Big 12: Marlon Lucky

Husker defenders see improvements on pro day

March, 12, 2010
3/12/10
8:00
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The main attraction at Nebraska's pro day on Wednesday duplicated his rival's day of work, and departing seniors from Nebraska's stifling defense showed off for scouts, improving on their efforts from the NFL scouting combine.

Defensive lineman and Heisman finalist Ndamukong Suh participated in brief position-specific drills, running through tackling dummies and making no attempt to improve on his 32 reps at the 225-pound bench press and his absurd 35.5-inch vertical jump at 6-foot-4 and 307 pounds.

“They’ve seen everything they need to see out of Suh,” former Husker safety Larry Asante told the Lincoln Journal-Star.

Twenty-four NFL teams showed up to catch another glimpse of the possible No. 1 pick in next month's draft, including Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo, who also watched Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy go through a similar workout on Tuesday in Norman, Okla.

Asante trimmed his 40 time to 4.55 seconds, down from the 4.63 he ran at the combine. Safety Matt O'Hanlon ran a 4.58 in the 40 and showed off a 37.5-inch vertical jump. He also broad jumped 10 feet.

Linebacker Phillip Dillard improved his 20-yard shuttle time to 4.29 seconds and broad jumped 9-4. He opted out of the 40 after posting a 4.64 at the combine.

Of the twelve participants on Wednesday, four weren't members of last season's team, including running back Marlon Lucky. Lucky spent last season with the New York Sentinels in the United Football League after being waived by the Cincinnati Bengals, who signed him as an undrafted free agent last offseason.

Whatever happened to the Big 12's workhorse backs?

July, 22, 2009
7/22/09
5:29
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It might be the most endangered species this side of the American bison.

True workhorse running backs are disappearing across the nation, but particularly in the Big 12.

It's a marked contrast from the past where many Big 12 teams would rely on one major back to account for much of its running production.

Even the expansion of spread offenses can't be blamed entirely for this predicament. If anything, the overabundance of passing attacks should make it easier for one back to dominate carries because most teams are utilizing fewer running plays than ever before.

Here's an indication of how skewed the statistics were last season in the Big 12. Only four backs accounted for at least 40 percent of their team's rushing totals.

Texas Tech's Shannon Woods led all Big 12 backs last season with 44.5 percent of his team's carries -- 141 totes among Texas Tech's 317 rushing attempts.That total is the smallest for a leader in the Big 12 in the conference's history.

Consider only four years ago that nine Big 12 backs accounted for 40 percent of their team's carries in 2004 and seven backs that season topped 50 percent of their team's running plays.

But in today's Big 12, coaches are opting to predominantly use a rotation of backs. Teams like Nebraska (Quentin Castille and Roy Helu Jr.), Oklahoma (DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown) and Texas (Vondrell McGee, Cody Johnson, Fozzy Whittaker and freshman Chris Whaley) all are expected to rotate carries in 2009.

Here's a look at how those numbers have changed during the Big 12's history.

(Read full post)

Update on the Big 12's undrafted free agents

April, 27, 2009
4/27/09
6:44
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

I've gotten a couple of messages today wondering where all of the Big 12's free agents have ended up.

The most complete and accurate listing I've found is on the fine website nepatriotsdraft.com. (Hat tip to The Ralphie Report.com). Here's what they have as of late Monday afternoon.

Big potential free-agent pool among Big 12 players

April, 27, 2009
4/27/09
10:16
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

I'll be back later today with a complete breakdown of the Big 12's draft.

But here's something to watch as Monday plays out.

There are still some pretty good players available from Big 12 schools who were not drafted.

Most notably are three quarterbacks who set records and took their teams to bowl games this past season.

Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell, Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel and Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz all went undrafted.

Look for teams to be dickering with them for free-agent contracts throughout the day.

Here's a list of some of the more notable Big 12 players who went undrafted.

There are some pretty good players on that list. I wouldn't be surprised to see a couple of them make an NFL roster if given the opportunity.

