on January 1, 2009 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Swinney: Tigers still haven’t played their best

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Clemson has not played its best game yet, so the way its head coach sees it, his team is due today when the Tigers take on Nebraska in the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl.

Dabo Swinney told the media during Wednesday’s press conference at Jacksonville’s Hyatt Regency that despite the turnaround and despite their impressive three-game winning streak to finish the regular season the Tigers (7-5) still have room to improve.

“We played our best game of the season against South Carolina,” he said. “We played a physical-style game, which is what it takes to win these games, but we still had critical turnovers, and Michael Hamlin dropped two interceptions that he should have had… In no way have we played our best game, and we have an attitude that we are going to play our best game (today). That’s what we are going into this game expecting to do.”

That will be a tough challenge considering Clemson will face a Cornhuskers’ offense that ranks as one of the nation’s best with quarterback Joe Ganz leading the way with more than 3,300 yards and 23 touchdowns.

“This is a big challenge because they just don’t have one guy just to key on,” Clemson safety Michael Hamlin said. “The secondary and all the defensive guys have to stay disciplined and read our keys. Nebraska is a very balanced team, and we don’t really know what they are going to do at any given time.”

If Nebraska (8-4) does get hot offensively, Tigers’ quarterback Cullen Harper says they have enough firepower to keep up.

“I think we have the talent to put up some points,” he said. “If we get in a shootout then we are more than capable of keeping up, but I really don’t see it becoming that type of game.”

Opportunities are there. Clemson running back James Davis, who needs 112 yards to become the school’s all-time leading rusher, says there is an opportunity for the Tigers to exploit Nebraska’s run defense, despite the fact that is the strength of the Huskers’ defense.

“They keep their whole defensive line in the whole game, except one guy,” said Davis, who will turn 23 years old today. “I think it comes down to the fact that they have been playing a lot of passing teams, teams that don’t really run the ball a whole lot.

“Oklahoma runs the ball and it was like 40-0 at halftime, but I’m not saying we are going to be beating them 40-0 at halftime.”

Davis said 6-foot-4, 300-pound nose tackle Ndamukong Suh is Clemson’s main focus as they enter today’s game. The All-Big 12 nose tackle leads the team in tackles (68) and tackles for a loss (15).

“He has been big for them. He is the guy we have focused on when we watched film,” Davis said. “He is real good. We want to know where 93 is. He is a lot like (B.J. Raji) from Boston College. We handled him pretty well. I don’t think he had a sack or a tackle for a loss the whole game on us.”

Other things to do. Strike up one victory for Clemson in the Gator Bowl already. Two days ago players from Clemson and Nebraska visited the Wolfsons Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville, Fla. It was a day that was supposed to bring the top players from each university to visit sick and physically disabled children in hopes to brighten their day.

Clemson brought 15 players to join head coach Dabo Swinney for the visit, including Davis, C.J. Spiller, Harper, wide receiver Aaron Kelly and defensive tackle Rashaad Jackson to name a few. The Cornhuskers, however, brought just a few backups, while stars like Ganz, wide receiver Nate Swift, running back Roy Helu and Suh were nowhere to be seen.

No problem. How much did it bother head coach Bo Pelini and his Nebraska team when someone stole some audio and video equipment from the team hotel earlier this week?

“I didn’t know anything about it, so not too much,” the Nebraska coach said.

Oops. Obviously 120 football players that weigh anywhere from 180-330 pounds met the weight capacity for the escalator at the Hyatt Regency. The motor in the moving staircase burned up as it tried to carry the Clemson players up to the second floor for a luncheon honoring the 2008 Gator Bowl Association Hall of Fame class. It was out of service the rest of the day.