Orlando, FL (Sports Network) - The Georgia Bulldogs are set to meet up with
the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Capital One Bowl at Florida Citrus Bowl
Stadium on New Year's Day.
The Bulldogs' hopes for their first national title since 1980 were dashed by
second-ranked Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, as the Crimson Tide
prevailed with a late score to earn a spot in the BCS title game against top-
ranked Notre Dame. Georgia, which was ranked No. 3 in the country entering the
pseudo-national semifinal game, also lost last year's SEC Championship to LSU
in blowout fashion.
"I think most of (the players) understand that you can't turn the clock back,"
head coach Mark Richt said about the team's emotional state following the loss
to Alabama. "We fought hard, we had a great plan, we did what we could do that
day. We just couldn't get it done. We didn't do enough to get it done, but
everybody knows that you have to move on. There are still things that are
worth playing for."
Georgia is making its 16th consecutive bowl appearance but has lost its last
two bowl games, including a triple-overtime setback to Michigan State in last
season's Outback Bowl.
Nebraska has also dropped its last two bowl games and is playing in the
Capital One Bowl for the second straight season after falling to South
Carolina a year ago. The Big Ten Legends Division champion Cornhuskers carried
a six-game winning streak into the league title bout with Wisconsin, a team
they had already beaten earlier in the season. However, the Badgers returned
the favor the second time around with a 70-31 drubbing.
This will be the second meeting all-time between Georgia and Nebraska. The
Huskers claimed a win in the 1969 Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas.
Junior quarterback Aaron Murray broke the Georgia record for career touchdown
passes (90), surpassing David Greene's total (72) by 18. Murray also became
the first QB in SEC history to have three consecutive 3,000-yard passing
seasons. He has thrown 31 touchdowns this season with only eight
interceptions, and his 3,466 passing yards and 65.4 completion percentage were
both career-highs. Murray distributes his passes rather evenly, as eight
different Bulldogs have hauled in multiple TD receptions on the season.
Freshman running back Todd Gurley got better and better as the season
progressed, and he stepped up with 122 yards rushing and two scores on 23
carries against Alabama's stingy defense. Gurley enters this matchup as the
SEC's second-leading rusher with 1,260 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on 199
carries (6.3 ypc). Fellow freshman Keith Marshall complements Gurley with 723
rushing yards and eight scores.
Despite the Bulldogs' bevy of weapons on offense, the season will be
remembered for some questionable execution in the final seconds of the SEC
Championship. Trailing by four points with 1:08 to play, Murray led Georgia on
an eight-play, 80-yard drive. But with the final seconds ticking away, the
Bulldogs elected not to spike the ball, and the game ended when Chris Conley
was tackled five yards short of the goal line as time expired.
"We just ran out of time," Richt said after the game.
Georgia boasts the No. 2 pass defense (173.5 ypg) in the SEC as well as the
nation's No. 17 scoring defense (18.8 ppg). All-American junior linebacker
Jarvis Jones battled injuries to rack up 77 tackles and 12.5 sacks in 11
games. He also forced a conference-best seven fumbles, recovering two, en
route to SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors. Jones led the conference in
tackles for loss (22.5), and his forced fumble at the one-yard line against
Florida helped seal the team's signature win of the season.
However, the Bulldogs allowed Alabama to run for a SEC Championship-record 350
yards, which proved to be a key factor in the outcome.
"Some of it was just wrapping them up better," Richt said.
Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez has produced five 100-yard rushing games
this season, and containing him on the ground will be a key focus of Georgia's
defense. Martinez finished the season as the Big Ten leader in passing
efficiency and total offense. He has completed 62.2 percent of his passes with
21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, averaging 205 yards per game through the
air and another 75 on the ground with 10 rushing TDs.
While Martinez has been the focal point of the offense, coordinator Tim Beck
said he is excited to have senior I-back Rex Burkhead back and fully healthy,
given what he brings to the offense. Burkhead ran for 1,357 yards and 15 TDs
last season, but a knee injury has limited him to only 74 carries this season,
with 27 of those totes coming in the last two games.
"It is great to see him back out here having fun," Beck said. "The injury was
something on the back of his mind, now he is a lot more carefree, I am really
happy for him."
Sophomore Ameer Abdullah has filled in admirably, notching six 100-yard games
over the course of the season, and will still have his number called against
Georgia. Still, even with both backs at Beck's disposal, he knows his unit
faces a tough challenge trying to move the ball against Georgia's defense.
"They are very athletic," Beck said. "They are a typical good SEC defense."
Nebraska's defense is somewhat of an enigma. The Cornhuskers own the nation's
No. 1 pass defense, allowing a mere 148.2 yards per game to opposing QBs. But
part of the reason for that is because teams have found plenty of success
attacking Nebraska on the ground, as the Huskers are 95th in the country in
rushing defense (195 ypg). After holding Iowa to seven points on the road a
week earlier, Nebraska allowed Wisconsin to run wild for 539 yards and eight
touchdowns in the Big Ten title game. The Badgers averaged a first down per
carry as a team (10.8 ypc), as three different rushers went over 100 yards,
including two who eclipsed the 200-yard mark. Make no mistake, the Cornhuskers
can expect to see a heavy dose of Gurley until they prove they are up to the
challenge of stopping him.
It's fair to wonder about the Bulldogs' motivation level after narrowly
missing out on a spot in the BCS title game and then watching SEC foe and
fourth-ranked Florida leapfrog them for a BCS bid to the Sugar Bowl. However,
coach Richt has done an admirable job motivating his players this season.
The Sports Network