Nebraska I-back Helu is Big 12's No. 20 player

April, 13, 2009
4/13/09
5:43
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

No. 20

Today marks the halfway point of our top 40 list of Big 12 players with the addition of Nebraska I-back Roy Helu Jr. at No. 20.

  Helu

With the departure of Marlon Lucky from last year's team, Helu and Quentin Castille will have a chance to emerge as the featured ball carriers for the Cornhuskers.

Helu has added more weight over the winter to become a solid interior threat. He hopes to improve on his strong finish from last season, when he rushed for the highest rushing average by a Nebraska player in seven seasons.

With an untested quarterback and wide receivers and a veteran offensive line surrounding him, Helu might have one of the best opportunities for a running back in the conference.

Now, he just has to make the most of it.

Player: Roy Helu Jr.
Team: Nebraska
Position: I-back
Vitals: 6-foot-0, 215 pounds; Jr.; Danville, Calif. (San Ramon Valley)

Why he was picked: In limited playing time last season, Helu rushed for 803 yards on 125 carries, averaging 6.4 yards per carry. He was the first Cornhusker with at least 100 carries to average six yards per carry since 2000. And he was also a versatile receiver with 25 receptions for 266 yards. Helu really came on at the end of the season, rushing for 510 yards over the final four regular-season games. Included in the late binge were three 100-yard games during that span, topped by a career-high 166 yards in the Cornhuskers' comeback victory over Colorado.

What 2009 will hold: It's not out of the question that Helu could challenge for the Big 12 rushing championship, although the presence of Castille might limit his carries. But the veteran offensive line and new quarterback and receivers breaking in for the Cornhuskers could provide an opportunity for both of them to receive ample playing time. It's not inconceivable for Helu to rush for 1,000 yards and add 40 receptions -- even with Castille in place. His emergence as a prime offensive weapon will be critical if the Cornhuskers have any legitimate hope of claiming the North Division title.

21. Texas Tech DT Colby Whitlock
22. Kansas WR/KR Dezmon Briscoe
23. Oklahoma DE Jeremy Beal
24. Kansas S Darrell Stuckey
25. Texas Tech RB Baron Batch
26. Kansas WR-QB Kerry Meier
27. Texas T Adam Ulatoski
28. Oklahoma State S Andre Sexton
29. Missouri G Kurtis Gregory
30. Missouri RB Derrick Washington
31. Texas Tech LB Brian Duncan
32. Texas S Earl Thomas
33. Kansas State WR Brandon Banks
34. Oklahoma LB Keenan Clayton
35. Baylor S Jordan Lake
36. Oklahoma State CB/KR Perrish Cox
37. Texas C Chris Hall
38. Texas Tech DE/DT McKinner Dixon
39. Kansas State DE Brandon Harold
40. Oklahoma FB Matt Clapp

Tim's mailbag: Big 12's most underrated assistants considered

March, 13, 2009
3/13/09
5:03
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here's a representative batch of letters and e-mails I got this week.

Steve Delaney from Wichita, Kan., writes: Hey, Tim, we always hear about Will Muschamp or Brent Venables as the top coordinators in college football. Do you have a Big 12 coordinator who you consider to be among the underrated gems in the country?

Tim Griffin: That's a great question. I think the best example of a coordinator who doesn't get the kind of national respect he probably deserves is Shawn Watson of Nebraska. He did a good job of orchestrating Colorado's offenses in the Gary Barnett era with a variety of journeyman quarterbacks like Robert Hodge and Bobby Pesavento. And he appeared to do the same thing with the Cornhuskers with Joe Ganz last season. It will be interesting how he handles the Cornhuskers' presumed lack of quarterbacking depth and proven production this season.

I also think Greg Davis at Texas does a consistently outstanding job for the Longhorns. I know it's been fashionable for many of the message board fans to knock him over the years. But look at the improvement and the change in Colt McCoy's game over the last several years to indicate how good Davis really is as an offensive coach.


