2009 Gator Preview - Nebraska vs. Clemson
Clemson's C.J. Spiller & Nebraska's Marlon Lucky
Clemson's C.J. Spiller & Nebraska's Marlon Lucky
Posted Dec 20, 2008

Nebraska vs. Clemson - The 2009 Gator Bowl Preview & Prediction

2009 Gator Bowl

Nebraska (8-4) vs. Clemson (7-5)

Jan. 1, 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS

$2.25 million   Location: Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, Jacksonville FL

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National Rankings
Nebraska Clemson
Total Offense
12th  458.25 ypg 81st  339.33 ypg
Total Defense
65th  361.50 ypg 15th  294.83 ypg
Scoring Offense
18th  36.17 ppg 62nd  25.5 ppg
Scoring Defense
84th  29.17 ppg 9th  16.58 ppg
Run Offense
36th  173.50 ypg 95th  120.5 ypg
Run Defense
29th  125.83 ypg 33rd  127.58 ypg
Pass Offense
14th  284.75 ypg 53rd  218.83 ypg
Pass Defense
90th  235.67 ypg 10th  167.25 ypg
Turnover Margin
105th  -0.83 72nd  -0.17
West Mich W 47-24
SJSU W 35-12
NMSU W 38-7
Va Tech L 35-30
Missouri L 52-17
at TTech L 37-31 OT
at Iowa St W 35-7
Baylor W 32-20
at Oklahoma L 62-28
Kansas W 45-35
at Kan St W 56-28
Colorado W 41-30
Alabama L 34-10
The Citadel W 45-17
NC St W 27-9
SC St W 54-0
Maryland L 20-17
at W Forest L 12-7
Ga Tech L 21-17
at Bos Coll W 27-21
at Florida St L 41-27
Duke W 31-7
at Virginia W 13-3
S Carolina W 31-14
Position Ratings
relative to each other
N 5 highest
1 lowest
4.5 Quarterbacks 4
4 RBs 5
3 Receivers 4
3.5 O Line 2.5
4 D Line 3
3.5 Linebackers 3
2 Secondary 5
4 Spec Teams 3
4 Coaching 2.5

By Pete Fiutak   

All of you who really and truly believed on October 31st that Clemson would be playing in a bowl game, raise your hands. Liar.

And for those of you who really did think the utter mess of a Tiger season would end up with a 13th game, did you really believe a New Year’s Day game was even a remote possibility? Yeah, right.
Clemson was supposed to be playing in Florida on January 1st, but all the preseason picks had the Tigers going to the Orange Bowl after winning the ACC title. Things didn’t quite work out as planned with a blowout loss to Alabama to open the season and after losing three straight ACC games in a rough midseason stretch. Tommy Bowden “resigned,” some guy named Dabo Swinney took over and started chest bumping everyone, and the 2008 season was supposed to be in a holding pattern before a new A list coach could come in and start anew.

And then a funny thing happened … Clemson responded to Swinney. There was a blowout loss to Florida State along the way, but the Tigers won four of their last five games including a gut-check, turn-the-season around win at Boston College and a 31-14 blowout of arch-rival South Carolina in a must-win game to get to a bowl. 6-6 wasn’t going to cut it after taking part of September off against Citadel and South Carolina State. Clemson needed to come through with a clutch finishing kick, and it did. 
But this is what Bowden’s teams always have done. The maddening inconsistency, and no ACC title appearances, he was in hot soup year after year only to be saved at the last possible instance by the win the team had to have.  Now the pressure is on the Clemson administration as it bought Swinney when it probably should’ve rented him, and now a bowl win is a must to prove it was right to take the interim tag off.
While Clemson is just trying to figure out its world, all appears to be right in Nebraska as first year head man Bo Pelini has things back on track. The long, dark, Huskerwide nightmare of the Bill Callahan era is long gone, and after going a solid 8-4 with the losses coming to eventual ACC champion, Virginia Tech, Missouri, Texas Tech (in overtime) and Oklahoma, it’s time to make a statement.
Of course, the Gator Bowl is a nice step for Nebraska, considering the problems over the last few years, but it’s the BCS that the fans need to know that the program is back to being considered among the elite. Pelini is still a ways away from having a team good enough be in the national title hunt, but the North should be there for the taking next season and the off-season will be full of expectations no matter what happens against the Tigers. However, a win would likely make Nebraska the hot team from the upper division going into 2009.

Nebraska hasn’t been to a BCS game since getting blasted by Miami in the 2001 national championship (the 2002 Rose Bowl), but by winning five of the last six games, and with a good nucleus in place going into next season, getting into one of the big money games is expected to happen sooner than later.

