Nebraska (8-4) vs. Clemson (7-5)|
Thursday, January 1st, 1:00 p.m. (et).
The Sports Network
By Mike Castiglione, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The Clemson Tigers of the ACC take on the Big 12's Nebraska
Cornhuskers in the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl at Jacksonville Municipal
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney took over for predecessor Tommy Bowden on
October 13th after a 3-3 start, which prompted Bowden's resignation. Swinney
had his interim tag removed by athletic director Terry Don Phillips after
guiding the Tigers to a respectable finish with wins in four of their final
five games. Highlighted during that stretch was the program's first win over
Boston College since 1958, and also a 31-14 victory over the rival South
Carolina Gamecocks in the regular-season finale. Clemson is 15-15 all-time in
bowl games, and this marks the Tigers' fifth straight bowl appearance. They've
lost each of their last two.
The Cornhuskers are also .500 in bowl games (22-22), though their last
appearance was a narrow 17-14 loss to Auburn in the 2007 Cotton Bowl. Nebraska
closed out the season by winning five of its final six games, including a
three-game win streak entering this matchup. A win over Clemson in a New
Year's Day bowl would generally be considered a successful start to first-year
head coach Bo Pelini's tenure in Lincoln. But at a nostalgic program like
Nebraska, the expectation is that it's a stepping stone in a rise back to the
top of the totem pole in an ever-competitive Big 12 Conference.
Clemson and Nebraska's only prior meeting was the 1982 Orange Bowl, which
Clemson won, 22-15.
Though inconsistent at times, Clemson has plenty of weapons at the skill
positions on offense. James Davis needs 112 yards to become the school's all-
time leading rusher. He hasn't had the type of year he would've liked, with
only two 100-yard games, but Davis is averaging a healthy 4.6 ypc and has
scored 11 touchdowns. He stays fresh by sharing carries with C.J. Spiller, who
has rushed for 612 yards (5.6 ypc) and seven TDs.
Wideout Aaron Kelly needs 23 yards to become the Tigers' all-time leading
receiver. He leads the team in catches (61), receiving yards (648) and TDs
(three), while fellow wideout Jacoby Ford has 50 catches for 598 yards and
three scores. The Tigers lead the ACC in passing offense (218.83 ypg), but
they rank only sixth in scoring (25.5 ppg), as quarterback Cullen Harper has
thrown more interceptions (12) than touchdowns (12). A mistake-free game from
Harper needs to be one of the ingredients for a Clemson victory.
Clemson defensive end Ricky Sapp, who leads the team with 10 tackles for loss,
is out with a partially torn right ACL. His absence is a big blow, but the
Tigers have plenty of other playmakers on defense. They boast the nation's
10th-ranked scoring defense (16.58) and 17th-ranked total defense (294.83).
The safety tandem of Michael Hamlin (102 tackles, six interceptions, nine pass
breakups) and Chris Clemons (84 tackles, two INT, seven PBU) is one of the
finest in the conference, if not the nation. Cornerbacks Chris Chancellor
(four INT) and Crezdon Butler (three INT) have also made their fair share of
plays in the defensive backfield. Linebacker Kavell Conner leads the team with
Nebraska has turned into a pretty effective passing team in the two years
since Shawn Watson has taken over as offensive coordinator. The Cornhuskers
currently rank 14th in the nation in passing offense (284.75) and 12th in
total offense (458.25). They are putting up 36.17 ppg, including at least 40
points in each win of their three-game string. The only cause for concern
entering the Gator Bowl is a case of turf toe that's been bothering running
back Marlon Lucky (517 yds, seven TDs). He is listed as probable and is
expected to carry his usual workload, which means splitting carries with Roy
Helu Jr., the team's leading rusher with 804 yards (6.7 ypc) and seven TDs.
Joe Ganz has put together a solid year under center, with 3,332 passing yards,
23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. His primary target is Nate Swift, who has
caught 60 passes for 909 yards and nine scores on the season.
Given his previous stints at LSU and Oklahoma, Pelini was expected to put some
fire back into the Cornhuskers' defense. But the turnaround will have to wait
until at least year-two of the Pelini era, as Nebraska is giving up 361.5
yards and 29.17 points per game. With heavyweight offenses up and down the Big
12 this season, those numbers have to be kept in perspective somewhat.
But in any case, most of the Huskers' games this season have been shootouts.
If the defense can make a few timely plays, they can win those types of games.
But that doesn't always happen, and the defense has been a bit shorthanded.
Linebacker Cody Glenn, the team's third-leading tackler, was suspended in mid-
November for an unspecified violation of team rules.
Both teams closed out the season strong and are now headed to a New Year's Day
bowl for the first time under their respective coaches. The most intriguing
matchup is Nebraska's offense versus Clemson's defense. The Tigers have no
doubt been stingy on defense, but then again, they haven't faced many Big 12-
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Nebraska 34, Clemson 28
12/29 12:36:10 ET