Nick from Hastings, Neb., writes: What have you heard about the Cornhuskers' pro day? I'm kind of interested to know how Joe Ganz did considering he wasn't invited to the combine or any postseason all- star games.

Tim Griffin: The most notable news that came out of Nebraska's pro day were the shots that Ganz took at Patrick Witt, who announced last month he was leaving school.

But as far as on-the-field performance, Lydon Murtha again had good workouts, even though he only went through positional drills. The scouts I talked to love his combination of speed and size and expect him to be an underrated pick.

Matt Slauson had a nice time in the 40-yard dash, but lost some ground when he strained his pectoral muscle during his bench press.

Marlon Lucky had a fast initial 40-yard time, although he pulled a muscle on the second one.

And Ganz took the battery of tests for the assembled pro scouts. I think it's going to be interesting to see where he goes.

I know his measurable (height, weight and speed) don't measure with some of the other top available quarterbacks. But the leadership he showed with the Nebraska program -- best exhibited in his gutty performance against Clemson in the Gator Bowl -- were impressive to me. It will be interesting to see if an NFL team takes a chance on him with a draft pick , although I'm hearing it's more likely he'll end up being a free agent.


Steve Landis from Kansas City writes: Tim, I was interested in your recent study about homecourt advantage. Why do you think Oklahoma has been so strong at home over the years under Bob Stoops?

Tim Griffin: I know the Sooners haven't lost a home game since 2001. And they consistently have played better, with a better record, than any other Big 12 team. Probably the best reason is because they always seem to have some of the conference's very best players.

But here's an underrated reason why I think that Texas' and Oklahoma's home Big 12 records always seem better than everybody else's.

Namely, the Sooners never have to play Texas in Norman and the Longhorns don't face Oklahoma in Austin. I'm not saying that those teams would regularly win on their opponents' home fields. But I still think they would be the toughest Big 12 challenger on a consistent basis and both likely would have won there over the years.

So I'm wonder how much you can quantify Oklahoma's and Texas' home records with the fact that Texas never travels to Normal or Oklahoma to Austin. It's something I think needs to be considered when you look at extending winning streaks for both the Sooners and Longhorns.


Bobby from Fort Worth writes: Tim, do you see Oklahoma and Texas playing to see who represents the Big 12 in the national championship game? I don't see anyone beating either one of these teams. The only thing I'm worried about is if Florida and USC can run the table and get to the championship game if Oklahoma or Texas runs the table.

Tim Griffin: Bobby, I think the Sooners and Longhorns have the best chance to represent the Big 12 in a national title game. Oklahoma State obviously has a better collection of talent coming back and a favorable schedule. But I still don't know if the Cowboys have the defensive depth to contend with the Sooners and Longhorns.

As to your concerns about the Big 12 being left out if there were a multiteam logjam with undefeated teams, here's a little nugget to remember: A Big 12 team with an undefeated regular-season record has always ended up playing for the national championship in the BCS era. And I don't see that ending as long as the Big 12 South is as strong as it appears to be. I think the South's strength should catapult an undefeated winner into a BCS title game.


Stevie U. from Galveston, Texas, writes: Tim, an old Jayhawker, here. What do you think of Kansas' chances of finally bringing home a Big 12 North title after what you've seen in practice so far.

Tim Griffin: Steve, I haven't seen much, but I have kept up with the Jayhawks from afar. Everybody is questioning their linebackers after the departure of James Holt, Joe Mortensen and Mike Rivera from last year. And I think that remains a legitimate concern, particularly in a conference where offenses will be as predominant as the Big 12.

But I'm also a little taken aback at the move of starting left tackle Jeremiah Hatch to center and the apparent insertion of converted defensive end Tanner Hawkinson into the mix at left tackle.

I know that Kansas coach Mark Mangino has been among the most successful in plugging holes in the starting lineup with players from other positions.

