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  1. 2011 Dec 22

    COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Audible Audibles Feat. Elika Sadeghi of Eleven Warriors


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    Husker Locker's Brandon Cavanaugh sits down with some of the biggest and brightest minds in college football with the site's newest feature: Audible Audibles.

    This week, Elika Sadeghi, a contributing writer of one of the elite Ohio State athletics web sites Eleven Warriors stops by.

    Topics include:

    - Sadeghi's take on Nebraska
    - Capital One Bowl intrigue
    - The NCAA's verdict on Ohio State
    - NCAA punishment reform
    - The Gator Bowl featuring Ohio State vs. Florida
    - And more!

    Finally, the bewitching Buckeye goes Three and Out. Will Sadeghi answer the three questions given or call an audible?

    Please enable Javascript, or download the podcast here.

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    Tags: huskers, capital one bowl, ohio state, gator bowl, florida, urban meyer, ncaa

  2. 2011 Dec 04

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: The Huskers' 2011 Bowl Possibilities


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    By James Stevenson

    Since Nebraska sat out the Big Ten title game, Husker fans’ attention has turned to dreams of a sunny Florida getaway in January. Nebraska is hoping to be selected for their first New Year’s Day bowl game since 2009.

    It’s not safe to book plane tickets just yet as the Huskers have three or four realistic bowl destinations. While three are in Florida, the worst-case scenario could send you to get a bit of dry heat.

    The top five Big Ten Bowl tie-ins are:

    1. Rose Bowl (Big Ten Champion)
    2. Capital One Bowl
    3. Outback Bowl
    4. Gator Bowl
    5. Insight Bowl

    Some ground rules to understand in terms of Big Ten Bowl Selection: The loser of the conference championship game cannot fall past the Gator Bowl. This prevents things like Nebraska’s Big 12 office-aided rematch with Washington last year. Secondly, the Capital One and Outback Bowl cannot take any team if there is a team that has two fewer losses available. In other words, you can’t take a 6-6 Ohio State team over a 9-3 Penn State squad.

    A quick look at the current Big Ten standings and BCS rankings:

    13. Michigan State (10-2)
    15. Wisconsin (10-2)
    16. Michigan (10-2)
    19. Nebraska (9-3)
    21. Penn State (9-3)
    Iowa (7-5)
    Northwestern (6-6)
    Purdue (6-6)
    Ohio State (6-6)
    Illinois (6-6)

    Stunningly, the Big Ten has 10 eligible teams, but only eight bowl bids. Fortunately for the conference (and maybe Illinois), Michigan is looking to crash the BCS party, which should move everyone up a notch. If the Wolverines can crack the BCS Top 14 (which should happen as they pass Michigan State due to their loss and Georgia since they tanked in the SEC Championship game), the Wolverines are almost a lock for an at-large BCS berth in the Sugar or Fiesta Bowl. This is very important.

    Best Case Scenario: Capital One Bowl – Jan 2 – Orlando, Florida (ESPN)

    Nebraska vs. Arkansas

    Assuming Alabama and LSU play a rematch in the national title game and Michigan gets into the BCS, the Huskers would face the 10-2 Razorbacks here. This would be a tough match-up, though Nebraska’s improving secondary play would give them a legitimate shot.

    Bo Pelini’s defenses seem to play exceedingly well with a long time to prepare, but the Razorback defense has become quite stingy. Hopefully the Huskers could pick on former Nebraska commit cornerback Tevin Mitchell who defected to Arkansas.

    Second Best Option: Outback Bowl – Jan 2 – Tampa, Florida (ABC)

    Nebraska vs. South Carolina
    (Expected: Michigan State vs. South Carolina)

    It’s not a guarantee that Michigan makes the BCS. Baylor could leapfrog the Maize and Blue thanks to their win over Texas. Regardless, if for some reason Michigan doesn’t crack the BCS Top 14, the Capital One Bowl would select them over Nebraska.

    This would be good news for anyone who likes Bloomin’ Onions though, as the Outback Steakhouse-sponsored bowl would happily bring the Huskers to Tampa. Look for another SEC matchup against another great defense, one that will test Tim Beck and the Huskers offense.

    Near-Worst Case Scenario: Gator Bowl – Jan 2 – Tampa, Florida (ESPN2)

    Nebraska vs. Florida/Auburn
    (Expected: Ohio State vs. Florida/Auburn)

    This is probably the easiest SEC match-up the Huskers could hope for. There’s almost no way this scenario would happen, though. Michigan State would’ve had to win the B1G Championship, Michigan would have to be absent from the BCS, and the Outback Bowl would need to decide that the Badgers' Russell Wilson and Montee Ball will sell more seats and garner more TV ratings than the Huskers.

    It’s a possibility, but given how poorly Wisconsin fans travelled to the Big Ten Championship game, one would think that the Gator Bowl is resigned to taking the Big Ten title game loser if Michigan doesn’t make the BCS and otherwise will reach to grab the Buckeyes and their re-energized fanbase.

    All Hell Breaks Loose Scenario: Insight Bowl – Dec 30 – Tempe, Arizona (ESPN)

    Nebraska vs. Texas A&M
    (Expected: Penn State vs. Texas A&M)

    It’s hard to imagine how this scenario could play out. Maybe Bo Pelini finds another job, or a scandal breaks for Nebraska. Michigan misses the BCS, and Urban Meyer decides to actually coach the Ohio State Bowl game.

    This is unlikely to happen, but despite Sun Devil Stadium being a house of Husker horror, the storyline of a “rematch” with Texas A&M would somewhat entertaining (as long as they didn’t use Big XII officials). It’s more likely that Penn State plays here in a contest surrounded by terribly disappointed fans.

    All in all, it looks like the Huskers will be heading to Florida to take on an SEC opponent, and likely a good one. The Big Ten Bowl possibilities are pretty amazing after coming from the Big 12, so it’s exciting to look forward to what should be such a high-quality opponent and bowl game looming on the Husker schedule.

    The best news: any of these cities is within decent driving distance from each other. Most importantly, you can go see Mickey and the gang at Disneyworld.

    Follow James on Twitter: @jamesstevenson
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    Tags: big ten, rose bowl, capital one bowl, outback bowl, gator bowl, insight bowl, michigan state, wisconsin, michigan, penn state, arkansas, south carolina, auburn, florida, texas a, m

  3. 2011 Dec 04

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Why the Bowl Game Matters (Or Why It Should)


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    By Ryan Donohue

    Two weeks later, you can still feel it in the air: the universal disappointment in the 2011 Nebraska Cornhuskers’ football season. A toxic belief that Nebraska’s season ended in “The Big House” on November 19 in a gaffe-riddled loss to Michigan.

    Since then, the Cornhuskers regrouped and defeated Iowa to send its seniors out with a win. Yet judging by the mood of the Husker faithful, that victory seemed just a concession, a hollow triumph over a struggling batch of average Hawkeyes.

    Even the media appears to be trying to turn the tide and emphasize the positives of beating Iowa. If they’re working overtime to craft a warm and fuzzy picture, something is wrong. No, Nebraska did not win their division. Yes, for the first time since 2008 the Huskers did not prepare for the conference championship game. No, Nebraska didn’t live up to many of the expectations of many a fan.

