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There are moments when you realize a team has the potential to be special.
For Arizona State, that moment came on this day 25 years ago. The Sun Devils avenged a 7-touchdown loss to Nebraska the year prior with a 19-0 shutout of the reigning national champions.
Setting the Stage
It had been nearly four years since Nebraska had lost a regular season game as it arrived at Sun Devil Stadium on Sept. 21, 1996. The Cornhuskers were ranked No. 1 in the country, coming off back-to-back national championships and riding a 26-game winning streak.
Arizona State was 2-0 with wins over Washington and North Texas, but Nebraska was a different animal for the 17th-ranked Sun Devils. Arizona State had not won more than six games in any season since 1987 and had lost to the Cornhuskers the year prior in Lincoln, 77-28.
One year after scoring 77 points against Arizona State, Nebraska failed to get on the scoreboard in Tempe. The Sun Devils set the tone on the opening drive as a 25-yard touchdown pass from Jake Plummer to Keith Poole capped an 80-yard march.
That would serve as the game’s only touchdown, but it was all Arizona State needed. On the first Nebraska possession, the Sun Devils extended their lead with the first of three safeties as an option pitch from quarterback Scott Frost to running back Ahman Green was batted out the back of the end zone.
In the second quarter, a pair of Robert Nycz field goals bookended a safety on an errant snap as the Sun Devils led 17-0 at halftime. The lone score of the second half came with less than seven minutes to go in the game as Derrick Rodgers sacked Frost in the end zone.
For the night, the Arizona State defense held Nebraska to just 226 total yards and just 3.3 yards per play. Plummer passed for 292 yards in the victory. Lenzie Jackson led the Sun Devils with eight catches for 105 yards.
For Nebraska, the loss would serve as its first since falling to Florida State in the Orange Bowl to end the 1993 season. It was the first regular-season loss for the Cornhuskers since late in the 1992 season.
Nebraska fell from No. 1 to No. 8, but would rattle off nine straight wins before falling to Texas in the inaugural Big 12 Championship. The Cornhuskers closed the year with an Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech.
For Arizona State, the win vaulted it into the AP top 10 and that’s a place it would never leave. The Sun Devils finished the regular season a perfect 11-0 and ascended to No. 2 before falling to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, 20-17.
The 1996 season remains the last one where Arizona State claimed the outright Pac-10 — now Pac-12 — title. Perhaps the most impressive win from that campaign came on this day a quarter-century ago.