But I still consider left tackle kind of a sacred spot. Whoever emerges there will be protecting quarterback Todd Reesing's blind spot. And Reesing will remain only an unblocked blitz away from a serious injury. So it will be interesting to see who finally emerges there. I think the development of the Kansas offensive line will be the Jayhawks' biggest offensive question heading into the season.


T. B. from Houston writes: Tim, you've criticized the Big 12's fifth tiebreaker for three-way ties a couple times recently. But each time you criticize it, you offer no alternative. Do you have any ideas regarding what may be a better system?

Tim Griffin: I like the SEC rule where a three-way tie is settled by taking the two highest-ranked teams in the BCS poll and then determining a winner by head-to-head results. I think this provides a fairer way to determine the winner. And it also gives the conference a shot at having its top team in terms of BCS with at least a head-to-head chance of playing for a national championship.

I know I've heard some Big 12 officials saying that it is very important to get the team with the highest BCS ranking to move forward. That might be true, but at least in a multiteam tie, the SEC's rule would provide some type of mechanism for a t
eam that might have beaten that team with the highest ranking to receive some credit for it.

But I'm guessing we won't have a three-way divisional tie like we had last season in the South for a long time.

And for that, I bet Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe would be greatly relieved.

Thanks again for all of the correspondence and keep them coming. I'll be glad to answer any and all questions.

Don't always believe those heights and weights

February, 24, 2009
2/24/09
6:14
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

When I was a little kid, one element among my favorites of going to a football game was collecting a game program. I loved nothing better than to scan rosters and check the heights and weights of players as I looked at them through my father's binoculars.

It led me to collecting many programs that probably still are around my parents' house somewhere. I guess I just wanted to add to the clutter of my bedroom.

If I had known then what I know now, I might not have been so diligent about all of the effort. Little boys don't know those heights and weights for their football heroes aren't always correct.

The best way to analyze the discrepancy is by comparing the heights and weights of some of the Big 12 players who attended the recent NFL combine and compare them with what they were listed at during their college careers.

The before is their listed height and weight during last season. The after is what they were measured over the weekend by the NFL.

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Forty-one Big 12 players invited to NFL Combine

February, 2, 2009
2/02/09
2:41
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Here's the official list of 41 Big 12 players who have been invited to the NFL combine Feb. 18 through Feb. 24 in Indianapolis.

Oklahoma led all Big 12 teams with eight players invited to the combine, followed by Texas, Missouri and Nebraska with six players each and Texas Tech with five players.

All Big 12 schools were represented with the exception of Colorado, Iowa State and Kansas.

All players are expected to attend with the exception of Texas wide receiver Jordan Shipley, who was granted an extra season of eligibility and will remain in college. Shipley recently underwent shoulder surgery and will not be able to participate when spring practice begins for the Longhorns later this week.

NFL officials have calculated that players invited to the NFL combine typically are drafted 64 percent of the time. So these players would appear to have the best chance of being picked among eligible players from the Big 12.

Here's a list of invited players listed by their schools.

Baylor: T Dan Gay, T Jason Smith.

Colorado: None.

Iowa State: None.

Kansas: None.

Kansas State: QB Josh Freeman, DE-LB Ian Campbell.

Missouri: TE Chase Coffman, QB Chase Daniel, DT Ziggy Hood, WR-KR Jeremy Maclin, S William Moore, DE Stryker Sulak.

Nebraska: LB Cody Glenn, RB Marlon Lucky, T Lydon Murtha, DE Zach Potter, G Matt Slauson, WR Nathan Swift.

Oklahoma: C Jon Cooper, S Nic Harris, S Lendy Holmes, WR Juaquan Iglesias, WR Manuel Johnson, T Phil Loadholt, G Duke Robinson, G Brandon Walker.

Oklahoma State: P Matt Fodge, TE Brandon Pettigrew.

Texas: WR Quan Cosby, DT Roy Miller, RB Chris Ogbonnaya, DE Brian Orakpo, CB Ryan Palmer, WR Jordan Shipley.*

Texas A&M: DE Michael Bennett, P Justin Brantly, RB Michael Goodson, QB Stephen McGee.

