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New Year's resolve Huskers fight through turnovers

BY Rich Kaipust
WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER

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2008 in Review
• Nebraska , 47 Western Michigan 24

• Nebraska 35, San Jose State 12

• Nebraska 38, New Mexico State 7

• Virginia Tech 35, Nebraska 30

• Missouri 52, Nebraska 17

• Texas Tech 37, Nebraska 31

• Nebraska 35, Iowa State 7

• Nebraska 32, Baylor 20

• Oklahoma 62, Nebraska 28

• Nebraska 45, Kansas 35

• Nebraska 56, Kansas State 28

• Nebraska 40, Colorado 31

• 2009 Gator Bowl: Nebraska 26, Clemson 21

2008 in Review

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Nebraska rallied. Then withstood.

It wasn't always pretty as the Huskers beat Clemson 26-21 Thursday in the Gator Bowl.

But nobody will recall that years from now, just that it put a 9-4 finish on Bo Pelini's first season as head coach -- getting NU back to that nine-win mark it used to hit regularly but attained just once in the previous four years under Bill Callahan.

Pelini called it “really big'' as Nebraska sustained the momentum it had gained by winning five of six games to finish its regular-season schedule.

“I told our seniors last night and also talked about it today that we could put some more cement in the foundation,'' Pelini said. “People are excited. Our kids are excited and starting to believe and showing how good they are. It's fun to see.''

So many things went wrong for Nebraska that it was hard to keep count before a Jacksonville Municipal Stadium crowd of 67,282. Three turnovers led to all Clemson's points. Instant replay negated another turnover that would have given Clemson another touchdown.

Senior quarterback Joe Ganz was momentarily knocked from the game. Ibacks Roy Helu and Marlon Lucky hardly played, and linebacker Phillip Dillard didn't play at all.

Field position was atrocious for almost a half. And to cap it off, Clemson had first-and-goal at the Huskers' 10-yard line with 1:54 left.

“I thought the character and resolve of this team showed again today,'' Pelini said.

NU blitzed Eric Hagg on back-to-back plays from the 10, and the sophomore batted down a first-down pass and then sacked quarterback Cullen Harper for a 16-yard loss on second down. Junior safety Matt O'Hanlon battled C.J. Spiller on a third-down pass that would fall incomplete, and the Huskers celebrated when a pressured Harper threw incomplete again on fourth.

“We were definitely confident,'' NU nose tackle Ndamukong Suh said. “They needed a touchdown to beat us. That's all you have to do is hold them out.''

With Suh and defensive tackle Ty Steinkuhler leading a dominant charge by the line, NU allowed a season-low 210 yards, sacked Harper five times and held backs James Davis and Spiller to 43 rushing yards on 19 carries.

But Clemson (7-6) took leads of 14-3 in the second quarter and 21-10 in the third, turning NU miscues into points. Pelini joked that a chair may or may not have been thrown in the NU locker room at halftime.

“We definitely felt like we gave them what they had,'' Husker tight end Mike McNeill said.

After a shaky first half, Ganz started the comeback by throwing third-quarter touchdown passes of 17 yards to Nate Swift and 19 yards to Todd Peterson.

Although Clemson turned a fumbled punt by Niles Paul into points in between those NU touchdown catches, Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said he could sense the game slipping away.

“Just right there, I thought that really, really hurt us,'' Swinney said.

A Blake Lawrence interception on a tipped pass led to the Alex Henery 28-yard field goal that pulled Nebraska within 21-20. A defensive stop turned into another 28-yarder by Henery that gave the Huskers their first lead at 23-21 with 1:40 remaining in the third.

Ganz went down on NU's first series of the fourth quarter, dizzied when Kourtnei Brown took him down hard. Backup Patrick Witt tried to run for a first down on third and 8, but the ball came loose as Witt fell short and Byron Maxwell appeared to turn it into a 32-yard TD return.

The play was reviewed and Witt was ruled down, allowing the Huskers to punt and maintain the lead.

“We had some critical calls in the game,'' Swinney said. “Some of them went against us. It's a game of inches. That's very disappointing. But that's part of it.''


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