The Gator usually gets lost in the shuffle of New Year’s Day early games, if the Iowa – South Carolina Outback bowl is close, it’ll take a while for many to make the flip over to CBS, and attention will be taken away by the Georgia – Michigan State Capital One Bowl and, yes, that hockey game played in Wrigley Field. However, these are two teams that will give a maximum effort; there are no worries here about either team taking this game lightly. There should be plenty of points and enough interesting subplots to keep the off-season message boards rolling.
Players to watch: Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Graham Harrell, Chase Daniel, Zac Robinson, Todd Reesing, Robert Griffin, Josh Freeman … there have been so many great quarterbacks in the Big 12 this season, Joe Ganz went totally unnoticed. In any other year, the Nebraska quarterback (this program isn’t that far removed from the forward pass being nothing more than a rumor) throwing for 3,332 yards and 23 touchdowns would be a big deal. Ganz threw ten interceptions, with five of them coming in the four losses, but he did what he needed to do to keep the offense moving with his legs as well as his arm. He’s not going off to the NFL and he’s not nearly as talented as his counterpart, Clemson’s Cullen Harper, but he’s good enough to give the strong Clemson secondary a few fits.
In the past, Nebraska would have the big edge in running back talent, but Clemson’s 1-2 tandem of C.J. Spiller and James Davis are among the best in the nation; even if they weren’t able to show it throughout this year. Spiller is the speedster who has first round draft pick potential if/when he chooses to come out early. Banged up a bit, he had a disappointing season with just 612 yards and seven touchdowns, with three of those scores coming in the win over Citadel, but he’s close to 100% now and needs to put on a show for the NFL scouts. However, he won’t be the workhorse with Davis taking on a bulk of the load. The senior flirted with turning pro early, but he came back and ran for 725 yards and 11 scores including three against South Carolina. Nebraska’s run defense hasn’t been bad this year and Spiller and Davis won’t have an easy time finding room to move.  
Looking to clog things up on the inside for the Huskers is junior DT Ndamukong Suh, a Second Team All-Big 12 selection after being a bit of a disappointment in his first few years. The star interior pass rusher came up with 5.5 sacks and was strong against the run all season long. He holds the strange distinction of taking both his interceptions for touchdowns, and he has caught one pass for two yards and a score. Mostly he’s about being the anchor up front, but he should be able to get into the backfield and get to Harper.
Harper was supposed to be working his way into an early round draft pick, but the senior suffered the most this year with an underwhelming campaign throwing 12 interceptions, 11 touchdowns, and getting benched for a stretch. However, he started to become more efficient, he stopped throwing interceptions, and the team all of a sudden finished strong. He got picked off three times in the win over Boston College, and once against Florida State as he was under constant pressure in both games, but he didn’t throw an interception over of the final three games.

Clemson will win if... run for three touchdowns. Nebraska gave up 24 rushing scores on the year allowing three touchdown runs in each of the four losses. Baylor was the only other team to get more than two, but it didn’t have nearly the passing game Clemson has the ability to crank out from time to time. The Tigers have to get Spiller and Davis going early on to keep Ganz and the Husker offense off the field, and Harper has to make his third down throws. This isn’t a Clemson team used to dealing in shootouts and lost the three games it played against good offenses (Alabama, Georgia Tech and Florida State). Clemson would likely want to keep this game in the 20s.
Nebraska will win if
... Ganz is able to keep the chains moving and if the Husker defensive front gets to Harper. Clemson doesn’t rush the passer. Sacks have been scarce and the defense has been fortunate to not have played a passing quarterback with a pulse (after the season opening loss to Alabama). Ganz is mobile enough to buy time against what little pressure he’ll be under, and he should be able to shock a Clemson secondary that ranked 10th in the nation in passing yards allowed and ninth in pass efficiency defense. Clemson, welcome to Big 12 football. Ganz would’ve been a first team all-star in your league.
What will happen: It’s Clemson. New coach, new attitude, same team in a big game. You know what’s going to happen. The Tigers will look like world-beaters for about 40 minutes, but Nebraska will be hanging around just enough to be within striking distance. And then the one big Tiger mistake will come, followed up by the one big Husker drive, and the snowball will keep on rolling. Clemson simply hasn’t had to deal with an offense that’s used to playing in the 40s, and with a healthy Marlon Lucky back to add more pop to the running game, and more balance to the Husker attack, Nebraska will pull away late.

Line: Clemson -2.5 ... CFN Prediction: Nebraska 38 … Clemson 30      

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