JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The last time Clemson faced Nebraska, the Cornhuskers had one of the top rushing teams in the country.
The New Year's Day matchup 27 years ago in the Orange Bowl came down to the Tigers' ability to stop a Cornhuskers rushing attack that featured future NFL stars Mike Rozier and Roger Craig.
The Tigers' defense faces an equally daunting but different task this time around in Thursday's Gator Bowl. Instead of trying to stop a powerful Cornhuskers running game, the Tigers will try to slow down one of the country's top offenses, including a passing attack that is ranked in the top 15 nationally.
Nebraska quarterback Joe Ganz threw for 3,332 yards and 23 touchdowns this season, while Nate Swift will finish his career with just about every major receiving mark in school history. Throw in running back Roy Helu Jr.'s 804 rushing yards and you've got a three-headed monster that has been nearly impossible to stop.
"I don't think there's any doubt that Nebraska is the best offensive football team we've faced all season," said Clemson co-defensive coordinator David Blackwell. "They've got the best passing game we've seen all season, but they're not just a great passing team, they've got a very balanced offense.
"They've got a good quarterback, a good running back and a couple of excellent wide receivers. Then you add a big, physical offensive line and you've got a pretty potent offense."
Just how potent you ask?
The Tigers have not seen an offense as effective as Nebraska's all season. Going into the Gator Bowl, the Cornhuskers are ranked 12th nationally in total offense (458.3 ypp), 18th in scoring offense (36.2 ppg) and 14th in passing offense (284.8 ypg).
The best offense the Tigers faced this year was Georgia Tech's, which was 46th nationally. The best passing offense the Tigers faced was 54th-ranked South Carolina's.
"Their statistics are unreal," said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. "They just move the ball up and down the field, and no one has really been able to stop them."
The Cornhuskers' offense starts with Ganz, who has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes, and is a threat to run.
"No question Ganz makes them go," Blackwell said. "He makes very good decisions with the ball and they've got a great scheme that fits their personnel. Ganz doesn't have to go out and throw the ball 40, 50, 60 times for them to be effective. They're balanced enough offensively that they take a lot of the pressure off of him and that allows him to be that much more effective."
Clemson safety Michael Hamlin said Ganz will be the best quarterback the Tigers will have seen all season.
"He's a playmaker," Hamlin said. "You watch him on film and he's the kind of quarterback that's going to find a way to get the job done no matter what the situation is. If he doesn't have an open receiver, he's going to take off and make a play with his legs.
"You can't key on their passing game or their running game, and that's why they're so good offensively."
Of course, the Clemson defense is no slouch. The Tigers are ranked 10th in scoring offense (16.6 ppg), 17th in total defense (294.8 ypg) and 10th in passing defense (167.3 ypg).
"We're on a collision course," Swinney said. "We're giving up less than 17 points a game and they're scoring more than 36 points a game. Those two things can't stay the same, something has to give and hopefully it won't be Clemson's defense."
Reach Andrew Miller at email@example.com.