Texas Tech: WR Michael Crabtree, QB Graham Harrell, S Darcel McBath, G Louis Vasquez, DE Brandon Williams.

*  Note: Shipley has elected to stay for a sixth season of eligibility with Texas. He will be available for the 2010 draft.

Big 12 links: New KSU president can help find athletic director

January, 28, 2009
1/28/09
1:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Some interesting topics popped up across the conference this morning. Feel free to digest them with your lunches this afternoon.

  • Austin Meek and Kevin Haskin of the Topeka Capital Journal report that outgoing Kansas State president Jon Wefald said he would be willing to provide the university's next president a head start at picking the school's new athletic director.
  • Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops told the Tulsa World's Dave Sittler he "likes the quarterbacks we have," in regards to reports linking the Sooners with former Miami quarterback Robert Marve.
  • The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel proposes giving players a chance to return to school after they are selected in the NFL draft if they don't sign with an agent or a pro franchise.
  • Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports on the tumultuous year of Kansas State athletic director Bob Krause, who was re-assigned Tuesday to a new role at the school's Olathe campus.
  • Lincoln Journal-Star columnist Steve Sipple reports that six former Nebraska players -- Matt Slauson, Nate Swift, Lydon Murtha, Marlon Lucky, Zach Potter and Cody Glenn -- have received invitations to the NFL Scouting Combine next month in Indianapolis.
  • Boulder Camera beat writer Kyle Ringo remembers the playing career of former Colorado quarterback Bernard Jackson, who was sentenced to more than five years in prison last week along with former teammate Lionel Harris last week.

Big 12 links: Bradford never serious about NFL, his dad says

January, 20, 2009
1/20/09
1:34
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Try reading these links wearing a tuxedo. It will almost make you feel like you're present at the inaugural ball tonight.

  • Sam Bradford's dad, Kent, tells the Kansas City Star's Blair Kerkhoff that his son was never close to leaving college football for the NFL.
  • Incoming freshmen wide receiver recruits Erick McGriff and Chris Omigie provide much-needed size to Kansas' wide receiving corps, the Daily Kansan's Stephen Montemayor writes.
  • The Lincoln Journal-Star's Steve Sipple caught up with former Nebraska I-back Marlon Lucky to talk about his big performance in Saturday's East-West Shrine game.
  • Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes that Miami defensive coordinator Bill Young could double his salary if he accepts the reported $700,000 per year deal that Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy is offering him to join the Cowboys as defensive coordinator. And the Daily Oklahoman's Scott Wright reports that Young "is torn" by the Oklahoma State offer, considering his wife is from Oklahoma and he is a graduate of the school.
  • Dave Krieger of the Rocky Mountain News imagines what could have been if Texas and USC had met in a championship game to cap a meaningful college football playoff system.
  • Tom Dienhart of Rivals.com lists former Kansas State head coach Ron Prince and former San Diego State coach and one-time Oklahoma offensive coordinator Chuck Long in the mix for Miami's vacant offensive coordinator position. 

Marlon Lucky has a unique take on Chase Daniel

January, 20, 2009
1/20/09
9:51
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The Lincoln Journal-Star's Steve Sipple had an interesting anecdote this morning on his blog about the interaction between Nebraska I-back Marlon Lucky and Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel at the East-West Shrine Game last week.

Daniel complained that he was spat upon by Nebraska players before the Tigers' 52-17 victory in Lincoln that has become known as "Loogiegate" by Missouri writers. Daniel also complained after the game that the Cornhuskers were the dirtiest team he had ever played.

Lucky and Daniel apparently forgot about those early disagreements when they were teammates, Sipple wrote.

"He's a pretty good dude," Lucky told the Journal-Star. "He's a real leader. He's not cocky, just a good leader."

But Lucky said that some aspects of Daniel's game might not translate well into the NFL because of his college development with the Tigers.

"He's not used to being under center, I can tell you that," Lucky said. "He was struggling under center with the handoffs and all that stuff. But when he got into the shotgun, he ran everything well."

