Clemson couldn't seem to put everything together offensively. The long reception by Ford was refreshing. Drives and playcalling seemed a bit out of rhythm, with Clemson being unable to capitalize on excellent field position throughout the first half.
Passing Game: Cullen Harper had happy feet all day, and subsequently his stat line read 17 for 37, 206 yards passing, 2 TD's and 2 INT's. He also had -42 yards rushing, including a piss poor sack taken at the end of the game.
Running Game: What running game? We were unable to produce nice stats in this area. When Clemson sustained drives with a consistent rushing attack, the Tigers would get in the Red Zone and start throwing the ball. You are not going to be successful at Clemson (especially with the poor play by your signal caller) without being able to run the football.
Play Calling: The pace of play in general seemed choppy. Drives stalled in certain places due to the choppy playcalling. 37 passes compared to 20 rushing attempts is too lopsided.
Intangables: Clemson's offense sputtered all day, but the worst part of the gameday execution was the first play of the football game. Clemson has had a freaking month to prepare for this game. We come out and try to get cute on play #1 and waste a timeout to regroup and run the same damn play. The goal is to get 10 yards every four plays not build a rocket, so why are we overcomplicating matters and why can't we at least be prepared for the first (hopefully scripted play)?
Rushing: Nebraska had a couple of big gain plays, but my opinion was that the defense played the run well. We (especially early) played well up front and limited the Nebraska offense. I thought Clemson looked very physical up front.
Passing: Ganz stat line was very similar to Cullen's (minus one int). They completed some nice TD passes that were perfectly thrown balls. Clemson was able to successfully employ some blitz packages and got to the QB all afternoon. Bowers played extremely well, and I am especially excited to see his progress next season.
Intangibles: Clemson played hard on defense all afternoon, scoring a touchdown and holding their own against Neb. I thought the Tigers got hosed on the TD called back (I think that the ball was knocked out before the knee hit the ground), and was pleased to see a more aggressive blitz package.
Special Teams: I thought we fixed this crap, but we had a punt and a field goal blocked. This area of the game really let the Tigers down, as the punt resulted in 3 easy points for the opponent (luckily only 3 points) and the failed field goal (for those scoring at home) would have given the Tigers 3 more points. This combination would require that Clemson kick a field goal at the end of the game to win. The Cornhuskers also started the 2nd half with great field position on the half-opening kickoff.
Coaching: This was really a tale of two staffs. The defensive portion looked good. The players were ready to play and were well prepared for Nebraska's attack (as evidence by the lateral returned for a touchdown). The defense came out and confused Nebraska with blitz packages that were missing earlier in the year. Neb sustained three (3) drives all afternoon. The offensive side of the ball looked less orgainized. We took the field and could not execute the first offensive play of the game without burning a timout. Our running game was non-existant. The signal-caller thinks he is Randall Cunningham. There were too many shades of the Rob Spence and his beginning of the year debacle. The special teams woes were chronicled above. I wish I could give grades for independent units, but this staff is one staff (grades are lopsided, as the defense immensely helped the other two facets of the staff).
Overall: Tom Bowden would not have gotten this team to the Gator Bowl this season, much less been able to play with Bo Pelini's squad, so at least we are in better shape now than we were in August. This team played hard all afternoon, so you really cannot fault the effort. Offensively, I am not sure that the Swinney/Napier combination with playcalling has enough real-time experience yet. Good coordinators are able to not only gameplan throughout the week, but also make adjustments as the game progresses. Defensively, we played well up front and did a good job of confusing a pretty good Nebraska offense.
Closing Thoughts: We are still missing a few pieces to the puzzle. Offensive line upgrades/underclassman experience upgrades will help. I also believe that having Korn or Parker under center next season will be an upgrade in talent and decision making.
The loss of Aaron Kelly next year will not really effect gameplay, as he had as many big drops as he did big catches. I am also eager to see Xavier Dye in the mix, and will miss seeing Grisham make his routine plays. The big loss to the WR corps would occur if J. Ford decided to enter this year's draft. I think this would be a bad decision for the Junior, and know that Clemson would miss his speed on offense (assuming we decide to get the ball downfield more often).
Up front offensively, we are pretty young in the two-deep. Hutchinson is gone and Thomas Austin may leave early (the latter would be a big loss to this group). Otherwise, Cory Lambert will be the only senior linemen next year (and he really hasn't done much since arriving on campus). I am really hoping that McClain and Page both contribute a lot next season, as they are both highly prized gigantic linemen from this past recruiting class.
At running back, we will miss James Davis. He ran hard an had a good career with the Tigers. This unit is in for a big shakeup should CJ also choose to turn pro this year. We are all hoping that Jamie Harper lives up to the big billing he got when he signed with Clemson. I am not really sure what role (if any) Rendrick Taylor will play on the '09 team.
Defensively, we will should be outstanding up front, losing only Jackson (and he did not play for most of this season) and Scott. Bowers, Alexander, and Sapp have all played well over the course of their careers. The biggest shoes to fill will obviously be Dorell Scott's.
We have everyone coming back from our linbacking corps. I would like to see Scotty Cooper on the field more as well as more agression in the blitzing category moving forward.
Losing Michael Hamlin will be a blow to the secondary. Otherwise, we should be a veteran group and perform as well as they did this season if Hamlin's void is adequately filled.
Special Teams: I am not too excited about having a kicker who was acedemically ineligable for the bowl game, but I guess Jackson will finally get his chance next year. Dawson Zimmerman should be comparable to the departing Maners.
Overall: Next year could be no worse than this. I am anxious to see how well Dabo bounces back on the recruiting trail and how good the CU defense should be after the new DC (likely Bammer's Steele) is in place. It appears as though B Scott will remain on the staff. Offensively, it will be interesting to see game strategy next season and, hopefully, a better offensive line. My early predictions have us winning 9 games next season.
Gator Bowl Grade Sheet/Looking Forward