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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.