The Great Spartan-Stomping of '96

A sad start to the 1996 season turned into a "happy finish" for the Stanford Cardinal as the team rallied from the depths of despair and finished the season with six consecutive wins including a 38-0 complete dismantling of a Nick Saban-coached Michigan State team that entered the 1996 Sun Bowl as a full touchdown favorite.

The Great Spartan-Stomping of '96

The Arizona State campus had barely begun officially mourning its dashed national title hopes when the Stanford basketball team added a blow-out insult to the Sun Devil football team's devastating injury. As the visiting Cardinal's 16-point victory took place, one of the happier members of the sparse crowd posed a scenario to a friend in red seated near him.

"I dare you to yell out," said the instigator, two days after ASU's final-minute Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State, ‘We won our bowl game!'"

Stanford's latest Sun Bowl visit comes on the lucky 13th anniversary of the program's most recent trip to El Paso. And though that game's marquee value was perhaps small compared to others among 1996's scintillating slate of 18 bowl games, a highly satisfying 38-0 stomping of Michigan State had Cardinal fans gloating...and for good reason.

Of the four Pac-10 teams who made the post-season that year, only one managed to win their bowl game. The Cardinal completed one of the more remarkable in-season turnarounds in the program's history, winning five straight games after beginning the campaign 2-5. Surprisingly, Stanford earned a shutout victory for the first time since 1974

"It's too bad the season doesn't go on another five or six games," said jacked-up linebacker Jon "Hit-Man" Haskins, today Stanford Football's highly-regarded Director of Player Development.

Style points were many for the name-taking West Coast reps. Highlights for the normally potent Spartans, who totaled just 104 yards in the second half, were decidedly few in number. Stanford quarterback Chad Hutchinson earned game MVP honors, completing 22 of 28 passes for 226 yards. Seven different receivers caught passes, led by fullback Jon Ritchie's five grabs for 37 yards, including an eight-yard touchdown.

"I just felt good," said the redshirt freshman dual-sport start Hutchinson, who guided his Cardinal squad to devastating scoring drives of 78 and 76 yards, at times perfectly executing a no-huddle offense, "I had that old groove. I just felt great."

The boys in red reveled in the program's first post-season bowl victory since 18 years (Stanford beat Arizona in the 1986 Coca Cola Bowl in Tokyo, but even we can't count that one). Michigan State (6-5 coming in) was just plain red-faced. Oddsmakers listed Nick Saban's Spartans, the clear physical superior of the two sides, as a 7 ½ point favorite.

The Big Ten reps boasted the brute of offensive lineman Flozell Adams, the speed of wide receiver Derrick Mason, and the ever-swervin' Cedric Irvin. "We lined up with them at banquet a couple days before the game," remembered wide receiver and would-be California politician Damon Dunn, who caught a 44-yard bomb and scored on a 27-yard reverse. "They were huge. Way bigger than us, easily physically superior."

MSU quarterback Todd Schultz, second in Big Ten passing efficiency, completed only 8 of 21 passes for 68 yards. A vicious hit from outside linebacker Brian Batson knocked him from the game in the third quarter. A Spartan offense that gained 416 yards and 32 points per-game was held in check. Defense lineman Kailee Wong was quoted as calling Stanford a "defensive power," that after totaling 10 tackles and a pair of sacks (heroic feats which last year earned him a spot on the 75th Anniversary "All-Sun Bowl Team").

However, things didn't go Stanford's way at first. The Cardinal's opening possessions featured a missed 40-yard field goal, an interception and a failed fourth-down conversion. Schultz had Michigan State in Stanford territory, before his receiver fell down and his pass wound up in the grasp of Cardinal safety Josh Madsen at the 29.

The affable fifth-year senior, the second-most famous Cardinal named Madsen to wear jersey No. 45, dodged a trio of tacklers before getting to midfield. It was there that he pitched the ball to senior cornerback Leroy Pruitt, who sprinted the remaining 50 yards past a stunned Michigan State sideline. With 3:07 to play in the first quarter, placekicker Kevin Miller booted home one of his five extra points.

Schultz fumbled the snap from center on the Spartans' ensuing possession. The two teams then exchanged punts, with the Cardinal taking over at its own 24 to begin their first second-quarter possession. It took eight plays for Stanford to move 76 yards. Dunn's 44-yard reception set up a touchdown on the very next play. A play-action fake sprung Ritchie, whose touchdown catch had the Card up 10-0 with 10:44 remaining until halftime.

Stanford kept it up as the break approached. Troy Walters' 23-yard punt return gave Hutchinson and the offense possession at the 50. It took only three plays to cover the remaining distance. A 26-yard completion to Marlon Evans brought the ball to the MSU one. Bruising fullback Adam Salina, part of the famed "Slam Chowder" backfield, then dove over the top for the most special touchdown of his career. Miles away, in an El Paso hospital, Salina's father watched while recovering from kidney failure.

If there was a signature sequence for the Cardinal, it came on the second series of the second half. Hutchinson completed eight straight passes while operating a no-huddle offense and moving the ball 71 yards. A field goal capped the series and had Stanford up 24-0, on its way to a remarkable win and finishing things off in convincing fashion.

"Schools like Nebraska and Florida State would smell blood and go after it," Batson said after the game. "That is something that hasn't been part of our program in a few years."

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