    Yes, the Huskers are destined for a January bowl game against a big name opponent. It sounds almost silly to mention, as if Nebraska playing in a bowl at all is a revelation known to few. Well, the Big Red is going bowling. It’s a shiny, stubborn fact that sticks out in the thick fog of melancholy funk that is suffocating all of Nebraska football.

    Like it or not, thanks to the hidden Big Ten benefit of powerful bowl tie-ins, the Huskers will play in their highest profile bowl game since the 2006 Cotton Bowl. In that game, then-head coach Bill Callahan’s squad had a chance to knock off Auburn, a premiere SEC team, to end a solid season with big momentum heading into the following year.

    Come January (or late December at the very worst), Nebraska will have a similar opportunity in the Capital One, Outback or Gator Bowl to knock off a solid SEC team, likely South Carolina, Georgia, or Arkansas. Which bowl and team will be ironed out very shortly, but it doesn’t change the fact that Nebraska will likely play a January bowl in fertile recruiting ground against an elite team from the top conference in front the eyes of the college football world.

    If that doesn’t brighten your mood, think of the alternative. Most deem the Husker season a failure because there is no division crown. Let’s say Nebraska won the MNI...er…Legends division. Is a rematch with Wisconsin honestly what the Husker faithful wanted? The Badgers would’ve provided Nebraska with a terrible reminder of Madison.

    Perhaps the only difference would be that the Huskers are even more banged up than they were during their ill-fated trip. Nebraska could’ve easily lost to Wisconsin twice with a good chance the second loss embarrasses the program more than the first. The cloud hanging over Nebraska football would double in size and camp out through Christmas.

    Instead, The Huskers have momentum from a dominant victory over Iowa – a team that beat Michigan – and a month to heal, practice and improve before the bowl game. A healthy Nebraska will be trouble for any team from any conference. A Husker win provides many advantages.

    Stability could be argued with a 10-win season for the third straight year. Defeating a team from the SEC would be a feather in the cap of both Nebraska and its new conference. Perhaps the most significant advantage is momentum.

    A bowl win means a chance to extend positive energy into the offseason. If you question the significance of this, think back to Callahan’s loss to Auburn and the absolute disaster of a season that followed.

    Think back to less than a year ago, when Nebraska ended a once-promising season on a sour night in San Diego. This season’s bowl is not the Holiday Bowl. This post-season reward is an opportunity for a fresh start with two huge prizes: Redemption for 2011 and confidence for 2012.

    Every bowl game matters. Just ask any coach or player who isn’t going to one. No practices, no continued improvement and no season-ending excitement. For Nebraska, this bowl game may not have been the one they wanted but it’s the one they’ve got.

    It’s an opportunity for the Huskers to make a statement, to build for next season, to show they have what it takes to win a championship even when there isn’t one on the line. Quite frankly, It’s an opportunity too good to pass up.

    Follow Ryan on Twitter: @DigitalRyan
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    Tags: bo pelini, arkansas, south carolina, georgia, cotton bowl, bill callahan, capital one bowl, outback bowl, gator bowl, sec

  4. 2011 Dec 03

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Championship Saturday Game Day Thoughts


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    The Husker Locker staff will be presented a number of questions addressing various aspects of each week's game all season long.

    This week:

    Did the 2011 regular season unfold about how you expected?

    Brian: Yes and no. Nebraska expected and should be playing in Indianapolis tonight. The fact that the Huskers aren't doing that marks, to me at least, a disappointing season. You come to Nebraska to win conference titles and compete for national championships, not finish third in the Legends division.

    Nebraska wants to be considered one of the heavy hitters in college football. To do that, you must be able to win the games you should, most of the games that can go either way, and at least keep the games you’re supposed to compete in close.

    While looking like world beaters against Michigan State and Ohio State, the Huskers looked pedestrian at best against Wisconsin, Michigan and a Northwestern team that will be ecstatic going to Yankee Stadium.

    James: Yes and no. I expected Nebraska to be around 9-3/10-2. I also expected the Huskers to win the Legends Division, which they unfortunately did not accomplish. I expected a loss at Wisconsin and at Michigan, as well as one trap game loss.

    I was also disappointed with the staff checking out on recruiting during the season. Having six recruits not named Cotton on December 3 is inexcusable. Maybe there is a silent commit or two, but it's still frustrating.

    The biggest disappointment of this season was the Blackshirts. From No. 8 in the country in 2010 to No. 58 is pretty horrific, especially when our head coach was hired for defensive acumen. With Carl Pelini taking a dead-end FAU job that barely pays more than what he makes now, you wonder if his increased responsibility as well as the defensive slide are the reasons for his departure.

    That said, there were some pleasant surprises: the offensive play-calling of Tim Beck was downright inspired at times. He was no Tom Osborne, but showed he could be creative and you could tell he had a feel for the pulse and rhythm of the game. A couple Shawn Watson moments aside (looking at Wisconsin and Northwestern here) call me optimistic for the future.

    Brandon: Honestly, I’ve yet to meet a college football season that has turned out the way I thought it would. In the age of parity, I think that’s a near-impossible feat. Even with how dominant LSU is right now, I wouldn’t be shocked to see them lose tonight or in their bowl game.

    Regarding the Huskers, I expected a far better defensive performance even without Dennard or Crick in, but the youth and inexperience showed early and often. I surely didn’t expect to have such success offensively.

    I’m pretty sure everyone and their brother could’ve called Burkhead carrying the team, especially down the stretch, but nearly every position has stepped up. Tim Beck’s got a solid playbook and I’m excited to see what he can do should he continue to grow along with the entire offensive roster.

    The Northwestern loss didn’t surprise me so much as how it was lost. Sloppy, uninspired football will cause you to lose to a Pat Fitzgerald-coached Wildcat squad every time. I was pretty worried about Wisky and certainly saw the potential for a loss at Michigan, but not a first class beatdown.

    Overall, there were more points hung on the Blackshirts than I expected and the offense impressed, but if you told me Nebraska would win nine games through the regular season, I’d have believed you.

    Right now, it appears that Nebraska will either be attending the Capital One, Outback or Gator Bowl, all versus SEC opposition. Which bowl would you like to see the Huskers play in and against what upper-tier SEC school?

    Brian: Either bowl to me is fine. The one matchup that wouldn’t be good for us is against Arkansas. Quarterback Tyler Wilson, while being the type of quarterback that a Nebraska defense feasts on, has several stud receivers to throw to. The Cornhusker secondary has improved as the season has progressed. However, this is a matchup that wouldn’t be beneficial.

    Either South Carolina or Georgia would be a favorable game. Don’t believe the SEC defense legend, either. All three teams can give up points. That doesn’t mean that Nebraska will hang 40 on any of them, but lets see them take on Rex Burkhead and Nebraska's offensive line when healthy.

    James: If you're going to be the best, you've got to beat the best. The Capital One Bowl is the premier non-BCS Bowl game, it's so well-branded it has an entire week named after it. Let's see how the Huskers compare in a one-game showdown with a top SEC team.

