Scores
GATOR BOWL

Final

Nebraska 26

(9-4, 5-3 Big Ten)

Clemson 21

(7-6, 4-4 ACC)

Coverage: CBS

1:00 PM ET, January 1, 2009

1 2 3 4 T
NEB 0 3 20 326
CLEM 0 14 7 021

Top Performers

Passing: J. Ganz (NEB) - 236 YDS, 2 TD, 1 INT

Rushing: Q. Castille (NEB) - 18 CAR, 125 YDS

Receiving: J. Ford (CLEM) - 5 REC, 112 YDS, 1 TD

Ganz, Pelini lead Nebraska to first January bowl win in nine years

Associated Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz was sprawled out on the ground, trainers huddled around him, teammates, coaches and fans wondering whether he would be able to continue playing.

Ganz eventually made his way to the sideline, cleared his head, got back in the game and ended up hoisting the Gator Bowl's most valuable player trophy.

His comeback provided an appropriate ending for Nebraska's season. After all, the Cornhuskers enjoyed one of college football's best turnarounds.

Fast Facts

• With the win, Pelini joined Bob Devaney (1962, 9-2), Tom Osborne (1973, 9-2-1) and Frank Solich (1998, 9-4) as the only coaches in Nebraska history with nine wins in their first season.

• Clemson snapped its three-game winning streak, finishing 4-3 under Dabo Swinney and 7-6 overall.

• Alex Henery tied a career high with four field goals, his second straight game going 4-for-4 on kicks.

• The Huskers scored 16 unanswered points to overcome a 21-10 third quarter deficit and win for the ninth time in their last 13 bowl games.

-- ESPN research

Ganz shook off a horrible first half and a slight concussion, threw for two touchdowns and led Nebraska to a 26-21 victory against Clemson in the Gator Bowl, giving the storied program plenty of optimism following coach Bo Pelini's first season.

"I'm proud of this group," said Pelini, who replaced fired coach Bill Callahan after Nebraska finished 5-7 in 2007. "It's been a tough 12 months, but there's been a lot of hard work by a lot of people and it's paid off. Now, we've got to keep it going."

Nebraska (9-4) ended the season with a four-game winning streak, including a victory against rival Colorado, won six of its final seven games and had success in a January bowl game for the first time in nine years.

"We have some momentum going right now," Pelini said. "People are excited, the kids are excited. It's starting to show how good they can be as a football team. It's fun to see. Now, we have to keep it going and pick that torch the seniors left and keep running with it."

Cornhuskers fans might have wanted to run Ganz out of Jacksonville at halftime. The senior had a fumble late in the first half that was returned 28 yards for a touchdown and threw an interception in the final minute that was returned 63 yards and led to another score.

The Tigers (7-6) took a 14-3 lead into the locker room, but Ganz brought Nebraska back with a 20-point third quarter. He also bounced back from that bone-crushing hit. Although Nebraska didn't score a touchdown after his return, Ganz's value was clear when backup Patrick Witt fumbled on his first play.

Clemson picked up the loose ball and returned it for a touchdown and a 27-23 lead, but officials overturned the call after review. Ganz was back the next series.

"When I stood up, I got a little dizzy," Ganz said. "My first step was a little crooked. After that, I regained my senses. It took a little bit to get the fog out. I got drilled into the ground pretty good. If I could have played, there was no way they were going to keep me out. ... They would have had to peel me off the field."

Ganz threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Nate Swift to open the second half, then hooked up with Todd Peterson for a 19-yard score. Both of them came on third-and-long situations. Ganz completed 10 of 15 passes for 133 yards in the second half, and finished 19-of-36 for 236 yards.

"He epitomizes what this team is," Pelini said. "He had some bad things happen to him in that first half. There are a lot of kids that aren't as strong, don't have as much character and would have wilted under that type of circumstances. Joe kept going. ... A lot of people can learn from what he went through today.

"You've got to be a pretty special guy to have a fumble returned for a touchdown, an interception returned for a touchdown and still be the MVP of a game."

Ganz had some help.

Ganz shows guts

Feisty quarterback Joe Ganz led the Huskers past a Clemson team that came up flat when it mattered most, writes Tim Griffin. Blog

Alex Henery kicked four field goals, including three in the second half. Quentin Castille, filling in for injured starter Roy Helu Jr. (knee infection), ran for 125 yards. And Nebraska's defense held Clemson to 91 yards in the second half.

"There were a lot of little plays along the way where we had opportunities and just didn't get it done," said Tigers coach Dabo Swinney, adding that Nebraska dominated his offensive line.

Swinney was hoping his team would maintain its late-season momentum. The Tigers won four of their last five games after a 3-3 start that prompted longtime coach Tommy Bowden to resign.

Clemson kept this one close by forcing field goals. After Henery's fourth, the Tigers had a final chance to go ahead. They advanced to the Nebraska 10 with 1:54 remaining, but Eric Hagg batted down a pass on first down and sacked Cullen Harper for a 16-yard loss on the next play.

"You've got to get rid of it," Swinney said. "Just don't take a sack."

Harper nearly hooked up with C.J. Spiller on third down, but Matt O'Hanlon knocked the ball out of Spiller's hands in the end zone.

"I thought I had it," Spiller said. "He just came over the top and knocked it out. I make that play in my sleep. We've run that play so many times. I just let the team down with that one."

Harper misfired on the final play, and the Huskers ran out the clock from there.

The Tigers scored all three of their touchdowns off turnovers. But also had too many of their own. Harper threw two interceptions and was sacked five times, and Spiller and James Davis ran for just 43 yards combined.

"We made too many mistakes, and against a good team like Nebraska, you can't make mistakes," Clemson receiver Jacoby Ford said.

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Team Stat Comparison

 
NEB
CLEM
1st Downs1414
Total Yards361210
Passing236206
Rushing1254
Penalties8-817-50
3rd Down Conversions7-193-16
4th Down Conversions0-01-3
Turnovers32
Possession34:1125:49

Passing Leaders

NebraskaC/ATTYDSAVGTDINT
Ganz19/362366.621
ClemsonC/ATTYDSAVGTDINT
Harper17/372065.622

Rushing Leaders

NebraskaCARYDSAVGTDLG
Castille181256.9058
Witt144.004
ClemsonCARYDSAVGTDLG
Davis12262.2012
Spiller7172.4010

Receiving Leaders

NebraskaRECYDSAVGTDLG
Peterson49624.0136
Holt23517.5023
ClemsonRECYDSAVGTDLG
Ford511222.4146
Kelly67412.3125

Scoring Summary

SECOND QUARTERNEBCLEM
TD04:52DeAndre McDaniel 28 Yd Fumble Return (Mark Buchholz Kick) 07
FG01:10Alex Henery 48 Yd 37
TD00:35Aaron Kelly 25 Yd Pass From Cullen Harper (Mark Buchholz Kick) 314
THIRD QUARTERNEBCLEM
TD12:24Nate Swift 17 Yd Pass From Joe Ganz (Alex Henery Kick) 1014
TD10:06Jacoby Ford 41 Yd Pass From Cullen Harper (Mark Buchholz Kick) 1021
TD07:54Todd Peterson 19 Yd Pass From Joe Ganz (Alex Henery Kick) 1721
FG05:13Alex Henery 28 Yd 2021
FG01:40Alex Henery 28 Yd 2321
FOURTH QUARTERNEBCLEM
FG05:20Alex Henery 22 Yd 2621