Missed Opportunities Doom Tigers in Gator Bowl


by - Senior Writer -
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Jacoby Ford had 5 catches for 112 yards and one touchdown.

JACKSONVILLE - This was not what new head coach Dabo Swinney envisioned for his Clemson Tigers on New Year's Day.

A blocked punt, a blocked field goal, missed opportunities early, two interceptions and five sacks all contributed a blown 11-point second half as the Nebraska Cornhuskers (9-4) ruined Swinney's head coaching bowl debut with a 26-21 win over the Tigers (7-6) in Thursday's Konica Minolta Gator Bowl.

"We had a lot of momentum at halftime and just could not sustain the momentum in the second half," Swinney said. "We played well enough to win it, it's as simple as that. We had plenty of opportunities to get it done, but you have to give them a lot of credit. Offensively, we just missed way too mann opportunities."

Despite the missed chances, the Tigers had a chance to win it late in the game, converting a huge fourth down at midfield with 2:43 remaining, then getting a first-and-goal with just over two minutes on the clock, but quarterback Cullen Harper took a 16-yard sack on second down, a third down pass to C.J. Spiller in the end zone was just missed, and a fourth down pass fell incomplete to give the Huskers the win.

"I am sure it was a good football game to watch," Swinney said. "It is a game of inches, but I am really proud of this football team. This is not the finish that we wanted, but all year long this team has fought to the very end, and we had a chance those last two plays to win, we just did not get it done."

The Tigers had opportunities early in the game, winning the field position battle over the Cornhuskers, but failed on a fourth down conversion attempt in the first quarter and had a Mark Buckholz field goal attempt blocked in the second, and the game was scoreless deep into the second quarter.

With Nebraska on offense in their territory, Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz ran an option play, attempting to pitch to Quentin Castille, but the Tigers' Andre McDaniel read the play beautifully, tipped the ball in mid-pitch, picked it up on the first bounce and beat Castille into the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Clemson lead with just under five minutes remaining.

"We were practicing that play all week," McDaniel said after the game. "We knew they ran the option and the zone read, so we were prepared for it. When I saw him about to pitch it, I just reached my hand out there and tried to make a play. I was in the right place to make a play. Our coaches had us prepared. Once I picked the ball up I knew that I could score. That was the first touchdown for me since high school so that was pretty special."

Nebraska finally cracked the scoreboard late in the half, driving into Clemson territory and getting a 48-yard field from Alex Henery at the 1:10 mark.

The ensuing kickoff had the Tigers at their own 20-yard line, but Cullen Harper's first down pass was tipped at the line by Nebraska's Ty Steinkuhler and intercepted by Anthony West, but Ganz' first pass was intercepted by Crezdon Butler and returned 63 yards to the Nebraska 13-yard line.

Harper was sacked on the first play for a loss, but after a timeout, Harper hit senior receiver Aaron Kelly in the left corner of the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown with 35 seconds remaining in the half, and Clemson led 14-3 at the break.

Nebraska took the opening possession of the second half and scored their first touchdown of the game, trimming the Clemson advantage to 14-10. The score came on a 25-yard strike into the left corner from Ganz to Nate Swift, who the official said managed to get a foot down before being driven out of bounds.

The Tigers were forced to punt on their ensuing possession, but Chad Diehl recovered a Nebraska fumble on the play. Two plays later, Harper hit Ford, who ran a skinny post, on a perfect floater behind the Nebraska secondary for a 41-yard touchdown play and a 21-10 Clemson lead.

Nebraska's first play from scrimmage after the Ford touchdown, was a 58-yard run by Castille, setting them up at the Clemson 17-yard line, and two plays later Ganz hit Todd Peterson on a 19-yard touchdown pass, making it 21-17 Tigers with 7:54 left in the third quarter.

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

Two plays later, a Harper pass bounced off Ford and high into the air, where it was intercepted by the Huskers, giving them first and goal inside the Clemson 10-yard line. The Tiger defense held the Huskers to a 28-yard field goal by Henery, and Clemson led 21-20 with 5:13 left in the third quarter.

A blocked punt by Nebraska once again gave the Huskers possession deep in Tiger territory, continuing a trend that saw the Tigers make miscues deep in their own territory, and once again the Tigers held, but Henery nailed a 28-yard field goal to give Nebraska it's first lead at 23-21 with 1:40 remaining the quarter.

The Huskers added another Henery field goal, while the Tigers were unable to mount a threat until their last drive, which started at their own 23-yard line with 5:13 remaining in the game. Harper and Kelly connected on a key third down conversion, then Harper hit Ford on a fourth-and-four for 16 yards to the Nebraska 27-yard line. Harper then hit Kelly to the 10 yard line, but was sacked two plays later.

On third-and-goal from the 26, Spiller ran down the seam, Harper put the ball on target, but Spiller was unable to hang on for the win. On fourth down, Harper's quick pass to Ford fell incomplete as the Husker faithful began to celebrate.

