Jacksonville, Fla. - Nebraska scored on four consecutive third-quarter possessions to rally from an 11-point halftime deficit and the Blackshirts capped a dominating effort with a late defensive stand, as the Huskers came back for a 26-21 victory over Clemson in the 64th annual Gator Bowl at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium on New Year's Day.

The Huskers were poised for the comeback thanks to an outstanding effort from the Blackshirts. Nebraska held Clemson to just 210 yards, including only four yards rushing. All 21 Clemson points came off Husker turnovers, while NU forced two Tiger turnovers that led to six important points in the five-point win.

Clemson led 14-3 at halftime thanks to a pair of touchdowns off Husker turnovers. The Nebraska offense then erupted for 20 points in the third quarter, gaining a lead the Huskers would not relinquish with 1:40 remaining in the third quarter. Overall, Nebraska scored the game's final 16 points thanks to clutch plays from Joe Ganz, Quentin Castille and the offense and a stout effort from the defense.

After the Tigers converted another turnover into a touchdown to go on top 21-10, the Blackshirts limited five straight Clemson drives to three or fewer plays. The Tigers ran 14 plays during that stretch for minus-six total yards. During the same period, Ganz threw a touchdown pass to Todd Peterson while Alex Henery connected on three field goals to provide the final margin of victory.

Clemson made one final drive in the closing minutes, marching from its own 23 all the way down to the NU 10. With a 1st-and-goal opportunity, the Tigers were sacked for a loss of 16 yards and threw three incompletions to seal the victory.

Ganz, who was named Gator Bowl MVP, finished 19-of-36 for 236 yards passing and two touchdowns. Peterson was Ganz's favorite target, as the Grand Island native hauled in four passes for 96 yards. Castille added a career-high 125 yards rushing on 18 carries, as Nebraska totaled 361 yards. Clemson managed just 210 yards of offense and the Tigers were unable to keep drives alive, as they finished just 3-of-16 on third down and converted only one of their three fourth-down attempts.

The Huskers struggled offensively in the first half, despite outgaining Clemson 128-119. Two first-half turnovers led to all 14 Tiger points. NU also suffered from poor field position in the first half, as the Huskers saw just two of their nine drives start past their own 26-yard line, while Clemson started four of its nine drives in Nebraska territory.

After a scoreless first quarter, Clemson had the game's first scoring chance early in the second quarter. A 33-yard C.J. Spiller punt return set Clemson up at the NU 48 and the Tigers marched all the way down to the six. The Blackshirts held from there and Ndamukong Suh kept the game scoreless by blocking a 20-yard field goal attempt. The block was a highlight for Suh, who finished an outstanding game with eight tackles, including four tackles for loss and two sacks.

The game remained scoreless until the teams combined for 17 points in the final five minutes of the first half. The first score came courtesy of a Husker turnover, as Clemson's DeAndre McDaniel broke into the NU backfield and deflected an option pitch. He was able to find the end zone after the ball bounced right back up to him and he raced 28 yards for the game's first score.

The Huskers answered with their only scoring drive of the half. The key play of the drive came when Ganz scrambled to complete a 23-yard pass to Menelik Holt on third down. Four plays later, Henery connected on a 48-yard field goal to cap the 11-play, 48-yard drive.

Trailing 7-3, Nebraska got the ball right back when Ty Steinkuhler tipped a Cullen Harper pass and Anthony West made a diving interception at the Clemson 27 with 1:05 left in the half. But the Huskers returned the favor on the very next play, as Ganz threw an interception that Crezdon Butler returned 59 yards down to the NU 13. Suh pushed the Tigers back by sacking Harper for a 12-yard loss on the next play, before Harper threw a perfect 25-yard touchdown pass to a diving Aaron Kelly in the corner of the end zone.

Nebraska opened the second half at its own 46 following a 31-yard kickoff return by Alfonzo Dennard. Two plays later, Ganz found Peterson down the sideline for a 36-yard gain to the Clemson 16. The Huskers then faced a 3rd-and-11when Ganz delivered a perfect 17-yard touchdown pass to Nate Swift in the corner of the end zone, as Swift made a finger-tip grab while keeping one foot inbounds. After not mounting a touchdown drive in the first half, it took the Huskers just five plays and only 2:36 to find the end zone in the second half.

The Blackshirts then forced a 3-and-out before Niles Paul mishandled a short punt and Clemson recovered at its own 44. A pass interference penalty moved the Tigers into Nebraska territory and following a timeout, Harper threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Ford. The touchdown toss put Clemson on top 21-10, as the Tigers scored their third touchdown off a Nebraska turnover.

On the first play of its ensuing drive, Castille busted loose for a career-long 58-yard run down to the Clemson 17. Two more Castille rushes left Nebraska facing a 3rd-and-12 before Ganz came up with another third-down touchdown pass in the red zone. This time Ganz bought time to find Peterson down the middle of the field for a 19-yard TD.

The Blackshirts then made another big play when Blake Lawrence picked off a pass at the Clemson 10-yard line. The Huskers could not find the end zone however, settling for a 28-yard Henery field goal to cut the lead to 21-20.

Clemson went 3-and-out on its next possession and Rickey Thenarse blocked Jimmy Manner's punt to give NU the ball back at the 31. Mike McNeill then made a terrific one-handed catch down to the 16. Henery then came on for another 28-yard field goal to put NU in front 23-21.

Four straight punts gave the ball back to Nebraska and Castille rumbled 41 yards down to Tiger nine. The Huskers once again had to settle for a field goal however, as Henery came on and booted a 22-yarder.

That set the stage for the Blackshirts' late defensive stand after Clemson had driven down to the Husker 10.

With the victory, Nebraska finished 9-4 under first-year head coach Bo Pelini. Pelini, who is now 2-0 in bowl games as Husker head coach, joined Bob Devaney, Tom Osborne and Frank Solich as the only coaches in Nebraska history to post nine victories in their first season. Pelini's 9-4 record also tied for the best mark among 2008 first-year head coaches and was the best of any first-time head coach.

Scoring (Nebraska 26, Clemson 21)
Jan. 1, 2009
Jacksonville Municipal Stadium (Jacksonville, Fla.)
Attendance: 67,282

First Quarter (Nebraska 0, Clemson 0)
No Scoring

Second Quarter (Clemson 14, Nebraska 3)
CU - 
DeAndre McDaniel 28 fumble return (Mark Buchholz kick), 4:52
NU - Alex Henery 48 field goal
CU - Aaron Kelly 25 pass from Cullen Harper (Buchholz kick), 0:35

Third Quarter (Nebraska 23, Clemson 21)
NU -
 Nate Swift 17 pass from Joe Ganz (Henery kick), 12:24
CU - Jacoby Ford 41 pass from Harper (Buchholz kick), 10:06
NU - Todd Peterson 19 pass from Ganz (Henery kick), 7:54
NU - Henery 28 field goal, 5:13
NU - Henery 28 field goal, 1:45

Fourth Quarter (Nebraska 26, Clemson 21)
NU –
 Henery 22 field goal, 5:20

 

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