Huskers Hold On

JACKSONVILLE - Nebraska rallied from an 11-point halftime deficit to beat Clemson, 26-21. Stay tuned to CUTigers.com, live from the Gator Bowl.

As Cullen Harper's third down pass to C.J. Spiller started to head toward the Nebraska end zone late in the fourth quarter of the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl Thursday, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was already dreaming about getting that congratulatory handshake from Nebraska's Bo Pelini.

But Nebraska free safety Matt O'Hanlon had other ideas.

As it appeared Spiller was hauling in a game-winning touchdown with 1:37 to play, Hanlon somehow got enough on the football to knock it out of Spiller's hands where he hit the ground desperately reaching for the ball. It turned out to be the last big play the Cornhuskers needed in a 26-21 victory.

"I thought it was a touchdown," Swinney said. "I thought it was game over. I already had visions of going over and shaking coach Pelini's hands and going back to Clemson."

Spiller thought it was a touchdown too, but in the end he acknowledged the play O'Hanlon was able to make when the game was on the line.

"Their defender did a great job of putting his hand on it," the junior said. "It probably came from a lack of concentration, too. The ball just didn't bounce our way."

Concentration, or the lack there off, seemed to be the Tigers (7-6) problem all afternoon. Clemson squandered good scoring opportunities in the first half when the offense shot itself in the foot with poor execution, costly penalties and turnovers, while the defense let two miss tackles spring long second half runs by Quentin Castille that led to 10 Nebraska points.

Nebraska also blocked a Mark Buchholz' 20-yard field goal try in the second quarter.

"It hurts to lose a game like this because we were so close," said Clemson linebacker DeAndre McDaniel, who scored Clemson's first touchdown on a fumble return. "But you have to give Nebraska credit. They got it done when they had to and held on at the end."

After Nebraska's Alex Henrey made his fourth field of the afternoon to give his team a 26-21 lead with 5:20 to play, the Tigers appeared headed towards a game-winning score when Harper hit wide receiver Jacoby Ford for 17 yards on a fourth-and-four play with 2:26 to play.

"It hurts to lose a game like this because we were so close," said Clemson linebacker DeAndre McDaniel, who scored Clemson's first touchdown on a fumble return. "But you have to give Nebraska credit. They got it done when they had to and held on at the end."
On the next play, Harper hit Aaron Kelly near the sideline for 17 more yards, giving Clemson a first-and-goal at the Nebraska 10.

"There were several opportunities for us, especially at the end, but you have give Nebraska credit, they made the plays," Swinney said.

The biggest play was Spiller's drop.

"I made that play in my sleep," Spiller said. "We ran that play so many times in practice. I knew we would have a good match up, and I just didn't make the big play that we needed and I didn't come through for the team."

But maybe the game should have never come down to that one play late in the game in the first place. The Tigers led by scores of 14-3 at the break and 21-10 in the third quarter, but still the Huskers (9-4) found a way to rally.

After Harper hit Jacoby Ford for a 41-yard touchdown pass with 10:06 to play in the third quarter to give Clemson its 21-10 lead, Castille came back with a 58-yard jaunt up the middle on the very next offensive play.

"It was a missed tackle," Clemson safety Michael Hamlin said. "Someone had him locked up in the backfield and he just broke loose."

Nebraska quarterback, and Gator Bowl MVP, Joe Ganz then broke loose for his second touchdown pass to Todd Peterson for a 19-yard score on third down-and-long.

"I was disappointed in the two quick touchdowns we gave up to begin the second half, especially the second one," Swinney said. "We had just scored on a big play to go back up 11 points, but then they went right back down and scored. I was disappointed in that."

Swinney was also disappointed in his offense and special teams, which gave the football up to Nebraska on back-to-back drives inside their own 30. Harper had a pass picked off after it deflected off of Ford's chest, and punter Jimmy Maners' punt on the next possession was partially blocked. Both misuses led to Henry field goals and gave Nebraska a 23-21 lead going into the fourth quarter.

"The difference in winning and losing is just four or five plays," Swinney said.

It looked like those plays were going to be on Clemson's side in the second quarter when McDaniel caused a fumble and then picked up the loose ball for a 28-yard score and cornerback Crezdon Butler had a 63-yard interception return that setup Kelly's 25-yard scoring reception just before the half. The Tigers led 14-3 at halftime.

"I'm extremely disappointed and frustrated that we did not win," Swinney said. "You come down here to win and I'm proud of the kids, they competed to the last play and handled themselves with class.

"We just didn't quite perform well enough to win."

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