who know we can win this game.'”

In front of a sold-out crowd of 74,089 fans, many of which were wearing the scarlet of the Cornhuskers, the Sun Devils came out fired up. ASU chose to receive the opening kick-off and promptly marched down the field. On the final play of the initial drive, ASU quarterback Jake “The Snake” Plummer ducked under the outstretched arm of NU defensive lineman Grant Wistrom and scrambled to his left before heaving a 25-yard pass to a wide open Keith Poole for a Sun Devil touchdown (below). That, and the successful extra point by kicker Robert Nycz, gave the Sun Devils a 7-0 advantage.

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If the offense came out pumped up, then the ASU defense, led by junior linebacker Pat Tillman and senior defensive end Derrick Rodgers, came out twice as pumped up. On NU’s first drive, thanks to two penalties, the Huskers were forced to have their backs up against their own endzone.  On NU’s third snap of the game, junior QB Scott Frost tossed the ball to running back Ahman Green who fumbled the ball out of bounds in the endzone for a safety, which gave ASU a 9-0 lead.

The Sun Devils would not escape the first quarter unblemished, however, as Plummer would end up overthrowing wide receiver Lenzie Jackson and into the hands of Husker safety Mike Minter.

The ensuing drive saw Green cough the ball up again, this time at the 50-yard-line, but it was recovered by Nebraska. The second fumble of that drive would be the one that would kill any momentum the Huskers had built, as the Huskers ended up driving all the way down to the ASU 5-yard-line before Frost pitched the ball behind running back Damon Benning. ASU linebacker Scott Von der Ahe ended up recovering the ball at the ASU 22.

About six minutes into the second quarter, the Sun Devils added onto their lead when Nycz hit a 27-yard field goal to make the advantage 12-0 Sun Devils. The teams would trade punts before another Nebraska mistake would add to the Sun Devils’ lead.

After ASU punter Lance Anderson punted the ball out of the back of Sun Devil Stadium’s north endzone, Nebraska got the ball at their own 20. After an incompletion and a rush for no gain, Frost lined up in the shotgun on third down with about two and a half minutes left in the half. The Sun Devil fans were too loud for NU center Aaron Taylor, however, as he snapped the ball before Frost was ready, and the fumble ended up rolling all the way back into the endzone for ASU’s second safety of the night. The safety extended ASU’s lead to 14-0.

ASU would add to their lead before the half ended, as Nycz would make it 17-0 after nailing a 44-yard field goal with about 30 seconds left on the clock.

At halftime, this game would be made even more memorable, as 200 former Sun Devils joined former ASU head coach Frank Kush on the field, which was dedicated to the Sun Devil legend. Kush coached the Sun Devils from 1958-1979 and won 176 games during that time.

There would be yet another milestone that would mark this game as one that Sun Devil fans should always remember, as during the third quarter, Plummer would pass former ASU QB Danny White, who was in attendance as the color commentator for Fox Sports, for most career passing yards.

The third quarter would see Denning fumble, Nebraska’s fifth fumble of the game, at the ASU 45 and the Sun Devils would recover with four and a half minutes left in the third.

Nothing would come of that turnover, however, as the score would not change until Rodgers sacked Frost in the endzone for the third safety of the night, this one coming with just about seven minutes on the clock, and after Anderson pinned the Huskers at their own one-yard-line. The safety would give the Sun Devils a 19-0 advantage.

The victory over the No. 1 Huskers would be confirmed after Green coughed the ball up at the ASU 7 with 1:39 remaining in the game, and Tillman would recover the ball. ASU would run out the clock, and fans would begin to storm the field with 15 seconds remaining.

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The No. 17 Sun Devils defeated the No.1 Cornhuskers 19-0, and the fans celebrated by tearing down the goalposts, carrying them out of Sun Devil Stadium and throwing them over the Mill Avenue Bridge.

This game is memorable for so many reasons. It is the largest upset in ASU history, it propelled the 1996 ASU team to an undefeated regular season, Pac-10 title, and a berth in the Rose Bowl, where they would lose one heck of a game to Ohio State, 20-17. It saw Nebraska’s 26-game winning streak get snapped, Jake Plummer take record for career passing yards from Danny White, and the field become what we know it as today, Frank Kush Field at Sun Devil Stadium. There has not been a bigger game for ASU at the Sun Devil Stadium that we have come to know and love than the game that took place on that hot September Saturday night in Tempe.

 

 

 

 

About Jeff Vinton

Jeff Vinton is a sophomore journalism and mass communication major at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He was born and raised in Fort Collins, CO and graduated in 2012 from Fort Collins High School.

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