Monday, September 9, 1996

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No. 1 Cornhuskers knock MSU, 55-14

State News Sports Writer

LINCOLN, Neb. - If the 10 Nebraska cheerleaders that ran across Memorial Stadium carrying Red Cross flags were trying to warn MSU about Saturday's game, it didn't work.

A menacing Cornhusker defense, several untimely turnovers and a pair of costly injuries spoiled MSU's weekend and gave Nebraska a runaway 55-14 victory.

"Obviously Nebraska has another very, very good football team," MSU head coach Nick Saban said of the two-time defending national champions. "Their defensive team is probably as good as I've ever seen. They're aggressive, they have great team speed and that was very difficult for us to handle."

The win was the No. 1-ranked 'Husker's 37th straight regular season victory, 26th straight overall and 11th consecutive opening day triumph. MSU falls to 1-1 with the loss.

Nebraska capitalized on a first-quarter Spartan turnover to grab an early 7-0 lead. 'Husker senior rover Mike Minter picked off a wobbly pass from MSU junior quarterback Todd Schultz on the Spartans' second possession, and Nebraska marched across the goal line two plays later.

Sophomore Gus Ornstein relieved Schultz, who sprained his left knee during the interception, at quarterback for the remainder of the game, but the Spartan offense fared little better.

Senior linebacker Reggie Garnett also left the game in the first quarter with a sprained knee. Both players' status is uncertain for the Louisville game on Sept. 21.

"It was tough for us losing Todd Schultz early in the game," Saban said. "We knew we were going to have to mix it up offensively to have any chance against their defense and that made it tougher to do."

MSU punted the ball away on its next three possessions, resulting in 10 Nebraska points. 'Husker sophomore kicker Kris Brown nailed a 35-yard field goal three minutes into the second quarter, and senior Mike Fullman returned a punt 62 yards down the left sideline to give Nebraska a 17-0 advantage.

The Big Red added to their lead minutes later when Minter picked off another MSU pass, this time prancing 84 yards down the left side for his first career touchdown. Brown connected on another field goal before the half and the Huskers took a 27-0 advantage into the locker room.

"When you play against Nebraska you play against the very best," said Ornstein, who completed 11 of 18 passes for 133 yards. "From here I can only get better and our team can only improve."

A 1-yard touchdown run by Nebraska sophomore I-back Ahman Green to start the second half put the game out of reach, but MSU managed two second-half scores - a 1-yard reception by junior tight end Josh Keur and a 1-yard run by freshman tailback Sedrick Irvin.

After crossing the goal line four times last week against Purdue, Irvin was held virtually in check Saturday. The talented freshman's biggest play was a 31-yard halfback pass to senior receiver Nigea Carter with five minutes left in the second quarter.

"Their defense was tough but as an offense we put ourselves in a hole," said Irvin, who finished with 51 yards rushing on 15 carries and three receptions for 26 yards. "Their defense wasn't so tough that we couldn't move the ball up the field. We just couldn't."

MSU finished the game with four turnovers and only 246 yards of total offense.

Despite the disappointing score, not all was gloomy on the Spartan sidelines. Last year against MSU, Nebraska rolled up 552 yards on the ground, 666 yards total, en route to a 50-10 victory.

MSU thwarted the Cornhusker's high-powered offense Saturday, holding Nebraska to 298 total yards, 184 yards rushing and even recording a sack.

"I was pleased with the way we played on the line of scrimmage," Saban said.

Garnett said the improved defensive stats are no consolation for the loss.

"We weren't ready to put it all together," Garnett said. "We needed a total effort. The defense played well but our special teams played poor today and our offense didn't get it going.

"You can talk about all (the stats) but we lost and that's the bottom line."

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