Report card: Nebraska vs. Clemson breaks down NU's performance against Clemson in the Gator Bowl.
2009-01-01T00:00:00Z Report card: Nebraska vs. Clemson
January 01, 2009 12:00 am


Roy Helu was slowed by a knee infection, and Marlon Lucky never fully recovered from his late-season turf toe injury. That put pressure on Quentin Castille, who delivered with 125 rushing yards — essentially, all of Nebraska’s rushing yards. His biggest statistic? No fumbles in 18 carries. Excellent progress, Q. Still, the Huskers lost 39 yards in rushing, with no sacks to blame.


Let’s be honest. This wasn’t one of Joe Ganz’s better games, but how the senior battled through adversity and injury to lead his team to victory was admirable. He was, after all, Nebraska’s MVP. Ganz was constantly on the run, always under pressure, and his two turnovers led to two touchdowns. Outstanding TD catch by Nate Swift, and clutch plays by Todd Peterson.


Dabo Swinney said he was surprised his team didn’t run the ball better. He knows why it didn’t: Nebraska’s dominant line. He mentioned “big No. 93,” whom the Tigers often double-teamed in the first half. That only left Ty Steinkuhler available to make plays, which he did with a sack, a forced fumble and a tipped pass for an interception. Clemson’s final rushing total: 4 yards.


That was entertaining, watching Bo Pelini blitz, blitz and blitz some more on Clemson’s final series. Great to see two players who were burned on pass plays on that final drive, Matt O’Hanlon and Eric Hagg, rebound quickly with game-clinching plays. Another thing: So, that’s what it’s like facing an average quarterback.


Bad tackling overshadowed what could’ve been decent coverage on punt returns. The Huskers missed six tackles on one C.J. Spiller punt return in the first quarter. Those returns played a big role in swinging field position in Clemson’s favor in the first half. The fumbled punt was oh-so-costly; Nebraska appeared on the verge of seizing control. Alex Henery’s foot and the hands of Ndamukong Suh and Rickey Thenarse keep this grade mid-range.


Nebraska burned three timeouts in the first quarter, including one on Clemson’s first punt. (What, the bazillion TV timeouts weren’t enough?) Credit the replay booth for correctly deciding on each of the reviews. A couple of personal-foul penalties didn’t help matters for Nebraska.


Yes, Patrick Witt needs to be prepared to run the show, which means he should be able to run all plays. That said, putting the ball in the hands of your seldom-used redshirt freshman quarterback in that situation (third-and-long, own territory, fourth quarter, two-point lead) wasn’t smart. Hand it off for a short gain and punt. Luckily, Witt’s knee was down. Also, there were a lot of slow-developing running plays against a speedy defense.


This was a great feel-good victory for many people. For the Pelinis, who lost their father last week; for the seniors, who’ve persevered through times too tough to fathom in their four years; and for the overall program (fans included). This is a positive step: A co-Big 12 North championship, nine victories and a bowl victory against a name program with a winning record. But as Bo Pelini has said, there’s much work to be done.

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