"I was very close," Spiller said of the third down play. "I make that play a hundred times. The defender just did a great job of coming over and putting a hand on it and knocking it away. I had it in my hands, but the guy just came over the top and made a play. I can make that play in my sleep, we run it some many times. I just didn't make the big play we needed; I didn't come through for the team."

Clemson freshman defensive end Da'Quan Bowers was named the Clemson MVP, tallying 4.5 tackles, including three for loss, and also kept consistent pressure on Ganz all day.

"Our coaches had a great game plan for us today, "Bowers said. "I was able to make some plays in there, but we came up short as a team and that is all that matters. You have to give Nebraska credit. They made plays in the second half when they needed to.

"I feel like I have learned a lot from the first game until now. I know I have a ways to go before I'm performing at the level I know I can. This off-season will be different, because I feel like I know what to expect. Our team is going to work hard to be better next season. That will start next week."


NOTES:

*The field goal block suffered by kicker Mark Buckholz ended a streak of 141 consecutive kicks without a block by Buckholz.

*The fumble return by McDaniel for the touchdown was the first time Clemson had positive return yards on a fumble this season.

*Prior to the McDaniel's huge play, the last time a fumble was returned for a touchdown in the Gator Bowl was in 1989, when Clemson freshman Chester McGlockton knocked the ball loose from West Virginia quarterback Major Harris and fell on it in the end zone for a 24-7 Clemson lead.

*The last time the Tigers returned a fumble for a touchdown was the famous play by former Tiger lineman Gaines Adams, who managed the feat back on Oct. 7, 2006 at Wake Forest.

*Aaron Kelly's second quarter touchdown reception made him the Clemson career receiving yardage leader, ahead of the 2681 by Terry Smith, who played from 1990-93.

*James Davis and Michael Hamlin both started their 43rd career games for Clemson today and established records in the process. Davis broke the record for games started by a running back with his 43rd start today. He and Raymond Priester held the previous record with 42. Hamlin broke the record for career starts by a defensive back. He and James Lott had started 42 prior to today.


TEAM STATISTICS                          CU          OPP
 --------------------------------------------------------
 SCORING.......................           21           26
   Points Per Game.............         21.0         26.0
 FIRST DOWNS...................           14           14
   Rushing.....................            2            3
   Passing.....................            7           11
   Penalty.....................            5            0
 RUSHING YARDAGE...............            4          125
   Yards gained rushing........           58          164
   Yards lost rushing..........           54           39
   Rushing Attempts............           26           35
   Average Per Rush............          0.2          3.6
   Average Per Game............          4.0        125.0
   TDs Rushing.................            0            0
 PASSING YARDAGE...............          206          236
   Att-Comp-Int................      37-17-2      36-19-1
   Average Per Pass............          5.6          6.6
   Average Per Catch...........         12.1         12.4
   Average Per Game............        206.0        236.0
   TDs Passing.................            2            2
 TOTAL OFFENSE.................          210          361
   Total Plays.................           63           71
   Average Per Play............          3.3          5.1
   Average Per Game............        210.0        361.0
 KICKOFF RETURNS: #-YARDS......         4-97         4-89
 PUNT RETURNS: #-YARDS.........         6-81         6-33
 INT RETURNS: #-YARDS..........         1-63          2-0
 KICKOFF RETURN AVERAGE........         24.3         22.3
 PUNT RETURN AVERAGE...........         13.5          5.5
 INT RETURN AVERAGE............         63.0          0.0
 FUMBLES-LOST..................          1-0          3-2
 PENALTIES-YARDS...............         7-50         8-81
   Average Per Game............         50.0         81.0
 PUNTS-YARDS...................        9-333        7-270
   Average Per Punt............         37.0         38.6
   Net punt average............         33.3         27.0
 TIME OF POSSESSION/GAME.......        25:49        34:11
 3RD-DOWN CONVERSIONS..........         3/16         7/19
   3rd-Down Pct................          19%          37%
 4TH-DOWN CONVERSIONS..........          1/3          0/0
   4th-Down Pct................          33%           0%
 SACKS BY-YARDS................          0-0         5-44
 MISC YARDS....................           28            0
 TOUCHDOWNS SCORED.............            3            2
 FIELD GOALS-ATTEMPTS..........          0-1          4-4
 PAT KICKS-ATTEMPTS............          3-3          2-2
 ATTENDANCE....................            0            0
   Games/Avg Per Game..........          0/0          0/0
 
 BY QUARTER    1st  2nd  3rd  4th    Total
 ------------  ---  ---  ---  ---      ---
 Team........    0   14    7    0  -    21
 Opponents...    0    3   20    3  -    26


Overall Individual Statistics 

                           

