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Tim Bourret’s Gator Bowl Blog

Dec. 29, 2008

Dabo Swinney speaks to his team after practice each day and the 5-7 minute talk usually summarizes his feelings on the day’s practice, but he also takes the opportunity to say a few motivating thoughts about the upcoming game.

He has had to come up with a lot of post practice talks for this bowl game because there have been so many practices as the Tigers get ready to meet Nebraska in the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl.

Swinney challenged his team from a physical standpoint after Monday’s practice because he knows it will be that type of game. Nebraska has been known for its tough, hard-nosed approach to the game for many years dating to the days of head coach Bob Devaney. The reputation continued under Tom Osborne, now the athletic director at Nebraska. And of course current coach Bo Pelini has the same approach.

That might be the key to the game. But there is another side to that. Can physicality wear down over the course of the game and will conditioning be just as important. It will be interesting to watch because scoring late has not been a problem with Nebraska all year. They are actually second in the nation in scoring points in the fourth quarter with 152.

A warm day might be to Clemson’s advantage because the Tigers are a little more use to the hot weather. But at 65 degrees, the predicted temperature for Thursday’s game, it might not be that big a factor.

The biggest factor might be the endurance of Nebraska’s defense. The Cornhuskers don’t substitute much on the defensive line, so hopefully James Davis can make some key runs late in the game, as he has done in victories over Virginia and South Carolina to close the season.

The perfect ending for the Tigers would include the Tigers nursing a lead late in the game with Davis running off tackle to surpass 112 yards, giving him a Clemson career rushing record he deserves.

*Time of possession is a stat that has meaning some of the time, but on others it does not. When C.J. Spiller runs 75 yards on the first play of a drive, time of possession is not that big a deal. But, it seems to be a key stat for Nebraska, who has been excellent in third down conversion and time of possession. The Cornhuskers convert 48 percent of the time on third down, and average possessing the ball 34 minutes per game. They rank 15th in the nation in third down conversion and second in time of possession.

Both stats have been a problem for Clemson this year, although more of a problem in the first six games as oppose to the last six. Clemson has converted on third down just 31 percent of the time, 110th in the nation, and ranks 75th in the country in time of possession. Can Clemson get Nebraska off the field? That will be an important stat to follow.

Turnovers are also very important. Clemson is 5-0 this year when it wins the turnover margin statistic. Nebraska is 109th in the country in forcing turnovers, as they have forced just 15 all season, and rank 105th in turnover margin.

*A victory in the Gator Bowl over Nebraska would give Dabo Swinney a 5-2 record to opening his coaching career. A 71 percent winning mark at any level at any time is outstanding.

If Swinney and the Tigers down Nebraska on Thursday it would give him the best seven-game record by a Clemson head coach since Ken Hatfield went 5-2 in his first seven games in 1990. Charley Pell and Danny Ford were both 6-1 in their first seven games. Ford’s first win came in the 1978 Gator Bowl against Ohio State.

Frank Howard went 5-2 in his first games as Clemson head coach in 1940, while Josh Cody, perhaps the best Clemson coach not in the school’s Hall of Fame, was 5-1-1 to open his Clemson career in 1927.

Swinney has already clinched a better seven game coaching record than Hall of Famer Jess Neely (1-5-1), Tommy Bowden (3-4) and Tommy West (3-4). And Swinney has not played any Division I-AA schools in his opening stint.

The best seven-game record in Clemson coaching history belongs to the legendary John Heisman. The man they named the trophy after won each of his first seven games as Clemson head coach in 1900-01.