Last year it was a running back leading the team in receiving, Marlon Lucky grabbing 75 balls for a total of 705 yards.
That was the offense, or at least, that's where the offense was showing the most success.
We did see some solid stats from players like former Husker receiver Maurice Purify who caught 57 balls for 814 yards, then junior wideout Nathan Swift who pulled down 36 catches for 520 yards and fellow junior at the time, Todd Peterson who caught 18 balls for 359 yards.
What was not nearly as prevalent during that time and basically since former Head Coach Bill Callahan and his "West Coast" system arrived – the tight end.
If anyone had
ever watched the
Former Husker tight end Sean Hill led all the tight ends last year with 18 receptions for 288 yards. In total Husker tight ends got the ball 26 times last year.
This year sophomore Michael McNeill got 29 on his own.
44 receptions by tight ends this year, totaling 591 yards and eight touchdowns. That total of scores doubles the amount a year prior.
What this has all meant is
25-40 for 405 yards and 4 touchdowns
30-40 for 510 yards and 7 touchdowns
31-58 for 484 yards and 4 touchdowns
Three-Game Total: 1399 yards and 15 touchdowns
The only reason to bring up quarterback stats here is to illustrate that the overall production is a little misleading from last year. While the team averaged over 320 yards per game in the air for the season before Ganz' three starts they were averaging just over 280.
And it should be of note that
All the wide receivers have done is have arguably their best year in regard to average production per game, but it's no argument that when it comes to catching the ball, i.e., not dropping it, they have been a vastly improved group. Even senior wide receiver Todd Peterson said at one point this season that outside of the new run-blocking responsibilities which would become a staple of this group, focus on bringing the ball in got the most attention of all. "It just about concentration and focusing on making the catch. Last year we just had a lot of breakdowns in that area," he said. "We have had a chance to work with Joe for awhile now and that's helped, but most of it is just repetition in practice and focusing during the games."
For senior wide receiver Nathan Swift, this has been a year to remember. Not only did he go above 900 yards in receiving this year, only the second receiver in Husker history ever do accomplish the feat (Johnny Rodgers totaled 942 yards in 1972), he passed Rodgers in career receptions, Swift at 163 with one game to go, topping Rodgers' 142 during his Heisman campaign.
Peterson has been solid in his own right, totaling 690 yards receiving this season, over 300 yards more than last year. And he grabbed 58 balls for 2008, which is a full 40 more than he grabbed in 2007.
The production of the running back in this department went down, but it shouldn't be considered a worry-spot, because even though the team lost five out of their top seven receivers from last year who weren't running backs this group hasn't missed a bit. You could say easily, that with the new balance at tight end they have only gotten better, because now nobody has any clue who is getting the ball, and in a variety of down and distance situations.
If Clemson has a weakness in their top-20 defense, it's not that they haven't had success at stopping the passing game....
they haven't seen one.
South Carolina ranks as the best passing offense Clemson faced all of this season, and they finished the regular season ranked 54th in the country, averaging 218.5 yards per game.
That wouldn't be good enough for a top-10 spot in the Big 12 alone.
To their credit they have only
given up more than 300 yards passing in one game. The only problem is, that came
against The Citadel, a Division II school. But other than that
What is interesting and certainly goes to Clemson's credit, only one team out of all those Division 1-A teams faced, actually got more yards in their game against the Tigers than they averaged all season.
Team Season Avg Yds vs Clemson Difference
N.C. State 200.8 yards 152 yards -48.8 yards
Georgia Tech 95.0 yards 91 yards -4 yards
B.C. 175.5 yards 116 yards -59.5 yards
Duke 197.7 yards 85 yards -112.7 yards
U.S.C. 218.5 yards 212 yards -6.5 yards
It's that kind of consistency that led to Clemson's final regular-season rank of 10th in the country in pass defense, but they move up a spot to ninth in the county in pass efficiency defense, one of the big reasons being the 5.12 yards teams are averaging against Clemson per pass attempt, which is better than Florida (5.45), better than Ohio State (5.16) and better than Oklahoma (6.62).
But let's take the top three passing performances against Clemson this year:
Player No Yds TD Lng
WR Kenny McKinley 7 56 0 22
TE Weslye Saunders 4 58 1 23
WR Jason Barnes 3 46 0 20
RB Brian Maddox 2 11 0 9
FB Patrick DiMarco 1 16 1 16
Player No Yds TD Lng
RB Pendergrass, B 5 32 0 19
WR Brinkman, C 4 31 0 9
WR Boldin, DJ 3 35 1 28
WR Williams, Marsh 2 34 0 24
FB Harris, K 1 11 0 11
Player No Yds TD Lng
TE Nick Walker 7 67 1 21
RB Roy Upchurch 4 30 0 11
WR Julio Jones 4 28 1 9
WR Mike McCoy 2 33 0 24
In all three of these games, the
tight end ranked as either the top receiver in the game for their respective
team or in the case of
Nebraska has enjoyed the new versatility the emergence of their tight ends have given them this year, and it would appear at least on paper, that could tell a major story in this game.
Of those three teams who rank as having had the most success passing against Clemson this season, only South Carolina threw for over 300 yards in a game, and they did it only once this season.
It's no secret that the Big 12 is
a passing league. It's no coincidence that out of their Heisman candidates going
into this season all of them were on the offensive side, including Heisman
Clemson hasn't faced anything close to that this year. They don't play in a league which features a single team ranking in the top 50 in passing. The irony comes from the fact that the highest ranked passing team in the ACC is Clemson themselves, who finished the regular season 53rd in the country,, averaging 218.83 yards. Out of the 12 teams in the league, eight average less than 200 yards passing per game.
Even with this apparent disparity, though, it's hard to know just exactly what you are going to get. The tight end has had very good success against Clemson, which you have to think favors Nebraska, who has two tight ends in McNeill and fellow sophomore Dreu Young, who both come in at close to 6-5.
While senior wideouts Peterson and Swift have never blown anyone away with their raw athletic numbers, this year they have been very consistent in catching the ball, and Swift has been consistent after the catch, averaging over 15.1 yards per reception.
One of the most obvious factors
If you haven't faced it, you honestly don't know what you are going to get.
But there's no doubting that when you look at the numbers, the production of the receivers, the average yards per game and especially, the effectiveness of the tight end for the Huskers this year – this could be the area where Nebraska might have its biggest advantage.
Speaking of big, though, we'll outline in our next segment the war in the middle as the Husker offensive line faces off a talented and sizeable Tiger defensive line which could be better than the fellow ACC team the Huskers faced earlier year in a loss, that belonging to eventual ACC Champ Virginia Tech.
Big Red Bowl Breakdown: NU TE/WRs
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