January 1, 2009

Match-up watch: Nebraska vs. Clemson

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - As Nebraska gets ready for its final game of the season against Clemson in the Gator Bowl this afternoon, HuskersIllustrated.com decided to pick out the three most intriguing match-ups to keep an eye on during the game.

Nebraska's defensive line vs. Clemson's offensive line

When Clemson has the football, it will pit arguably Nebraska's biggest strength against one of the Tigers' biggest weaknesses. The Huskers' front four has anchored the defense all season, boasting six of the team's 11 Blackshirts, led by junior first-team All-Big 12 defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Clemson's offensive line, however, was easily the team's weak point throughout the majority of the season. Plagued by injuries and position changes, the Tigers went as far as promoting one of its team managers - Bobby Hutchinson - to starting center.

While Clemson's o-line has vastly improved from the beginning of the season, it's still a relatively inexperienced unit. Look for the Huskers to try and exploit that with a variety of looks up front, including a lot of movement from the front four along the line of scrimmage to try and confuse blocking assignments.

Joe Ganz vs. Clemson's secondary

Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini has said on several occasions that the Huskers must protect the football and not let Clemson's opportunistic defense decided the game's momentum. The majority of this responsibility falls on the shoulders of senior quarterback Joe Ganz.

Ganz had 13 interceptions, including three that were returned for touchdowns and one that sealed an overtime loss to Texas Tech. Though he has done a much better job with his interceptions during the past few weeks, it will be imperative that he not give the Tigers' secondary a chance to make big plays that could decide the game's outcome.

With 18 interceptions on the season, the Tigers boast of the most ball-hawking defensive backfields in the country. Led by senior safety Michael Hamlin, Clemson utilizes aggressive coverage techniques to throw receivers off their routes and disrupt the timing in the passing game.

Nebraska's linebackers vs. Clemson's running backs

There's no secret what the foundation is of Clemson's entire offensive identity - its running backs. Behind senior James Davis and junior C.J. Spiller, the Tigers' boast one of the most talented rushing attacks in college football.

Davis led the way with 725 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, making him the school's all-time leader in career rushing yards. Spiller was right behind him this season with 612 yards and seven touchdowns. Had they been running behind a healthy and cohesive offensive line all season, those numbers would have likely been significantly higher.

This puts the onus on Nebraska's front seven - specifically its linebackers - to step up and shut down Clemson's most dangerous offensive threat. With junior MIKE linebacker Phillip Dillard questionable for today's game, that task might be up to seniors Tyler Wortman and Colton Koehler. If they can't at least slow down Clemson's two-headed monster, it could be a long day for the Husker defense.

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