Coming into Thursday's match-up between Clemson and Nebraska, no one would have said the Tigers and Huskers survived solely off big plays.

Once Thursday arrived, the two teams lived and died by momentum shifters.

Special teams play, turnovers and near-turnovers filled a full 60 minutes in the Gator Bowl on Thursday.

The defensive battle became just another chapter in a long Nebraska history, but the 26-21 win over the Tigers is much more than a bowl win.

After Nebraska beat Colorado 30-3 in 2005, players took off their shoulder pads in celebration and showcased white shirts with red lettering that said "Restore the Order," but something wasn't right. Former Nebraska Coach Bill Callahan was still in that role, but NU was heading to an Alamo Bowl appearance against tradition-rich Michigan. The Huskers ended up knocking off the Wolverines and finished ranked in the top 25.

The next year, Callahan led the Big Red to the Big 12 Conference Title Game and a Cotton Bowl appearance where they went down to the wire against an Auburn team who beat eventual national champion Florida that year. Nebraska seemed to be "back."

What transpired over the next year couldn't have been guessed by anybody as Callahan led the Huskers to a 5-7 year with blowout losses to USC, Missouri and Kansas to list a few. Former athletic director Steve Pedersen was fired, quickly followed by the firing of Callahan and several assistants. Shortly after, Nebraska welcomed back NU Coach Bo Pelini to Lincoln.

If a Husker fan had said then that Nebraska would finish the 2008-09 season 9-4, he or she would have been laughed at. Most fans hoped for a bowl game, maybe seven wins if lady luck was on their side. Nobody pictured 9-4, and now that it's over the phrase will more likely be said again, but is the order really restored?


First of all, the players actually compete for Pelini. If Callahan was still leading the Huskers, Clemson would have won the game by the third quarter because the Callahan-led Huskers gave up once they got down. It was the exact opposite Thursday as the Huskers not only rose above the doubters, but held off a late charge from Clemson in the 4th quarter.

Secondly, although NU is losing quarterback Joe Ganz to graduation, the team returns a plethora of contributors to next year's team. They'll need those players too, considering they have games at Virginia Tech, at Missouri and a possible defending national champion in Oklahoma coming to Lincoln. The return in experienced players will be better than the losses in 2009.

Thirdly, the Nebraska recruiting game is going a lot better than any stars or recruit ratings will ever tell you. When NU coaching great Tom Osborne led the Huskers through decades of dominance, he rarely recruited the highly-touted players that had big egos. Instead, he recruited players who fit Nebraska and would work well in his system.

That's what Pelini is doing. It's not like he isn't landing big-name recruits either - he has a strong verbal commitment from four-star quarterback Cody Green who is ranked among the best at his position.

The old hard-hitting nature of the Big Red was back on New Year's Day, and it's hard to believe it will be going away anytime soon. There's a cliche saying that says players play how coaches coach, and on the first day of 2009, NU did just that.

Nebraska is back.

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