Gator Bowl Preview: Comparing the Nebraska and Clemson Defenses

Bleacher ReportAnalyst IDecember 31, 2008

Yes, I know the Clemson defense comes into this game as the 17th rated total defense in the country, giving up only 16 points a game. Yes, I know all that.

But, that's where I am going to stop in using national rankings to compare the Nebraska and Clemson defenses.


Because Clemson and Nebraska play in two conferences that employ such drastically different offensive philosophies it makes it a moot point.

The Big 12 just didn't stop recruiting speed and great athletes to play defense. Offenses in the Big 12 have spread the field sideline to sideline with equally talented athletes on the offensive side of the ball.

Guess what happens? Those great athletes on offense win their fair share of the one on one battles that the spread offense dictates.

If, for instance, Clemson had faced the high caliber quarterback play, the wide open offenses that spread a defense all over the field, matched with having to defend outstanding skill position players I would give the rankings a lot more credence. But, they haven't, so I won't.

Joe Ganz is the fifth or sixth best quarterback in the Big 12. If he were on an ACC team, he would be the ACC's first team all conference quarterback.

And for those Clemson or ACC fans that disagree. Clemson's own Rivals writer, Larry Williamson stated as much. He also stated that the ACC is a very weak offensive conference mostly due to ineffective quarterback play. He expects Nebraska's very diverse offense with a great quarterback and playmakers everywhere to expose Clemson's defense.

That doesn't mean that Clemson can't get it done on defense. Quite the contrary. 

Clemson is led up front by 6'3", 310-pound Dorell Scott, who overcame a slow start and has been coming on late in the season. The Clemson defense has managed only 14 sacks on the year. If it gets minimal or no pressure on Ganz, he will pick them a part.

But, be careful blitzing as Ganz has the feet to get away from pressure and make big throws on the run.

The Clemson linebacker corp were a bit of a Achilles heel early on, especially against Alabama, as they got trucked by the running game a bit. But, they have gained some experience and have played much better as the season wore on.

The strength of Clemson's defense is the secondary, specifically the two safeties. Michael Hamlin and Chris Clemons have formed a very formidable duo in center field for the Tigers. Both of these guys are NFL-caliber players and will be playing on Sundays.

I think the Clemson secondary will pose the best challenge to Nebraska's deep and experienced wide receiver corp since the Oklahoma game.

For Nebraska they are lead up front by All Big 12 junior defensive tackle Ndamakong (Dam-u-kong) Suh. Suh is a 6'4", 305-pound physical presence and has been effective as an inside pass rusher and a solid run stopper. Suh actually lead the Nebraska defense in tackles with 68.

The Nebraska defensive line has been the strength of the defense all year, so it is not a one man show up front.

Senior nose tackle Ty Steinkuhler has had by far his most impressive season and at times has been as dominant as Suh inside.

At the right end Nebraska has 6'7", 285-pound Zach Potter and at the other end is Pierre Allen. Potter has greatly improved over 2007, so much so that he looks like a lock to be picked in the NFL draft next April.

Pierre Allen has filled in for the injured Barry Turner since the season opener and has exceeded all expectations with very steady play.

Nebraska is thin at linebacker, but the Pelini's have done an excellent job of coaching up some walk-ons and redshirt freshman to make them solid contributors, most notably Matt May and Colton Koehler. 

The linebackers are lead by Phillip Dillard at middle linebacker, who will be coming off a four-game absence due to an ankle injury and is said to be near 100 percent.

Nebraska started the season with a very green secondary, and one that was learning a new system. That showed early as they gave up many big plays on blown assignments and mental mistakes.

They seem to have cut down on the breakdowns a bit, but I still expect a big play or two against the Blackshirts due to missed assignments.

I think the secondary has benefited from the re-emergence of free safety Ricky Thenarse. Ricky brings a nasty attitude, along with serious speed and athletic ability. At the other safety Nebraska has a solid run stopper in Larry Asante.

Nebraska is solid at the corner position with senior Armando Murillo and sophomore Prince Amukamara. 

Advantage: I call it a push.

I really think Clemson ran up those defensive statistics on offenses and quarterbacks that are frankly just pretty average.

Maybe they will prove me wrong tomorrow. But I don't think so.


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