    I'd love to see Arkansas, especially if it gives the offense a chance to pick on former Husker commit Tevin Mitchell. On the flip side, playing South Carolina and the Old Ball Coach (Steve Spurrier) would bring back some blissful memories of 1995 (though I doubt the score would be anywhere near what it was for that Nebraska - Spurrier showdown).

    Brandon: All signs point to the Capital One Bowl which isn’t too surprising considering how many times their representatives showed up to check Nebraska out. I’m a big fan of the game as it’s usually entertaining. Last year’s stomping of Michigan State by Alabama aside, of course. I’d expect the committee to go with one of three opponents for Nebraska: Georgia, Arkansas or South Carolina.

    Out of these three, the Huskers should hope for the Gamecocks and I think there’s a solid shot they get them. The teams are pretty evenly matched and the Spurrier vs. Nebraska story is almost too good to pass up. On the other hand, you’ve got a rebounding Georgia squad that would give Nebraska a run for their money.

    Arkansas’ a sexy pick thanks to Bobby Petrino and his offense vs. Bo Pelini’s defense. While seeing the Old Ball Coach on the opposite sideline would be fun, I think Nebraska draws the Razorbacks.

    There’s an offer on the table for Carl Pelini to take over as head coach at Florida Atlantic. What do you think of this move?

    Brian: Good for Carl. It’s time for him to finally get his own gig that, while not at a BCS school, is a great opportunity. FAU was ranked No. 119 in FBS offense this year, and that’s against only two defenses in the Sun Belt that were ranked above No. 50 in total defense. Carl can give it his all and finally get out of his brother's shadow. Good luck to you, Carl.

    James: Exciting as a Nebraska fan. The defense clearly needs a shake-up. Bo needs to be free to look at the big picture and not have to gameplan the defense himself. Carl probably isn't the best planner/defensive coordinator, but he knows what it takes to win and has a good opportunity to build a staff down at FAU.

    There are also some premiere defensive coordinators on the market right now. Mark Stoops, Ron Zook, and Tom Bradley would all breathe fresh blood into the coaching staff. I'm partial to Zook myself, as he can take the organizational elements off of Bo's plate, while also instantly being the best recruiter on the staff.

    Brandon: It’s a great opportunity for Carl to add to his resume. Expectations aren’t going to be extremely high, but Schnellenberger was enjoyed by many despite his reputation among many Husker fans. Boca Raton’s not a bad place to cut your teeth as a head coach and being in the heart of an area rich in talent should only help Carl especially since his last name should gain him some clout amongst recruits.

    If things become official with Carl to FAU, how should the staff situation be managed heading into 2012?

    Brian: Interesting question. There is a great defensive coordinator in Larry Johnson Sr. available from Penn State. Assuming he’s clear of anything in the Sandusky case, I couldn’t see anyone being a better addition not only coaching but in terms of recruiting.

    James: Hire the best recruiting defensive coordinator you can find. It doesn't matter how they are schematically, Bo can handle that element, but Nebraska needs someone who can break down defenses, assist with building out the gameplan, and breathe some life into a rough recruiting effort.

    Aside from that, maybe if there are some coaches not working out, Carl can bring them along to Florida for a fresh start. It might be time for Barney Cotton to step into more of an administrative role, as the emergence of John Garrison and intern Brendan Stai seems to be behind the offensive line resurgence. With any new coaches, finding organized and spirited recruiters is key. This staff is woefully behind the competition in that regard.

    Brandon: Well, it looks to be a done deal, so we’ll assume he won’t be around. I could see this going one of two ways. Bo could simply assign himself the defensive coordinator title and hire a quarterbacks coach to assist Taylor Martinez and some very inexperienced backups with rapid development or a replacement could be found.

    Mike Stoops’ name has come up as a possibility, but I don’t see him at Nebraska as I can’t help but think he heads to Oklahoma or Urban Meyer snags him. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing Ron Zook pick up the defensive coordinator mantle as he stocked the cupboards for Meyer’s title runs at Florida.

    While things didn’t work out at Illinois, he’s a fine assistant coach and already has Big Ten connections. The Huskers need more homerun hitters in recruiting and Zook brings some serious wood to the plate.

    Follow the panel on Twitter:

    Brandon: @eightlaces
    Brian: @btbowling
    James: @jamesstevenson

    Follow Husker Locker on Twitter: @huskerlocker
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    Tags: blackshirts, carl pelini, fau, tim beck, bo pelini, rex burkhead, capital one bowl, outback bowl, gator bowl, arkansas, georgia, south carolina

  5. 2011 Nov 06

    NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Knee-Jerk Reactions - Northwestern


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    By Brandon Cavanaugh

    - Can’t quite put my finger on it, but something was off yesterday. The Huskers looked a few steps slower than they did against Sparty.

    - It’s a shame that Taylor Martinez’s best game of the year (and one of his career) had to end in a loss. His play is encouraging for the remainder of the season, however.

    - Jamal Turner’s absence is inexcusable. While Coach Fisher clearly has his methods, it’s hard not to question getting a playmaker of Turner’s caliber on the field.

    - Was very happy to see Brandon Kinnie in sync with his quarterback.

    - Wishing Kenny Bell would’ve snagged those drops. Not only for the sake Martinez and his team, but it would’ve made his performance even bigger. Regardless, when Taylor sees the 'fro, he has to throw.

    - If Nebraska could keep Bell back with Abdullah on kick returns, that’d be just grand.

    - When Lavonte David is missing tackles in the backfield, that’s a bad omen.

    - While Lance Thorell’s interception against Michigan State was huge, getting scorched like a marshmallow pre-Smore is, too.

    - While Nebraska may not have the overall talent of Alabama, the Crimson Tide would’ve killed for Brett Maher last night.

    - Have to think the Capital One, Outback and Gator Bowls are all smiling on the inside. Their reps keep showing up to Husker games.

    - Controversial thought alert: Taking away the Blackshirts following this loss would be an absolutely horrible decision.

    After nearly a day to reflect, what are your reactions about yesterday's game? Chime in on the new forums: Husker Locker Forums

    Follow Brandon on Twitter: @eightlaces
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    Tags: taylor martinez, jamal turner, brandon kinnie, kenny bell, ameer abdullah, lavonte david, lance thorell, brett maher, capital one bowl, outback bowl, gator bowl, blackshirts

  6. 2009 Aug 11

    White Hawk and Knight Rider


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    “White Hawk” is a converted walk-on safety, a tough-but-reserved sophomore who might be one of Nebraska’s fastest, most athletic defenders in recent memory.

    “Knight Rider” is a chatty, smiling junior showing off his new $495 helmet, a player so well-versed in Bo Pelini’s defense that he’s almost like another coach on the field.

    Matthew May and Blake Lawrence might be battling hard for the starting WILL linebacker job on Bo Pelini’s defense, but they’ve managed to forge a friendship and keep it light off the field.

    “We figured you guys were going to talk to us about each other,” Lawrence said to reporters. “So we just made up nicknames.”

    “Blake, why couldn’t you tell me that yesterday?” joked one scribe away from the interview.

    “We made them right after, I swear,” Lawrence said.