Daniel struggled with a tough performance in the East-West Shrine game, completing only 2 of 9 passes for 1 yard before he was replaced by Michigan State's Brian Hoyer.

Nebraska RB Lucky has big East-West Shrine Game

January, 19, 2009
1/19/09
6:22
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Nebraska running back Marlon Lucky showed something to pro scouts with a big performance in Saturday's East-West Shrine Game in Houston.

Lucky, who finished the season as the Cornhuskers' No. 3 I-back behind Roy Helu Jr. and Quentin Castille, rushed for a game-high 68 yards and a touchdown to earn Most Valuable Player honors in the East's 24-19 victory over the West on Saturday afternoon.

"It was a big one for me," Lucky told the Associated Press. "I didn't have a strong year and to just come out and play my game and show what I can do, I seized the opportunity. Now it's back to training."

Some Big 12 players had better outings than others. Texas A&M quarterback Stephen McGee passed for 128 yards, including a 35-yard TD strike to Rice wide receiver Jarett Dillard, and rushed for four yards on three carries.

Mammoth 295-pound Texas A&M running back Jorvorskie Lane, who set a school record with 49 rushing touchdowns, was stopped three times inside the East's 5-yard on unsuccessful attempts to score. Lane produced six yards on four carries and added three receptions for 13 yards.

Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel struggled through a difficult performance for the East, completing 2 of 9 passes for 1 yards, with a long pass of 4 yards.

And Ray Guy award winner Matt Fodge of Oklahoma State had an inconsistent game, averaging 32.8 yards per kick on four punts. Fodge's longest punt was 67 yards, but he also shanked kicks of 28 and 5 yards.

Here's a look at some of the numbers for other Big 12 players in Saturday's game.

  • Missouri defensive end Stryker Sulak (East): Three tackles (one solo), one pass deflection, .5 of a tackle for a loss.
  • Texas defensive tackle Roy Miller (West): Tied for team-high honors with six tackles and four solo stops. Also added a team-high tackle for a loss.
  • Oklahoma defensive back Lendy Holmes (West): One solo tackle, three total tackles.
  • Texas cornerback Ryan Palmer (West): Two tackles.
  • Texas A&M defensive end Michael Bennett (West): One assist, one quarterback hurry.

Big 12 players will be big part of Shrine East-West game

January, 16, 2009
1/16/09
3:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

All right, admit it. You are going through college football withdrawal after seven days without a game.

If you are really missing college football, check out the Shrine East-West Shrine Game at 4 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2 from Houston's Robertson Stadium.

The Big 12 will be heavily represented. Below is a list of players and their uniform numbers if you want to give them a look on Saturday. You can find the rest of the roster on the Shrine Game web site.

East: Missouri QB Chase Daniel (No. 10), Nebraska RB Marlon Lucky (No. 20), Missouri DE Stryker Sulak (No. 38), Nebraska OL Matt Slauson (No. 75), Nebraska LS T.J. O'Leary (No. 82),

West: Oklahoma WR Manuel Johnson (No. 1), Texas DB Ryan Palmer (No. 2), Texas Tech DB Darcel McBath (No. 3), Texas A&M RB Jorvorskie Lane (No. 11), Texas A&M QB Stephen McGee (No. 12), Oklahoma State P Matt Fodge (No. 17), Oklahoma DB Lendy Holmes (No. 22), Oklahoma C Jon Cooper (No. 50), Texas Tech OL Louis Vasquez (No. 66), Baylor OL Dan Gay (No. 71), Texas OL Cedric Dockery (No. 73), Texas A&M DE Michael Bennett (No. 92), Texas DT Roy Miller (No. 98),

Plucky Ganz leads Nebraska comeback

January, 1, 2009
1/01/09
5:54
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Joe Ganz and Nebraska showed a lot of grit and determination Thursday, storming back from early misfortune to cap the season with triumph.

 
 Marvin Gentry/US Presswire
 Joe Ganz overcame injuries to direct Nebraska's final scoring drive.

