JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Just as the theme was when Nebraska first arrived in Jacksonville for the start of its official week of Gator Bowl practices, the mindset was business as usual in the Huskers' final full practice of the season on Tuesday.
Though they have one final walk-through session on Wednesday, Tuesday's practice was the last full day of preparation for the Huskers before their showdown with Clemson. Still, Nebraska's coaches said the mood of the team was no different than it was at mid-season.
"This is business as usual," offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. "We have an expectation of what our workweek is like and what our preparation is like, and we haven't deterred from that at all. We've stayed on track. We've approached it like it's the most important game of our season for all the obvious reasons, like all of them are. I would've told you that if we were in Week 3 or Week 4.
"That's why we don't change our demeanor
We want to finish this thing the right way, and we've been focused on our objectives and our goals. We haven't taken our eyes off of it."
As much as they may have tried to shrug off the practice as just another day, it undoubtedly meant something a little more to Nebraska's senior class. But even though Watson said a few seniors mentioned that Tuesday would be their final full collegiate practice, he said the group was able to keep its emotions in check and have a solid outing.
"Some of the seniors obviously knew that, but they're too professional," Watson said. "This season and what we've been working on, it's too special, too important to put any kind of clichés on it like that. They came into the season wanting to make a mark on the program, and they're not done doing that. It's business as usual, and that's the way we approach it as coaches and that's the way they've approached it as players.
"Our seniors are remarkable. They know this is our last practice, and they made some comments on it. But at the same time, it wasn't one of those teary-eyed deals. It was their last practice to finish what we came here to do."
For the rest of the players, Tuesday's practice simply meant they were just one day away from finally getting back on the field against an actual opponent.
"We've been ready for about four days now," Watson said. "It's kind of to the point where you wish you would have played four days ago. We're ready to play. We've been ready since we came back. It's finally good to get into that timeframe where we're getting ready for a game."
The focus has changed
As things get closer to kickoff, defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said he wants the focus of the team to change.
Pelini said everybody has enjoyed their week in Jacksonville, but now it's time to start getting down to business.
"I think now it's time for our players to start thinking of this less as a bowl trip and more of a game trip," Pelini said. "They just need to focus in and just do things the next day and a half that they would do on any away trip during the season."
The concern as you prepare for a bowl game over a five week period is how much the team will retain over the long layoff.
Nebraska finished the 2008 season 5-1 down the stretch and Pelini said the staff is confident things will pick-up right where they left off after the Colorado game.
"You worry a little bit about it just how sharp they're going to be after a little time off," Pelini said. "We've prepared as well as we can and as thoroughly as we can, and we hope we can come out and be sharp and pick-up where we left off."
When Pelini reflects upon this 2008 season, he really credits a lot of the success to the senior class. For guys like Zach Potter, Ty Steinkuhler and Armando Murillo, this will be their final game playing for Pelini.
"I have tremendous respect for all those guys," Pelini said. "This has been a year where we've tried to set the tone for the program. Those guys have come to work every day and have been great role models for the young guys. They've been focused and have been great leaders. We owe them a debt of gratitude for all the future success this program has."
***Watson talked briefly about Clemson's ability to force turnovers defensively and the challenge it presents to NU's offense. On the season, the Tigers have forced a total of 25 turnovers, with 18 interceptions and seven forced fumbles.
"They fly around to the football, and that's how you create turnovers," Watson said. "We have a lot of respect for their athleticism, their scheme of defense. That puts them in position to be there for those things. So basically, what's that mean to us? It means make good decisions, it means lock up the rock, get it high and tight, and we should take care of our business."
***Statistically, Clemson quarterback Kullen Harper's numbers may not jump out at you, but Pelini said down the stretch he has really managed the Tiger offense at a high level.
"As they started clicking late in the year, what you saw was a really balanced offense," Pelini said. "Their offensive line came along, their backs started to have some success and that created that play action game for them. It's really opened up their offense. He may not have some of the numbers the Big 12 guys have, but he's very smart, he's got a strong arm and they use their running game very well to set up the throwing game. He makes the most of his opportunities. You really have to deal with him."
***Pelini said that he's not sure if Phillip Dillard or Colton Koehler will get the start at middle linebacker at this point.
***While much of the attention this week has gone toward how the players are enjoying their bowl trip, the coaching staff has been relatively boring during its time in Jacksonville. It's almost as if they're here for work or something
"Probably our wives enjoy it," Watson said. "We don't really get caught up in that. We've had probably a little bit more time because we got all of our preparation done before we came down here. Our game plan was done. Our scripts and our cards were done. It allowed us to really maximize out time here as a staff and the obligations you have at a bowl game."
***Watson said he was able to get out and play a round of golf yesterday during the team's down time. Though he loved the experience, his performance was apparently pretty forgettable.
His play on Sawgrass's famous 17th hole was a perfect example.
"Two in the water," he said. "It wasn't real good."
***The Nebraska football team conducted a two-hour helmets-only workout at North Florida University on Tuesday. The practice was their final scheduled workout in Jacksonville before Thursday's Gator Bowl.
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