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Gator Bowl Report Card: Clemson

During the previous four seasons, Nebraska never came back to win a game that they trailed at halftime. Now, in 2008, we've had two (Baylor and Clemson) comebacks, plus two games where we won after being tied at halftime.

Nebraska's 9-4 final record is also Nebraska's best record since 2003. That's just two examples of the effect of hiring a good coach can have on a program. Is Nebraska "back"? Hardly not. 9-4 is not what Nebraska football is all about. But now, for the first time since November 28, 2003, you have evidence that Nebraska football is finally back on track.

Offensive Line: B- The ground attack wasn't terribly productive against a stout Tiger defense. But they didn't give up any sacks either.

Running Backs: A- Roy Helu gave it a go, but his infected knee made him ineffective. Marlon Lucky's turf toe kept him limited as well. Enter Quentin Castille who exploded several times into the Clemson secondary. He showed power and speed, and best of all, good ball security.

Wide Receivers: A- Nate Swift made a nice grab for Nebraska's first touchdown. Menolik Holt made a nice comeback catch in the first half. And you can't forget Mike McNeill's one handed beauty in the 3rd quarter.

Quarterback: B- A couple of bad decisions lead to two turnovers and a 14-3 halftime deficit. But a strong 2nd half closes out Joe Ganz's career. I'm not sure he was the MVP of the Gator Bowl, but the unheralded Ganz deserves nothing but accolades for his leadership ever since taking over the starting quarterback job in Austin.

Defensive Line: A+ Ty Steinkuhler and Ndamukong Suh rendered the Clemson offensive line impotent. Suh, especially, did it all. 8 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 other tackles for losses, a blocked field goal.

Linebackers: B Phillip Dillard didn't play again, but Tyler Wortman had a good game. Blake Lawrence was in the right spot to pick off an errant pass that bounced off a Clemson receiver and set up another Husker field goal.

Secondary: A- Rickey Thenarse whiffed badly on a tackle in the first quarter that would have forced Clemson to punt out of their own endzone. He made up for it later with a one-handed block of a punt that set up the go-ahead field goal. Armando Murillo had great coverage all day, and Eric Hagg came in on Clemson's final drive to nail Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper.

Coaching: B- A great defensive game plan for the Huskers, but Shawn Watson's ears should have been burning at halftime over the gameplan. Nebraska's scaled back their "spread" looks, allowing Clemson's defense to stay in the box and stymie the Huskers. At halftime, he spread the field a little more, and the offense got moving both through the air and on the ground.

Overall: B+ If it wasn't for a couple of bad turnovers in the first half, Nebraska could have coasted in the second half to an easy bowl victory. CBS didn't mind, because it was an entertaining, competitive game.


Mountain West: A I think it's time to reconsider automatic bids for conference champions if we're going to keep the BCS. Utah certainly made their case that they are for real by defeating 'Bama in the Sugar Bowl.

Big MAC: D Kudos to Iowa for averting a shutout for the most overated football conference in the country. Now tell me again why Ohio State deserved a BCS at-large berth? Unless Texas is still pouting over their BCS and Big XII snubbing, tomorrow night's Fiesta Bowl could get ugly.

Big XII South: D+ Zach Robinson showed toughess by finishing the Holiday Bowl with a seperated throwing shoulder, but Texas Tech ended up having to walk back from Dallas to Lubbock after Houston Nutt turned their dream season into a pumpkin. It's up to Texas and Oklahoma to make up for the sins of the others.

Big XII North: B+ Missouri almost Pinkel-ed away the Alamo Bowl, but Kansas and Nebraska defended the conference's honor well.

Pac-10: A+ When USC lost to Oregon State, I dismissed the rest of the Pac-10. Well, after going 5-0 in the bowls, they've earned the respect of the rest of college football.