JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Quarterback play will be the wild card when No. 23 Georgia plays Nebraska on Jan. 1 at EverBank Field in the 69th Gator Bowl.
Georgia coach Mark Richt will be depending on redshirt junior Hutson Mason, who replaced four-year starter Aaron Murray against Kentucky on Nov. 23, then aided a comeback the following week that resulted in a double-overtime victory over Georgia Tech to improve the Georgia’s final regular-season record to 8-4.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said the Cornhuskers (8-4) will not have the services of senior Taylor Martinez, who started all but one game during his freshman, sophomore and junior seasons but has missed six games this season because of foot, shoulder and hip injuries. Martinez has appeared in only once game since the Huskers lost to UCLA on Sept. 14.
Senior Ron Kellogg has started the last five games, a streak that began with his miraculous Hail Mary pass to beat Northwestern. He remains healthy but his backup, Tommy Armstrong Jr., had an ankle injury this season that Pelini said should heal by game time.
“He’s progressing right along,” Pelini said on Thursday during a news conference with Richt. “I think he’ll be a lot closer to 100 percent.”
Richt at least had Murray for the better part of 11 games. Murray set the Southeastern Conference career records for passing yards and touchdown passes.
Instead, Richt said Murray is preparing for Georgia’s pro day and the NFL combine. Murray is off crutches and has been working out on exercise bikes.
Richt said Murray won’t have any issues when it comes time to impress NFL scouts and added that Murray will be with the Bulldogs during the bowl trip.
“Who knows … he may even help coach (Mike) Bobo (Georgia’s offensive coordinator) game plan,” Richt said.
Richt said Murray has approached his rehabilitation and his prospects with a good attitude.
“You felt sorry for him and call him to console him and he brightens your spirits,” Richt said. “He’ll be around (during bowl week) to help Hutson. Just having him around is great.”
Richt said one priority he will have with Mason, who threw for 299 yards against Georgia Tech, will be to work with him on getting rid of the ball faster — which he said had never been a problem during practice, scrimmages and spring games.
“He had practiced so well for so long, we were assuming he’d go in and play like he practiced,” Richt said. “It’s different being the man. It’s different being the starter. But one thing he never did much of was that he rarely took a sack. The ball’s going to come out with this kid. Then in the (Georgia Tech) game he got sacked five times. He finally settled down and started playing ball. It’s one thing to be on the second team, then actually being the man. It was good experience for him.”
Georgia and Nebraska will arrive in the area on Dec. 26. The Bulldogs will stay at the Omni Hotel downtown and practice at Jacksonville University and the Cornhuskers will stay at the Sawgrass Marriott and practice at the University of North Florida.