ORLANDO, Fla. — Together and resilient were the words Georgia coaches and players used to describe its receiving core after the Bulldogs’ 45-31 victory over Nebraska in Tuesday’s Capital One Bowl.
The Georgia receivers wrapped the 2012 season with a completely new look than when camp opened in August. Attrition throughout the year sidelined starters Michael Bennett and Marlon Brown, who each led the team in receiving yards at the time of their respective ACL tears.
Georgia persevered to remain one of the most effective offenses in the country, ranking fifth in average yards per catch (15.1). It was evident than on Tuesday when the Bulldogs posted 45 points on the Cornhuskers while playing without three of their starters — Bennett, Brown and, for a bulk of the game, Malcolm Mitchell, who left in the first quarter after suffering a concussion.
In a moment when anxiety could have mounted for many, Georgia stayed at ease.
“I think that’s such an instrument that comes in handy when you’re an offense that can have the same amount of faith as the first guy,” sophomore Chris Conley said. “I think that speaks wonders.”
Redshirt freshman Justin Scott-Wesley added: “It just shows that we come out every day and work to be the best, no matter who is on the field. (Receivers coach Tony Ball) tells us all the time that if you’re on the field, then you’re a starter, and that you’ve got to work and play like it. We don’t worry about who is going to play and how much.”
Quarterback Aaron Murray dished out three passes each to Scott-Wesley (67 yards), Tavarres King (104), Arthur Lynch (37), Keith Marshall (39) and Rhett McGowan (40). Conley snagged two attempts, but one went for an 87-yard touchdown, the longest pass in Capital One Bowl history.
When told he broke the record, Conley remained humble, though he was more thrilled that it added to Georgia’s lead that it wouldn’t relinquish.
“That’s pretty cool to do that,” Conley said of the record. “It was a huge play. The defense brought a house blitz so we had to screen out, which was an excellent play call by (offensive coordinator Mike Bobo). All I had to do was catch and run. I saw an open space and I just had to turn it on.”
Players and coaches attributed much of the receivers’ success on Tuesday — and this year for that matter — to Ball. In his seventh year at Georgia and fourth with receivers, Ball oversaw a group that set multiple offensive records.
“He’s one of the best receiving coaches in the country, in my opinion,” Murray said. “He really drills them. They get frustrated with him sometimes because he’s looking for perfection, but at the end of the day, I know they love him for pushing them to the max.”
Murray added that much of the receiving core stayed in Athens after finals last May to get extra reps and throwing days in. He also said that, if he chooses to forgo entering the NFL draft and return for his senior season, the group would likely do the same again this year.
There is much promise around the core, according to Georgia players, especially with most returning next year. Only Brown and King graduate this offseason, so the younger crew will build on the experience they gained this season.
“You’ve got to feel good about the guys that are coming back,” Bobo said. “Any time young guys can play well and have success, that’s only going to leave to more confidence going into next year.”