It's Game Time

With the Gator Bowl now just hours away, it's time to take what we have learned from this Husker team and see if we can apply it to their fifth non-conference foe of the year, the Clemson Tigers. Different conferences, different offensive make ups for both leagues – this promises a lot of interesting scenarios. Let's see if we can pick a few of them out.

Go Joe

It's his last game as a Cornhusker, and the senior quarterback has had an interesting ride along the way to a seemingly appropriate New Year's Day Bowl.

From the moment Joe Ganz stepped on campus, he was considered by some as little more than a body to help fill a class in the last minute, but a body that might be considered viable for this new offensive philosophy.

It's been a college career since then, and while Ganz had to wait longer than some to find his time, he found it in record-setting style. From the most yards in a game to the most touchdowns. From the most yards in a season to being the first Husker QB to lead the Huskers to a January bowl since the 2002 Rose Bowl – you could say he finished just fine.

But today is where it truly and officially finishes for the Illinois native.

Where Clemson's defense has been the best is in keeping other teams from scoring, the teams they have faced averaged just under 22 points per game this year.

Nebraska's opponents averaged over 31.

They have the ninth ranked pass efficiency defense in the country, but faced no team ranked higher than 54th in passing offense for 2008.

While Ganz playing in the quarterback heavy conference of the Big 12 ranks just in the top half of the league with an efficiency rating of 156.72, that's still a full 20-plus points higher than North Carolina State's Russell Wilson, who topped the ACC with a rating of 134.28.

Whether it's completion percentage, touchdowns or yards, if Ganz duplicated this year's numbers in the Big 12 instead in the ACC, he'd be easily their offensive player of the year.

Now Clemson has to stop him.

With only 14 sacks on the season Clemson is going to be hard pressed to get to Ganz when the design of the offense is simply to sit back and pick the CU defense apart. But Ganz' mobility will also serve him well.

Clemson's defense is good, make no mistakes about that. They have athletes both at the line and on the back end. But just as Nebraska defenses don't face option attacks week in and week out, Clemson has very seldom faced the kind of offense they will face today. Ironically, they may face it more in practice than they have all year.

Advantage: Ganz

Providing he starts off in a good rhythm with the offense not turning the ball over, Ganz should be able to find his groove. If he can do that it's going to be a tough task for Clemson to slow him down and his group of very versatile wide receivers, running backs and tight ends.

Look for Ganz to spearhead both the air-attack and the ground game as you might find him on the perimeter early on as much as you might find him sitting in the pocket. Clemson will simply have to do too many things to try and get to him, which is going to creates gaps which Ganz should exploit.

A Boy Named Suh

You could say that junior Ndamukong Suh finally came into his own. Three touchdowns scored and two coming via the interception. Not bad for a nose tackle going over 300 pounds. That's just one of the reasons he was named AP first-team All-Big 12, which certainly wasn't hurt by the fact that he led all Huskers in tackles with 68 tackles, 15 of which were for losses and of those, five and a half were sacks.

In fact when you are talking about the entire defensive line, of the 30 sacks this team totaled on the year, over 20 of them came from the big uglies on the line.

You can't discount the huge impact the entire line has made, but it would be hard to argue that Suh is a big reason for much of it being possible.

You simply have to double-team him, but if you do, you have to his immediate left senior Ty Steinkuhler who finished the season with 42 tackles, including six and a half for loss. To his immediate right you have senior defensive end Zach Potter who finished the season with 43 tackles, 14 of those for a loss, including five and a half sacks. And to Suh's far left is sophomore defensive end Pierre Allen, who came in for senior Barry Turner, who was put out for the season early on in the year, and all Allen did was finish fourth on the team with 50 tackles, nine of which were for loss and four of those going for sacks.

For a unit which was considered by far the weakest link on the team last season to being by far the strongest link this year, this group has gone above and beyond any expectations, realistic or imagined. Suh is a big part of that.

Clemson has to control him. They have to keep him shut down inside, which will mean the double-team, and yes, it means they are going to have to chip ends with fullbacks and try to slow down these pass rushers with tight ends.

If Suh does have a big time, though, that means it's been hell in the backfield of the Tigers, and that means certain success for the newly-invigorated "Blackshirts."

Thunder and Lightning

Forget about the team you follow, if you have a football-loving bone in your body, you will enjoy watching Clemson running backs C.J. Spiller and James Davis. Davis, the senior, is considered the thunder-portion of the attack, but at 215 pounds don't take him for the type of back who is going to attack you only north-to-south. Spiller, a junior, is the same height at 5-11, but goes 20 pounds lighter, and the rule about playing him is that you don't want this back to get outside.