Ganz overcame a shaky start to direct Nebraska to a 26-21 victory over Clemson in the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl.

The biggest reason was Ganz, who shook off a gimpy knee in the first half to throw two touchdowns and help Nebraska reclaim the lead in the third quarter. Earlier, Ganz's botched option pitch was returned for a Clemson touchdown and his interception late in first half led to another Tigers score.

But Ganz saved his biggest comeback for last after he appeared to be dazed by another hit early in the fourth quarter.

After sitting on the bench for several minutes, Ganz coolly returned to the game and directed Nebraska's final scoring drive, culminated by Alex Henery's fourth field goal.

Nebraska's defenders did the rest, playing like they deserved the Blackshirts that coach Bo Pelini gave them midway through the season to signify their emergence as a unit.

A punishing Nebraska defensive front dominated the game throughout, notching four sacks and harassing Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper from the opening snap. Nose tackle Ndamukong Suh produced two sacks and blocked a field goal and defensive tackle Ty Steinkuhler produced another sack.

The Tigers were presumed to have the advantage in speed and athleticism, but Nebraska limited them to 90 total yards in the second half and shackled Clemson's vaunted running combo of James Davis and C.J. Spiller. The Tigers also converted only 3 of 16 third-down plays, misfiring on nine straight third-down conversions at one point in the second half.

The biggest series came after Clemson had marched to the Nebraska 10-yard line with less than 2 minutes remaining. Nebraska twice gambled on cornerback blitzes by sophomore Eric Hagg, leading to an incompletion and a pivotal 16-yard sack on second down.

Two incompletions later, the Cornhuskers were jubilant and dancing after Pelini had wrapped up his second bowl victory in two tries.

The late defensive stand was clearly the shining moment for the Big 12 so far in the bowl season. It might not change many attitudes about the conference's overall defensive prowess, but was still good enough to lead to the Nebraska triumph.

The Cornhuskers (9-4) finished the season with a four-game winning streak and won six of their final seven games. They should finish the season ranked in the Top 25 and will likely enter the 2009 season as a preseason favorite in the Big 12 North.

After Marlon Lucky and Roy Helu Jr. struggled early, backup I-back Quentin Castille stepped up to provide rushing consistency that helped wrap up the victory. Castille finished with a game-high 125 rushing yards, including a key 58-yard rumble early in the third quarter.

In the process the Cornhuskers continued a tradition of comebacks in bowl games. It was the seventh time Nebraska has overcome a halftime deficit to win a bowl game. The Cornhuskers' 11-point halftime deficit was the largest the team has ever overcome in the school's 45-game bowl history.

Lucky second-guesses his decision to return

December, 9, 2008
12/09/08
10:26
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

There's a cautionary tale in this morning's Lincoln Journal-Star for players like Michael Crabtree and Sam Bradford who are considering the merits of declaring for the NFL draft against returning to school for another year.

Nebraska I-back Marlon Lucky was considered a fourth- or fifth-round prospect for the 2008 NFL draft. But instead of declaring, he decided to return for his senior season.

Lucky still needs 24 hours to receive his degree in sociology, but he's headed in the right direction.

The same can't be said about his football career. He might be lucky to be drafted as high this season.

After totaling 1,724 yards of total offense under former coach Bill Callahan in 2007, Lucky has produced 792 total yards this season -- 517 rushing, 275 receiving.

And his receiving numbers have dropped from a school-record 75 receptions to only 22 this season as Roy Helu Jr. has emerged as the Cornhuskers' featured backfield threat late this season.

Lucky told the Journal-Star that he's struggled with his decision at times this season.

"I don't know what to say. Last year's gone," Lucky said. "I probably would've left, but I can't say."

If his decision had been based solely on football, Lucky said he likely would have left.

But family members convinced him to come back for another college season.

"I gave it a lot of thought," Lucky said, "and chose this route."

That should make others stop and think before deciding on returning to college for another season.

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