 RUSHING           G  Att Gain Loss  Net   Avg  TD Long Avg/G
 ------------------------------------------------------------
 Davis, J          1   12   36   10   26   2.2   0   12  26.0
 Spiller, C        1    7   17    0   17   2.4   0   10  17.0
 Ford, J           1    1    3    0    3   3.0   0    3   3.0
 Harper, C         1    6    2   44  -42  -7.0   0    2 -42.0
 Total..........   1   26   58   54    4   0.2   0   12   4.0
 Opponents......   1   35  164   39  125   3.6   0   58 125.0
 
 PASSING           G   Effic Att-Cmp-Int   Pct  Yds  TD Lng Avg/G
 ----------------------------------------------------------------
 Harper, C         1   99.74   37-17-2    45.9  206   2  46 206.0
 Total..........   1   99.74   37-17-2    45.9  206   2  46 206.0
 Opponents......   1  120.62   36-19-1    52.8  236   2  36 236.0
 
 RECEIVING         G  No.  Yds   Avg  TD Long Avg/G
 --------------------------------------------------
 Kelly, A          1    6   74  12.3   1   25  74.0
 Ford, J           1    5  112  22.4   1   46 112.0
 Spiller, C        1    4    6   1.5   0    9   6.0
 Faerber, N        1    1    8   8.0   0    8   8.0
 Grisham, T        1    1    6   6.0   0    6   6.0
 Total..........   1   17  206  12.1   2   46 206.0
 Opponents......   1   19  236  12.4   2   36 236.0
 
 PUNT RETURNS     No.  Yds   Avg TD Long
 ---------------------------------------
 Spiller, C         4   62  15.5  0   33
 Ford, J            2   19   9.5  0   20
 Total..........    6   81  13.5  0   33
 Opponents......    6   33   5.5  0   12
 
 INTERCEPTIONS    No.  Yds   Avg TD Long
 ---------------------------------------
 Butler, C          1   63  63.0  0   63
 Total..........    1   63  63.0  0   63
 Opponents......    2    0   0.0  0    0
 
 KICK RETURNS     No.  Yds   Avg TD Long
 ---------------------------------------
 Spiller, C         4   97  24.3  0   33
 Total..........    4   97  24.3  0   33
 Opponents......    4   89  22.3  0   31
 
 FUMBLE RETURNS   No.  Yds   Avg TD Long
 ---------------------------------------
 McDaniel, D        1   28  28.0  1   28
 Total..........    1   28  28.0  1   28
 Opponents......    0    0   0.0  0    0
                           

 
 TOTAL OFFENSE    G Plays Rush Pass Total Avg/G
 ----------------------------------------------
 Harper, C        1    43  -42  206   164 164.0
 Davis, J         1    12   26    0    26  26.0
 Spiller, C       1     7   17    0    17  17.0
 Ford, J          1     1    3    0     3   3.0
 Total..........  1    63    4  206   210 210.0
 Opponents......  1    71  125  236   361 361.0
 
                           |------ PATs ------|
 SCORING          TD  FGs   Kick Rush Rcv Pass  DXP Saf Points
 -------------------------------------------------------------
 McDaniel, D       1  0-0   0-0   0-0   0  0-0   0   0     6
 Kelly, A          1  0-0   0-0   0-0   0  0-0   0   0     6
 Ford, J           1  0-0   0-0   0-0   0  0-0   0   0     6
 Buchholz, M       0  0-1   3-3   0-0   0  0-0   0   0     3
 Total..........   3  0-1   3-3   0-0   0  0-0   0   0    21
 Opponents......   2  4-4   2-2   0-0   0  0-0   0   0    26
 

FIELD GOALS     FGM-FGA  Pct 01-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 50-99 Lg Blk
-----------------------------------------------------------------
Buchholz, M       0-1    0.0  0-0   0-1   0-0   0-0   0-0   0   1

FG SEQUENCE          Clemson               OPPONENTS
----------------------------------------------------
Nebraska             20                    (48),(28),(28),(22)

Numbers in (parentheses) indicate field goal was made.

PUNTING          No.  Yds   Avg Long  TB  FC I20 Blkd
-----------------------------------------------------
Maners, J          8  326  40.8   50   1   0   3    1
TEAM               1    7   7.0    7   0   0   0    0
Total..........    9  333  37.0   50   1   0   3    1
Opponents......    7  270  38.6   46   0   0   2    0

                           

ALL PURPOSE      G Rush  Rec   PR  KOR   IR  Tot Avg/G
------------------------------------------------------
Spiller, C       1   17    6   62   97    0  182 182.0
Ford, J          1    3  112   19    0    0  134 134.0
Kelly, A         1    0   74    0    0    0   74  74.0
Butler, C        1    0    0    0    0   63   63  63.0
Davis, J         1   26    0    0    0    0   26  26.0
Faerber, N       1    0    8    0    0    0    8   8.0
Grisham, T       1    0    6    0    0    0    6   6.0
Harper, C        1  -42    0    0    0    0  -42 -42.0
Total..........  1    4  206   81   97   63  451 451.0
Opponents......  1  125  236   33   89    0  483 483.0

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