Friday, September 6, 1996

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Spartans anxious to face Huskers

Players ready for action, not fazed by last year's defeat By BRIAN C. HEDGER
State News Sports Writer

Nebraska is unbeatable. Illusion or cold, hard truth?

That is exactly what the MSU football team has been mulling over since last season's 50-10 whipping at the hands of the 'Huskers.

But this is a new season, a new game. One with different players on both teams in key positions.

These may be reasons for the 1996 Spartan squad to believe in miracles.

"We are a great football team, and (Nebraska) shouldn't have any reason to take us lightly," said senior linebacker Reggie Garnett. "Everybody knows Nebraska is the favorite, but we're not just going to lay down for them. We have to play for four quarters."

The rematch will be televised nationally by ABC-TV at noon Saturday.

The Spartans will have a chance to gain national respect, while Nebraska will try to match last season's outstanding rushing performance, in which they amassed 552 yards on the ground.

The Spartans didn't play four quarters in last year's meeting, the first loss of the 1995 season, said MSU head coach Nick Saban.

"Quite honestly, I felt like our guys quit," Saban told reporters in Spartan Stadium following the loss, his first as Spartan head coach.

Garnett agreed the Spartans played halfheartedly in last season's drubbing, but said the MSU defense was not in tune with Saban's overall defensive scheme.

"That was our first game last year," Garnett said. "We were still learning the (defensive) schemes."

But four quarters of intense play, which Saban expects Saturday, will be needed if MSU is to stop the two-time defending national champions.

"It's not an easy preparation (for Nebraska)," Saban said. "They're defense is good too. The speed they have on the field, their aggressive style, and their ability to get off blocks and swarm the ball is as good as you are going to see."

In last year's game, the Spartan defense looked tired and run down throughout most of the second half.

But fatigue should not be a problem this go around, despite the fact that the defensive depth is shallow in spots, Garnett said.

The increase in stamina, which is more than a requirement to play on the MSU defense this season, can be attributed to the high turnout of players in summer workout program.

The Spartans are four touchdown underdogs going into Nebraska's season opener, but if one thinks Nebraska head coach Tom Osborne is sleeping easily - they're wrong.

"I thought Michigan State would be pretty good (this year), but I didn't think (the Purdue game) would be that one sided," Osborne said. "They play hard-nosed football. I think we caught them last year when they were still getting organized and getting adjusted to a new coaching staff."

Considering the Spartans have a game in hand, let alone a blowout victory of a Big Ten opponent, is enough to worry Osborne.

"I tried as hard as I could to get another game last week, and we couldn't get anyone to play us," Osborne said. "We even tried to bribe a few people with a few dollars, but they wouldn't do it."

Osborne, aside from mentioning the Spartans' derailing of Purdue 52-14 last week, said he was worried about the media hype and pressure to win surrounding his team.

"I think in the minds of many in the public, we're so good that if we play well, that nobody will beat us," Osborne said. "I personally know that's not true. If we play well, and Michigan State plays better, there's nothing we can do about it."

But judging from the hard work Osborne put his team through in practice this fall, the heavy point spread in their favor might seem warranted to some people.

"They (the players) were rolling around (on the ground) last week," Osborne said. "I just walked by and said, 'You're exactly where I want you to be,' although I don't know how many of them believed me."

For the Spartans to have a chance of upsetting the Huskers this Saturday, they will need another efficient performance from junior quarterback Todd Schultz.

Schultz saw a couple minutes of relief action against Nebraska in last year's humbling loss. The good news for Schultz is one of Nebraska's defensive leaders, Christian Peter, graduated.

The bad news is that senior rush end Jared Tomich and junior rush end Grant Wistrom are back and looking to make a "Schultz sandwich."

Tomich and Wistrom are highly regarded as two of the best at their positions in the country. Along with the two ends, Peter's brother Jason, a junior, returns to start on the line.

The 'Huskers, and just about every other college football fan in the country, witnessed Spartan freshman tailback Sedrick Irvin's coming out party - in which he scored four touchdowns on Saturday.

Osborne said he was impressed with Irvin's overall advanced maturity as a freshman.

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