    Of course Lawrence is in good spirits, despite a grueling start to fall camp. That he’s allowed to practice is an improvement over last spring, when Lawrence suffered his third concussion in one year, and his football career was in jeopardy.

    When the concussion occurred, “I didn’t think it was very serious,” Lawrence said.

    “But the doctors and trainers said, ‘Whoa, Blake, this is a red flag. Three in one year. We’ve got to go through all these tests, and you really have to decide whether you want to play football again. Hearing that for the first time was kind of shocking.”

    And tough when the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder had made so much progress, and even become a starter, toward the end of the 2008 campaign. After spot action through the first eight games, Lawrence got an extended opportunity in the Oklahoma, and made one of the better plays in that 62-28 loss, batting down a third-down pass from Sam Bradford and forcing OU’s first punt.

    “Although the final score didn’t reflect too much success, I felt I succeeded on the field,” Lawrence said. “After that, the coaches kind of put me in a starting role based on packages for the rest of the year.”

    He added five tackles in a win over Kansas State and three vs. Colorado. His best game was NU’s last, the 26-21 Gator Bowl win over Clemson. Lawrence had four tackles and intercepted a bubble screen pass that led to a Husker field goal. Nebraska held the Tigers to just 210 total yards.

    “There was a point where I was on the field and I realized ‘this is nothing different, this is just playing football,’” Lawrence said. “Just getting that experience, being out on the field, it was great for me to accomplish what I came here to do, be a contributor as much as I can out there on the field.”

    And then, concussion No. 3.

    Lawrence missed the Red/White Spring Game, and had to pass a battery of medical tests in the following weeks. At the end of the summer, he took a neuro-pyschological exam and passed that, too. He was officially cleared to play football.

    And then he got fitted with a Xenith Helmet, an-elaborate-but-expensive piece of headgear that uses shock absorbers to stabilize the head and minimize force. The absorbers look like a small hockey puck. They’re hollow inside, and each has a tiny hole to release air pressure. When they receive a blow, they instantly deflate, inflate again in a fraction of a second, and rebuff some of the energy to the shell of the helmet.

    Developed by former Harvard quarterback Vin Ferrara, Xenith is still a bit of a boutique business, battling mainline manufacturers and a $1000 Riddell helmet called the Revolution, but they’ve got Lawrence as a pitchman. Figures. He’s got a 3.9 grade-point-average in marketing, and is on schedule to graduate with his bachelor’s degree in 2½ years.

    Lawrence touted the airflow and the comfort, which helps him stay cool in hot practices. And hits do seem lighter now, he said, although fully-padded practices don’t begin until Wednesday.

    “The other guys on the team are jealous,” Lawrence joked. “I said, ‘Just get three concussions and get a sweet helmet like this!’”

    Don’t ask Lawrence’s position coach, Mike Ekeler, to laugh about it.

    “I’m a superstitious guy, so I don’t even want to talk about it,” Ekeler said. Asked the same question a slightly different way, Ekeler said, “Apparently you didn’t hear what I just said.”

    He’s smiling. But he’s not kidding.

    Ekeler is just glad to have Lawrence back in the mix.

    “Knows our system better than anybody,” Ekeler said. “He’s really become like a coach on the field. Bo can say ‘Hey Blake, make a correction here or there,’ or Carl or myself, and it’s done. The guy is sharp.

    May, the 6-1, 216-pounder from Imperial, agreed. When Ekeler and head coach Bo Pelini shifted May from safety to the WILL spot, it was Lawrence who would help in those down moments of practice, or in between drives during games.

    “Other than the coaches, he approaches me first when I come off the field and we make the corrections,” May said. “He’s more supportive than anyone I know. So it’s a competition between us, but we’re really supportive of each other.”

    It’s been a whirlwind for May. From unknown walk-on, to linebacker, to the guy leaping through the air to cause a Josh Freeman fumble in the 2008 KSU game, to top of the depth chart in the spring.

    Last year “seems a long ways away,” now, May said. He’s in the thick of position battle, and no longer a walk-on novelty brought in on blitz downs.

    And May knows it, Ekeler said. He watches films, gets in the playbook, asks questions.

    “He’s a guy who wants it so much,” Ekeler said.

    Said Pelini: “He’s learning a lot. He’s still got a lot to learn. He’s nowhere near a finished product. The linebacker position right now, it’s up for grabs. At all three spots, we don’t really have any starters right now…everybody is in the mix.”

    Including reporters, Pelini said, if they want to suit up.

    Only if we can get a nickname, coach.

    Tags: blake lawrence, matt may, 50 huskers to know, bo pelini, mike ekeler, gator bowl

  7. 2009 Jan 26

    Fan Photo of the Day


    By SMcKewon

    Blog post image

    This comes to us from HUSKERFANX and his Gator Bowl photo album.

    Enjoy - and upload your own photos today!

    Tags: photo of the day, gator bowl

  8. 2009 Jan 05

    Awesome Gator Bowl field footage...


    By SMcKewon

    Blog post image

    Related video

    Cover photo for the NU/Clemson field footage videoWatch video
    NU/Clemson field footage
    Trophies: 0
    Courtesy of Youtube...love the look at Swift's catch!

    Tags: gator bowl

  9. 2009 Jan 03

    More Gator Bowl Fan Photos


    By HuskerLocker

    Blog post image

    These come from Locker Member Fireguy04, who made the trip the Jacksonville Gator Bowl with his grandson. Enjoy!

    And don't forget to post own photos, too!

    Tags: gator bowl

  10. 2009 Jan 02



    By SMcKewon

    Blog post image

    Players of the game: Defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Ty Steinkuhler. Don’t really get how Joe Ganz won the MVP of the Gator Bowl over either of these two guys. Probably because the media and Gator Bowl committee, which votes on it, only watches offense. At any rate, Suh and Stein combined for 14 tackles, three sacks, a forced interception and a blocked field goal.

    Best offensive play of the game: Quentin Castille’s 58-yard run right after Clemson had taken a 21-10 lead midway through the third quarter. Castille stole any momentum the Tigers gained from their touchdown.

    Worst offensive play: The botched option play that became a Clemson touchdown. Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson shouldn’t have called it and Ganz/Castille executed it poorly.

    Best Defensive Play: Matt O’Hanlon’s pass break up of a certain Clemson touchdown late in the game. CU running back CJ Spiller had badly beaten linebacker Tyler Wortman on a seam route, but O’Hanlon was there to save the day over the top.

    Worst Defensive Play: There weren’t many, but the 41-yard touchdown pass from Cullen Harper to Jacoby Ford was a blown coverage by safety Larry Asante and corner Armando Murillo.


    Quarterback: C Joe Ganz was all-guts in the second half, staring down a furious pass rush instead of bailing like he did in the first half. Still – Ganz practically handed the Tigers 14 points. It’s an unavoidable reality. He ends his career with a gritty but flawed performance.

    Running back: B+ Before you carp, put Castille’s performance in perspective: Clemson’s defensive line utterly dominated NU’s offensive nearly all game. Despite that, Castille used his power and moves to bust two very big runs that helped the Huskers secure the win. We’ve been hard on Castille all year; on Thursday, he earned his kudos. Roy Helu, apparently wounded with a knee infection and Marlon Lucky were not factors.