With the straight-snap-to-the-back type offense that Clemson does sometimes run and the various ways the Tigers have used both, individually they don't wow you with their numbers, but combined they account for over 95 percent of Clemson's ground game, which averaged just over 120 yards per contest.

This is where I have to say that the numbers don't really tell the story, and as you can see I like using the numbers a lot. You have to watch these two guys play to understand the potential danger they can be to a team which isn't capable of containing them to a degree.

Much like the Husker offense, the running backs aren't asked to win the game, but help control the line of scrimmage. When everything is working for the Tigers, neither Spiller or Davis might see the century mark in rushing, but together, along with an efficient passing game, just like the big red, they can be a big pain in teams trying to figure out just what they are going to do.

It is really in Nebraska where, if you want to get an idea of how potent a dual-back combination can be, you get an understanding of what it has done for Clemson. Like Marlon Lucky has been to the Huskers, Spiller ranks amongst the team's best in pass receptions per game and yards per game as well.

It's been through turnovers where the Tigers have battled themselves as much as the other team on the field. That's also something Nebraska fans can relate to as the Huskers are even worse in that category than Clemson, Nebraska ranking 105th in turnover margin while Clemson ranks 72nd, but both are still obviously in the negative.

Maybe you could consider this a Lucky/Helu vs Davis/Spiller show, and it would be hard not to like Nebraska's chances if that were the case. Between the tandem they have 1,321 yards and 14 touchdowns, while averaging over five yards per carry. We shouldn't forget the true "thunder" in Nebraska's backfield in sophomore Quentin Castille. After all, he's got 365 yards this year along with six scores. But ball security is a major issue with him, and while the coaching staff seems more than willing to keep going to him in games until he proves he can't hold onto the ball, we'll make your predictions based upon the most consistent presences on the field.

I love this battle. Two great backs vs. two great backs and whether it's running or receiving you don't know what you are going to see. You can just figure it's going to be pretty darn good.

The thing that hurts Clemson here is the fact that Nebraska is second in the country in time of possession, holding onto the ball for a ridiculous average 33:60 a game. If they get even close to that in this contest, that means more opportunities for the Nebraska backs than for Clemson's.

I think that gives a big edge to the big red.

A Game for the Ages?

Most have probably beaten 1982 to death by this point, trying to find all the interesting story lines which in some far stretched way parallels the game we are going to see today.

I say that's a different time, different teams, even different era.

But the match up is a good one.

For a Husker offensive line which has been slowly rebuilding its identity throughout the year, this is a great test, where they can take on another ACC team and this time prove that they are the ones who control the line instead of the opponent, which was clearly the case when they hosted Virginia Tech earlier in the season.

For a group of Husker wideouts and tight ends, this is the finale' on a season which perhaps didn't see thousand-yard receiver which seems to be so commonplace in the Big 12 nowadays, but senior Nathan Swift got awfully close, and how about this, we actually saw the emergence of the tight end.

For a defense which has in certain areas been devastated by injuries, this is a chance to prove against a very athletic team that even with first-year players, other fellow youngsters and walk-ons, they can still manage to keep their success going from how they finished off the year.

And for Ganz, who isn't the most important person on the team, but what a journey he's been on, where he wasn't given a chance, because he was a dual-threat QB recruited into a prototypical world. Then he wasn't given a chance, because a brash Pac 10 transfer came in and got the job some thought he should have had all along. Then he wasn't given a chance to do anything special in a conference as even if he had career numbers, which he actually did, names like Bradford, McCoy, Harrell and even Griffin would make everyone say "Joe who?."

Not a bad career, and this should be, and what we think will be a fine ending to not fighting until the fight was done.


Stats are a big thing, but they aren't the only thing. This should end up being more of a home crowd for Clemson than it will be for NU. Credit the location, but also credit the Clemson fans who are very Nebraska-like in their loyalty. They travel, and you can expect them to be in force for this game.

But to me, while we have a couple of west-coast style teams facing off, I see a smashmouth affair in our future. Nothing fancy, just trying to establish the run game to set up the passing game and doing a lot of dinking and dunking down the field.

It's going to be the team coming out on top which consistently sees more than four yards on first down, less than five yards on third, and can convert those third downs more than half the time.

This is a long lay off, but that applies to both teams, and while I can't speak to the continuity between Clemson QB Cullen Harper and his guys, Ganz is a senior, two of his starting wideouts are seniors, his main all-purpose back is a senior as well has more than half his offensive line.

That's chemistry, and when you haven't touched a ball in a real game for close to a month, I take that in the early going, and it could be in the early going where this game is decided.

Too much Nebraska in this one, I think, and I think that even against what I consider a very capable offense, the Nebraska's defensive confidence is about as high as it's been all year. Final:

Nebraska 34 Clemson 20

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