Countdown to Clemson continues

Nebraska got back to the practice field today as the countdown to Clemson continues. The schedules are set, the team is almost through final exams and the focus really starts to be toward the bowl. For the defensive side there is a lot to focus on as Clemson has some potent weapons in their arsenal.

Prior to the 2008 season Clemson was ranked amongst the top 10 teams in the country. For a variety of reasons this season hasn't panned out quite the way most thought. But many of the reasons for their lofty ranking early on still remain.

Two of those reasons being running backs James Davis and C.J. Spiller

Between the two of them they were ranked one and two for rushing in Clemson's offense this year, Davis totaling 755 yards on 159 carries, scoring 11 touchdowns on the season. Spiller 651 yards on 109 carries, taking it into the end zone seven times this year.

Also, as you have seen with Nebraska backs since the implementation of the "West Coast" offense, both backs are effective weapons in the passing game, Davis and Spiller combining for 44 receptions for 553 yards and three touchdowns. So, when each is in the game or both as the case sometimes may be, a defense has to be prepared. "In terms of their offense, they are pretty interchangeable. You are seeing the same things regardless of which back in there," Defensive Line Coach Carl Pelini said of Davis and Spiller.

One of the ways in which this dynamic duo can be used is something Nebraska has done themselves this year, out of a formation they called the "joker." For Clemson it's called "Wildcat", and what it is essentially, is a direct snap to the back. This was a prominent feature of the Arkansas Razorback offense over the last few years when they had future NFL backs Felix Jones and Darren McFadden in the backfield. The University of Pittsburgh has also utilized this strategy with current running back LeSean McCoy.

When talking about how Clemson uses it or if Nebraska expects to see it, Pelini said that the Tigers have used it and they are preparing to see it on New Year's day. "It's a little bit different each time they do it. So, you have to really have to teach it conceptually," he said. "You have to prepare for what you've seen, but knowing that it's changed a little bit each time they have done it, you have to talk about if they do it this way or do it that way just so your guys understand the concept of it and how to adjust to it if they (Clemson) adjust to it."

Even with the versatility that both Spiller and Davis offer Clemson, Pelini said that you don't often see them in the backfield at the same time. But he said that it does happen, and with that kind of talent it's something you need to realize could happen at any time. "It's probably in the single-digits percentage-wise (but), they do some unique things when they are in there together.

"You have to be ready for it, but at the same time that's not a major aspect of their offense."

The good news is Nebraska's offense isn't so different from what they plan to see come the first day of next year. "They remind me of our offense. They are very multiple," Pelini said. "We'll be in base personnel, in nickel and in dime probably equal amounts of time. They are always changing personnel on you."

One thing that Nebraska should have going for them come bowl time is being almost complete when it comes to having all of their original starters in the fold. One of the chief concerns has been junior linebacker Phillip Dillard, who has missed well over a month with an ankle injury. Coach Pelini said that he continues to progress and it's good to see him getting back to the way he was. "Phil is moving really well. I think this time has really helped him recover and he's had a few good practices here," he said. "It looks like he's back to his old self."

According to Pelini, the practice schedule and scripts of what will take place during practices leading all the way up to the bowl game, have now been etched in stone. The team plans to practice some the day after Christmas, which will also be the day they depart for Jacksonville, Florida. "We'll bring them back here for a meeting Christmas night just to make sure everyone is back in town, and we'll have a practice here the day after and head down to Jacksonville.," he said.

For the rest of this week Nebraska will practice again tomorrow afternoon and complete an early practice Saturday morning.

Check out the full post practice audio where Coach Pelini talks more about Clemson, what his team is working on right now and about senior defensive tackle Ty Steinkuhler, who Pelini talks about as one of the best players he's been around.

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