    Wide receivers: B A couple bad drops by Meno Holt and Nate Swift, but can we hear it for Todd Peterson? He made two incredibly good catches, notched a couple key blocks, and generally played his tail off. Good on ya, Grand Island. Nice catch by Swift on that first touchdown, too.

    Offensive line/Tight ends: D+ Pretty darn ugly, from our vantage point. Maybe Nebraska’s offensive braintrust didn’t expect Clemson to bring much heat, but the Huskers sure didn’t adjust until the second half. On zone plays, NU linemen had a hard time holding their blocks. On passing plays, they seemed shocked by CU’s speed. It improved some in the second half, but not a ton.

    Defensive line: A+ A resounding, triumphant game from the front four. Can’t say enough. Nebraska got its pressure without blitzing too much.

    Linebackers: B A pretty fair effort from this bunch, as Phillip Dillard remained limited by injury. Blake Lawrence was around the ball Thursday quite a bit, while Colton Koehler and Tyler Wortman held their own. Lawrence is rounding into a more complete player for position coach Mike Ekeler. He’ll be a factor in 2009.

    Defensive Backs: B All in all, not bad. A few missed tackles and a blown coverage on that 41-yard touchdown pass. Matt O’Hanlon made a huge play, and Eric Hagg made two of them right before that. Kudos to O’Hanlon, who delivered where Thenarse could not.

    Special Teams/Kickers: B- A great kicking performance by Alex Henery was offset by poor coverage on kickoff and punt returns and Niles Paul’s fumble on a punt return.

    Coaching/Game management: B It was really a story of two halves. In the first 30 minutes, Clemson’s daring, gambling strategies paid off. In the second half, Nebraska’s coaches schemed back and completely worked over a young Tiger staff. Bo Pelini certainly bedeviled Clemson at the end of the game, throwing its rhythm off completely with three heavy blitzes. When it mattered, CU panicked. Nebraska didn’t.

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    Tags: gator bowl, report card

  11. 2009 Jan 01

    GATOR BOWL: Watch Party Photos


    By SMcKewon

    Blog post image

    Related photos

    We took these photos at Heidelberg's South location in Lincoln during the Gator Bowl Thursday. Good wings, great fries and a festive, ultimately happy crowd. Enjoy!

    Tags: gator bowl

  12. 2009 Jan 01

    GATOR BOWL: Five huge plays


    By SMcKewon

    Blog post image

    Photo Courtesy of Huskers.com

    NEBRASKA: Matt O'Hanlon's swat on the second-to-last Clemson play saved the Huskers' hide.

    CLEMSON: Receiver Jacoby Ford slipped a Rickey Thenarse tackle and busted a quick slant on 3rd-and-17 into a jail-breaker that got the Tigers out of the shadow of their own end zone.

    NEBRASKA: Quentin Castille got Nebraska's last field goal all on his own, busting a 31-yarder late in the fourth quarter by shedding two tackles and accelerating down the sideline.

    CLEMSON: Aaron Kelly's 25-yard touchdown grab was a picture-perfect layout.

    NEBRASKA: With a storm of Tigers all around him, quarterback Joe Ganz stepped up into pocket and found Todd Peterson for a critical third-quarter touchdown.

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    Tags: gator bowl

  13. 2009 Jan 01

    GATOR BOWL: Five Bonehead Plays


    By SMcKewon

    Blog post image

    NEBRASKA: Clemson's first touchdown was a great individual play on the part of linebacker DeAndre McDaniel, but Joe Ganz and Quentin Castille ran a rotten option. Ganz got too much depth in the backfield, Castille not enough, and Ganz's pitch was flat and slow. Ganz was a skilled quarterback - he was not a skilled option quarterback.

    CLEMSON: Three plays in one, as CU quarterback Cullen Harper took three awful sacks. None was worse than the last, a 17-yard loss on the third-to-last play the Tigers ran.

    NEBRASKA: Niles Paul was right to try to catch a third-quarter, line-drive punt in Clemson territory. He was wrong to try to catch and run at the same time. The result? A fumble.

    CLEMSON: CJ Spiller apparently thought NU linebacker Blake Lawrence little shove as he was going out of bounds was not cool. So he did something stupid, throwing the ball at Lawrence. Another Clemson drive killed thanks to that wise move.

    NEBRASKA: Ganz's interception at the end of the first half was borne, again, out of his fervent desire to never give up on a play. He should have just taken the sack, and called it good.

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    Tags: gator bowl

  14. 2009 Jan 01

    GATOR BOWL: Five memorable performers


    By SMcKewon

    Blog post image

    Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh: Don't be so sure he's coming back, Husker fans. No. 93's play on Thursday could vault him to the top half of the first round of the NFL Draft. Hard to turn that down unless Suh really thinks he won't earn his degree unless he stays.

    Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers: We told you a few days ago to watch for him. Now you know why: Three tackles for loss and a whole slew of dominating plays against NU tackles Mike Smith and Jaivorio Burkes. The kid's just a freshman, too.

    Nebraska defensive tackle Ty Steinkuhler: What a story - and player - this kid turn out to be. Great first half, solid second half. Ty's the guy.

    Clemson receiver Jacoby Ford: A shorter version of Oklahoma's Malcolm Kelly, Ford's speed bailed the Tigers out a couple of times in the game. Nebraska could sure use a guy like that. A lot of teams could.

    Nebraska kicker Alex Henery: The kid's ice, folks. Four field goals, and NU needed every one of them. Two were from weird angles, while another was a 48-yarder. Henery's actually talented at kicking a football. He knows what he's doing. It's pretty cool to watch.

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    Tags: gator bowl

  15. 2009 Jan 01

    GATOR BOWL COMMENTARY: Heart, Smarts and Guts


    By SMcKewon

    Blog post image

    Well, the Boys in Red sure know how to give Husker Nation a collective heart attack. Three or four of them, in fact.

    You want a bowl game? That was a bowl game. After a bowl season of real snoozers – Nebraska and Clemson fought with flair in North Florida.

    You want perfect? Well, you didn’t watch Nebraska football this year, did you?

    NU’s 26-21 Gator Bowl win over the Tigers was far from flawless – outside of the extraordinary play of the Cornhuskers’ defensive line, anyway. When head coach Bo Pelini refers to Nebraska as a “work in progress,” hell, he wasn’t kidding in August and he’s not kidding now. On its best day, it’s a bunch built for the top 20. On most days, it might wear its best gameday suit, but forget to match the shoes.

    The Huskers’ offense stumbled out of the gate. NU’s line looked like a bunch of hippos in quicksand for an entire half, groping about while orange jerseys breached the castle walls. Joe Ganz seemed two steps slow before his head got slammed against the turf. And based on his play Thursday, Niles Paul better not think his spot on the receiver/returner depth chart is remotely safe.

    We could go on. Missed tackles. Blown offensive chances in the second half. Timeouts burned like cheap toast. A celebration penalty. It isn’t that hard to be harsh It’s also for another day.

    Thursday was about guts, smarts and heart, and the Huskers had all three in spades.

