Bo Pelini's first season as Nebraska coach ends with a victory and optimism about the future; two things that have been in short supply with the Cornhuskers in recent years.
Joe Ganz threw for two touchdowns, Alex Henery kicked four field goals to lead Nebraska to a 26-21 victory over Clemson in the Gator Bowl.
After finishing 5-7 last season, missing the postseason and firing coach Bill Callahan, the Huskers (8-4) won five of six down the stretch under first-year coach Bo Pelini, beat rival Colorado and returned to New Year's Day play for just the fourth time in 11 years.
"We had a long way to go when we first got together," said Pelini, a defensive coordinator the previous six years at Nebraska (2003), Oklahoma (2004) and LSU (2005-07).
Dabo Swinney was made Clemson's interim head coach October 13th when Tommy Bowden stepped down in his 10th season. "Back on October 13th we would have been happy to be playing in the Hormel Sardines Bowl," said Swinney. "We would have gone anywhere and we would have walked to get there."
The Tigers won four of their final five to finish 7-5. Swinney picked up the pieces.
"When we were sitting there at 3-3 and things weren't really going our way, I don't think any of us would ever believe we would be able to turn it around and make it to the Gator Bowl," said quarterback Cullen Harper. "We turned the season around. Now, we have an opportunity to finish strong. That's all you can ask for."
The matchup between Nebraska's offense and Clemson's defense was key. The Cornhuskers averaged 458 yards and 36 points this season and showed one of the most balanced attacks in the Big 12. They ranked 12th in the country in total offense.
The Tigers allowed 295 yards and 17 points in the Atlantic Coast Conference and ranked 17th in the nation in total defense and 10th in scoring defense.
The teams last played 27 years ago in the Orange Bowl when QB Homer Jordan and a stifling defense led the Tigers to their only national championship.
Preparation for this game hit some rough patches for Nebraska, which had $14,000 worth of computer equipment stolen from a conference room in their hotel Sunday. "My computer didn't get stolen," Pelini said. "It hasn't affected us. We'll be fine."
The father of Bo Pelini and defensive coordinator Carl Pelini died last week in Ohio at age 85 after an extended illness. His sons would like to cap the team's turnaround with a tribute.
"It means a lot to me," said Bo. "I'll just leave it at that. But that's not my number one motivation. My number one motivation is these young men. I'm in this profession not for me, not for what it does for me personally or our staff or our families. I'm in it for what it does for these kids."
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