    Ganz had guts to come back in the game after taking so many hits. Pelini stuck with Ganz, too – which seems like an obvious choice, unless No. 12 had made another mistake. Offensive coordinator Shawn Watson did the same with sophomore Quentin Castille – whose two long runs arguably won the game – after Castille had endured an up-and-down season. Safety Matt O’Hanlon had the toughness to come off the bench for Rickey Thenarse and play one of the best games of his career, a bogus personal foul penalty aside.

    And as the Gator Bowl wore on, Clemson’s young coaching staff started to wither, while Pelini’s bunch warmed up.

    The Tigers stuck with the power running game for too long, and never switched to a Wildcat attack – never really got running backs CJ Spiller and James Davis the ball in space at all. Until its final drive – and the game should have been out of reach by then – CU’s offense spent much of the second half handing the ball back to Nebraska. Only Paul’s fumble on a punt return gave Clemson any life.

    Pelini and Co., meanwhile, gathered after a poor first half and got their coaching house in order. The second half was among Pelini’s finest hours of the season. His no-name linebackers and safeties were all over the bubble screens and swing passes. He dialed up smart pressure, which left Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper confused and prematurely scrambling from the pocket. Twice on that climactic four-down series at the end of the game, Harper rolled right into the blitz. He didn’t know where it was coming from. And Clemson’s coaches’ didn’t prepare him. The Tigers’ last play was a total disaster, even if Dabo Swinney tries to say otherwise. The smart play was an alley-oop to the end zone. CU tried some bizarre combo route against a zero blitz.

    Even NU’s Cover 2 tactics worked. Finally! Pelini must have seen on film that Harper prefers the middle of the field; aside from a quick slant to Jacoby Ford – aided by a missed Thenarse tackle – the area inside the hash marks was pretty much closed for business. Swinney bemoaned his quarterback’s play after the game, but did so without acknowledging that Harper’s slants and square in routes were taken away from him.

    Nebraska’s offense rolled with the pressure that Clemson brought – frankly, NU shouldn’t have been that surprised – and figured it out in the second half. Instead of rolling out in the second half, Ganz stepped up into the pocket, and threw two touchdowns. He doesn’t like doing that, but Clemson’s swift ends took away the edges of the field. By the second half, NU had also adjusted its zone read game to a more power-based style, pulling guards to pound the Tigers’ fast safeties and linebackers. It didn’t work often, but it worked twice, for two huge Castille runs.

    “Clemson was doing stuff that they haven’t done all year. We expected it to be different, but not that different,” Ganz said. “With a new coordinator coming in, we expected it to be different, but not that different. They were bringing all-out blitzes on third down, and it just took us that long to settle in. We made some great adjustments at halftime to get the ball out quicker.”

    Again – subtle differences. But the main ones between a five-point win and a five-point loss.

    Pelini won the chess match, and his players put in as many chips as the Clemson boys did. That’s a recipe for a statement win.

    Is it too much to call this Gator Bowl “W” a statement? No, it isn’t. Clemson’s a name team, folks – a strong program.

    Scoff if you wish, but there are 10 or 15 guys in the Tigers’ two-deep whom Pelini would love to have. Oh, Bo might keep his offensive and defensive lines, and certainly Ganz over the statuesque Harper. Kicker Alex Henery, for sure. But anybody else? Be honest.

    And high school players aren’t dumb. They’re mercurial, but not dumb. When they see Nebraska roll into ACC/SEC country and knock off one of the 15 or so sacred cows down there with an old-school beating in the second half, they take notice. They see those sharp road uniforms, the open offense, the come-hell-or-high-water blitzing defense, and they like it.

    Pelini’s roll of the dice at the end of the game – and Eric Hagg’s execution of it - is a poster for Nebraska football that says: Here’s how we win a game on defense. You like it?

    It doesn’t have to be perfect, folks. It just has to be seductive

    Tags: gator bowl

  16. 2009 Jan 01

    Blackshirts Stand Tall, Turn Back Clemson


    By SMcKewon

    Blog post image

    Photo courtesy of Huskers.com

    Five turnovers. Two blocked kicks. Heroic defensive stands, 25 tackles for loss, one-handed catches and too many big hits to count. A third-string running back playing the game of his young life. And did we mention the backup quarterback whose fumble on his first and only play was returned for a touchdown that was then reversed when instant replay ruled he was down?

    Yes, Nebraska’s 26-21 Gator Bowl win over Clemson was packed with enough twists, turns and game-changing plays for an entire New Year’s Day worth of football. And the Huskers’ defense – especially its front four – got to write the final chapter of the four-hour daytime soap.

    With NU clinging to that five-point lead with two minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Blackshirts – they earned the name Thursday - stopped Clemson on downs inside Nebraska’s 20-yard line, as head coach Bo Pelini – who had deftly mixed up his defensive calls all afternoon - dialed up heavy, seven-man blitzes.

    “At the end of the game, when it’s on the line, and they got four downs from the ten, I’m gonna be pretty aggressive” Pelini said. “They gotta pick their poison. We were bringing more than they could pick up.”

    On first down sophomore nickel back Eric Hagg broke free, jumped and knocked down a pass from Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper.

    Then Hagg, blitzing from the opposite side, sacked Harper for a 17-yard loss on second down, tracking Harper down after the QB had tried to fool him a pump fake.

    On third down, backup safety Matt O’Hanlon knocked a pass out of running back CJ Spiller’s hands in the end zone.

    And on fourth, Harper threw wide of his receiver, Jacoby Ford, at the ten.

    It was easily Nebraska’s best performance of the year on defense, as it held Clemson to just 210 total yards and four rushing yards. Although Spiller made hay in the return game, he and running back James Davis combined for just 49 total offensive yards. The Blackshirts sacked Harper five times and forced nine punts. The Tigers were constantly put in no-choice passing situations, converting 3 of 16 third down tries.

    Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh led NU with eight tackles, two sacks and a blocked field goal. Suh’s counterpart, Ty Steinkuhler, had six tackles, a sack, and he created an interception with a deflection. In all, Nebraska had 11 tackles for loss.

    “(The defense) dominated us,” Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney said. “I’m disappointed it. We knew they were good upfront. I just thought they were disruptive. They caused a lot of problems for us.”

    Nebraska (9-4) finished the game with three kneel-down plays – hardly indicative of the drama that preceded them. Quarterback Joe Ganz – who would be named MVP despite having two turnovers that directly led to first-half Clemson touchdowns –tucked the ball under his arm, fielded a hug from defensive end Zach Potter and celebrated Nebraska’s first bowl win since the 2005 season. It doubled as the largest bowl comeback in Husker history, too – as NU twice climbed out of 11-point holes, mostly of its own making.

    It ended an emotional, ultimately hopeful season of new beginnings, close losses and exciting victories with a ninth win – once believed the standard of a Nebraska football program – and resounding rebuttal to the lost year of 2007, when the Huskers thought themselves capable of winning a national title, but instead limped to a 5-7 record. That led to the firing of Bill Callahan and the eventual hiring of Pelini.

    “I told the seniors last night and I talked also about it today: You can put some more cement on that foundation we’ve laid,” Pelini said. “It keeps the momentum going. The kids are excited. They’re starting to believe…the character and resolve of this team showed again today.

    “…It’s been a tough 12 months. But there’s been a lot of hard work involved by a lot of people.”

    And a lot of highlight plays. There was no shortage of them in the Gator Bowl, where Nebraska and Clemson gave a lively, vocal crowd of 67,282 at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium their money’s worth – and then some.

    After a first quarter dominated by defenses, Clemson drew first blood with linebacker DeAndre McDaniel’s 28-yard fumble return after he deflected a lazy option pitch from Ganz. The Huskers answered with an Alex Henery 48-yard field goal, and then got a gift late in the second quarter when Anthony West intercepted a deflected Harper pass. After a celebration penalty, NU was set up at Clemson’s 32-yard line with 1:05 remaining.

    That’s when Ganz, under heavy pressure, short-armed a sideline pass for Niles Paul. Clemson quarterback Crezdon Butler stepped in front and returned the interception 63 yards inside the NU’s 20. CU scored two plays later when Harper floated a fade pass to Aaron Kelly, who leapt under it for a touchdown.

    Nebraska quickly cut into Clemson’s 14-3 halftime lead with a five-play, 54-yard touchdown drive to start the third quarter. Ganz hit senior receiver Nate Swift with a 17-yard fade pattern in the corner of the end zone; Swift caught the ball with one hand and dragged one foot for the score.

    Then, after Clemson padded its cushion back to 11 with a 41-yard touchdown pass from Harper to Ford – a play set up by Niles Paul’s fumble on a punt return - NU answered with a touchdown in four plays. Sophomore running back Quentin Castille – who had a career day with 125 yards rushing - started the drive with a 58-yard gash through the heart of the Tigers’ defense; Ganz finished the drive with a 17-yard pass to Todd Peterson on a slant pattern.

    Ganz, whose first half probably ranked as his worst of the season, rebounded to finish with 236 yards passing and two touchdowns.

    “He had some bad things happen to him in the first half,” Pelini said. “There are a lot of kids - who aren’t as strong and don’t have as much character -would have wilted under those circumstances. Joe just kept going. It takes mental toughness to do that. I think Joe epitomizes that. A lot of people can learn from what he went through today.”

    The Huskers weren’t done in that memorable third quarter. Sophomore linebacker Blake Lawrence picked off a deflected Harper pass, setting up NU at CU’s 11-yard line. Nebraska was held to a field goal there, as it was after safety Rickey Thenarse’s blocked punt set up the Huskers at the Tigers’ 31. Alex Henery’s two nailed chip shots gave NU a 23-21 lead to end the third quarter.

    The fourth started with drama. Ganz was temporarily knocked out of the game when he was drilled to turf on a rollout pass play. Enter backup Patrick Witt for a third down.

    If you can believe it, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson called a pass. Witt scrambled, gained four yards, and was jolted hard as he went to the turf. He fumbled and Clemson scooped it up and returned it for a touchdown.

    The referees upheld the fumble. Instant replay reversed it, as both of Witt’s knees had just touched the ground the ball came out.

    “We had a couple calls go against us,” Swinney said. “It’s a game of inches and that’s very disappointing.”

    With 5:20remaining in the fourth quarter, Henery added another 22-yarder for a 26-21 lead, a score set up by another long Castille run.

    Clemson’s final drive was arguably its best of the day, considering all of its touchdowns were set up by turnovers. Harper hit Kelly for an 11-yard gain on third-and-eight. Later, on fourth down inside Nebraska territory, he found Ford for 16 yards. Then Kelly again for 17 yards to set up the climactic, decisive four downs.

    Out of that sequence, the only play Clemson ran that had a chance of scoring was Harper’s throw to Spiller, which hit his hands before O’Hanlon punched it away. The other three were lost in the fog of Pelini’s blitz schemes.

    Swinney struggled to contain his frustration about the endgame scenario, especially Harper’s play, under wraps.

    “We had several chances to win the game,” he said. “Golly! Several chances!”

    Though Pelini could have lingered on Nebraska’s many errors in the game – three turnovers, awful kick and punt coverage, 81 yards in penalties – he didn’t.

    Instead, he heaped praise on the Gator Bowl, a “first-class operation” that put on, in Pelini’s opinion, the best bowl of which he’d ever been a part. He thanked his team, too, for choosing to win the game in the memory of his and defensive coordinator Carl Pelini’s father, Anthony, who died last week after a long bout with illness. The Huskers wore black “AP” stickers on their helmets Thursday.

    “It means a lot,” he said. It really does. Me and Carl are looking forward to taking some time off. I haven’t really had time to think about it. But it was a difficult week.”

    Punctuated with a big win.

    Tags: gator bowl

  17. 2009 Jan 01

    Gator Bowl Gameday Blog


    By SMcKewon

    Blog post image

    12:00: We're nearing kickoff. Nebraska will be wearing a sticker today in memory of Anthony Pelini, the father of Bo and Carl Pelini who died last week.

    12:11: Dabo Swinney delivers a rousing locker room speech. Does he look like a leader? Ya think?

    12:12: Cool looking field - a rarity in most bowl games.

    12:12: More bad kickoff coverage. Clemson gets a gift at the 40. Nebraska gets the gift right back when Clemson gets stupid, tries to run a trick play, and has to call a timeout. That says the Tigers think they need to get cute today.

    12:15 Three and out. Nebraska's front four does the job on the pass rush. Let's see what NU's offense has.

    12:17 Bo wearing the sweatshirt/collared shirt combo today.

    12:19 Clemson forces its own three-and-out. The Tigers are fast, folks. Fast. And CJ Spiller, with two good returns, is the fastest of the bunch.

    12:25 Clemson foolishly tries to single-block Stein and Suh, and suffers the consequences. CU has twice wasted very good field position provided to them by Spiller.

    12:30 Thank you Todd Peterson!

    12:31 Clemson pulls an almost Oklahoma on NU's bubble screen. Yeesh...CU is fast.

    12:35 Nebraska not quitting on the running game, which is good. Niles Paul missed an easy catch, which is bad. Niles has to make those plays. Roy Helu getting hit - hard. When's Marlon Lucky make an appearance?

    12:37 When will Clemson stop single-blocking Steinkuhler? Hopefully never.

    12:39 Rickey Thenarse blows a tackle, lets Clemson out of jail.

    12:42 Steinkuhler is the Nebraska's best player on the field right now. Four really good plays already.

    12:45 Nebraska gets a big stop on fourth down.

    1:03 CJ Spiller's the big difference in this game so far, flipping the field position on the Huskers twice. Nebraska's defense will eventually wear down.

    2:15 We begin the third quarter, and Nebraska better figure out a way to move the ball against Clemson's fast, aggressive defense. CU is ahead 14-3 thanks to two giant turnovers by Ganz. Heck, you saw em.

    2:21 Nebraska's back in it! Thanks to good individual plays by Alfonso Dennard, Todd Peterson and Nate Swift, the Huskers drop a touchdown on Clemson and cut the lead to 14-10. Ain't over, folks!

    2:29 NIles Paul absolutely kills the Huskers with a fumbled punt after NU forced a 3-and-out.

    2:44 The action is heating up! Clemson strikes with a 41-yard touchdown pass. Nebraska answers right back with a four-play drive, culminating in a 19-yard touchdown pass from Ganz to Peterson.

    2:48 Blake Lawrence makes a pick, and the Huskers have a chance to take the lead. Wild one, huh!

    2:58 Now Rickey Thenarse blocks a punt!

    Tags: gator bowl

  18. 2009 Jan 01

    Five Keys to the Gator Bowl


    By SMcKewon

    Blog post image

    The first leg of this journey called the Bo Pelini Era is coming to an end. We see the campfire in sight and a bunch of new football recruits waiting there, figuring out how to saddle a horse, cook baked beans in a frying pan, and learn the West Coast Offense (or, as the case may be, the “Boflex” defense).

    It’s time for the Gator Bowl. The final exam, if you will. The one that shows how well you spent the last month in study and practice, and how focused you are upon returning to the field.

    The cool thing about bowls is that they’re rarely about emotion – at least by opening kickoff - and almost always about simple, effective execution.

    *Bowls favor the teams that act and play like the professionals they aren’t yet, but would like to be.

    *Bowls favor coaches who maintain a good balance of fun and discipline.

    *Bowls favor football teams whose fans actually give a darn, and are willing to travel to a bowl site.

    *And bowls favor teams with the speed to cover up mistakes and adjust on the fly.

    The Huskers fare quite well in three of those four categories. They’re professional, loose-yet-focused, and buttressed by red-clad fans that will be in Jacksonville County Municipal Stadium. Do they have the mental and physical speed, though, to stay on top of a better-than-its-record Clemson squad, which will also have the fans and the proper approach?

    We’ll see. We know this: The Tigers are confident and armed with the kind of defense that could make for a nightmarish experience for NU quarterback Joe Ganz. And CU’s offense has enough weapons to do exactly what teams like Colorado were able to do vs. Nebraska’s defense.

    Let’s look at little closer at the keys, shall we?

    Bo vs. Dabo: Two new head coaches, with plenty of fire and energy around them and their players. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, along with looking like a younger version of John Edwards, seems to have a good handle on what he wants his team to look like and how he wants it to play. It takes guts, after you’ve been named the coach in the middle of a season, to fire the offensive and defensive coordinators in such short order, and replace them, at least temporarily, with guys even younger than he is.

    Translation: This is a coaching staff very in tune with its players, and more than willing to let loose in the bowl game. Expect Clemson to put a few more dishes in the kitchen sink, just so it has more to throw at NU.

    Bo Pelini, meanwhile, is also a young guy. But he’s a bit of old-school dude, too. Expect he and offensive coordinator Shawn Watson to dance with what got the Huskers to Jacksonville: A strong defensive line and Joe Ganz.

    Speaking of…

    Graveyard or Playground: We’ve already seen two Big 12 quarterbacks – Chase Daniel and Zac Robinson – get chewed up and mostly spit out during this bowl season. They learned what we imagine other Big 12 quarterbacks will learn during this bowl season: The bank isn’t quite as open as it was during conference play.

    Indeed, we suspected that, halfway through the season, some of the Big 12 defenses started slowing down and laying off in expectation that the offenses would handle the job of winning the game, or just out of sheer lack of confidence.

    Ganz was a beneficiary of that, to some extent. He, like Daniel and Robinson, enjoyed some freedom to make plays – especially in the defensive-flag-happy Big 12 – that he won’t have in the Gator Bowl. How does he handle that? Effectively? Poorly? If CU takes away the bootleg with its defensive speed, how does he compensate? Does he try to go wide with his zone read run, as he did all season? Will it work? Does he shy away from receivers Nate Swift and Todd Peterson, who will be well covered, or does he try to force passes into them?

    The Gator Bowl will be Ganz’s toughest test of the year short of Oklahoma. May he fare better in Jacksonville than he did in Norman.

    Bend or Break: Now that we’ve praised Clemson’s defense, let’s see just how well that Cover 2 defense holds up against a West Coast Offense designed to pick it apart. The offense that gave Clemson the most trouble – Florida State – uses some of the same elements – the zone read game, rollouts, big receivers - that the Huskers employ. What wrinkles does CU use. Or do the Tigers play their base defense and stand firm that NU won’t move the ball against it?

    Playmakers: You could fold Joe Ganz into this key, too, but we’d rather focus on some of the other luminaries in the game. How does the Thunder and Lightning duo of James Davis and CJ Spiller fare? Can CU’s wide receiver Aaron Kelly bust loose on a bubble screen? Can Roy Helu, Jr. bust a big run? Will the Tigers’ Jacoby Ford or the Huskers’ Niles Paul crack open a game-changing return? Will CU’s Michael Hamlin make a critical interception, or will NU’s Zach Potter force one with those giant paws of his?

    The Atmosphere: First, kudos to the Gator Bowl for having the foresight to select Clemson – a team whose fans actually wanted to be in Jacksonville – over Florida State, which would have dragged its 10,000 fans to populate the lower bowl and called it good. The bowl game will be that much more interesting because of a big crowd.

    Let’s see if that full house affects either team. CU should have more fans than the Husker contingency, but NU fans haven’t forgotten how to get loud. In fact, I’ve found the Nebraska faithful who don’t park their rears in Memorial Stadium for every home game are a lot more boisterous than the ones who do.

    Pay special attention if the game reaches overtime; who doesn’t win the toss will get to play that first OT in end littered with its own fans. Just something to consider. It helped Missouri a couple nights ago in the Alamo Bowl.

    Tags: gator bowl

  19. 2008 Dec 31

    More Gator Bowl Photos


    By SMcKewon

    Blog post image

    Related photos

    Here's more photos of Nebraska's trip to the Gator Bowl...courtesy of the bowl itself...enjoy!

    Tags: gator bowl

  20. 2008 Dec 31

    Guess The Score! Nebraska-Clemson!


    By SMcKewon

    Blog post image

    Ah, so we've come to it - the end of the line, as far as Nebraska football season goes.

    How optimistic are you about this Gator Bowl? We've gone back and forth on it. For one thing, Nebraska going to be playing one of the fastest, most athletic teams it has played all year. Short of Oklahoma and Virginia Tech, Clemson might have the most raw talent on both sides of the ball.

    Beyond that, the Tigers are now motivated by new coach Dabo Swinney. They "believe" again. Coupled with top ten talent, that's a scary proposition.

    So we'll see. We think Nebraska's West Coast Offense has grown mightily since that Va Tech game, and thus can stress Clemson in ways that no offense has all year. We think NU's defensive line can beat CU's offensive line, too. BUT, we also think Clemson's defensive line might be as tough for the Huskers' o-line to handle as any this year.

    We expect a close, well-played game with more scoring in the first half than the second. It's a even-up contest, frankly - one of the best pure matchups of the bowl season, and we like Nebraska to emerge with a 24-21 win - thanks to an Alex Henery 45-yarder with less than a minute in the game.

    What's your take?

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    Tags: guess the score, gator bowl

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