JACKSONVILLE, Fla. ‚Äî Georgia‚Äôs Gator Bowl performance was sloppy for the Bulldogs in more ways than one.¬†
Stephen B. Morton
Nebraska wide receiver Quincy Enunwa (18) catches a pass for a 99-yard touchdown reception as Georgia safety Quincy Mauger (20) pursues during the second half of the Gator Bowl NCAA college football game against Georgia, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, in Jacksonville, Fla. Nebraska beat Georgia 24-19.
Nebraska‚Äôs 24-19 victory on Wednesday was a result of the Cornhuskers‚Äô offensive dominance.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm not going to use it as a crutch or say that‚Äôs what was going on, but the outside conditions weren‚Äôt the best, which we know they had to play in it as well so we can‚Äôt say that,‚Äù junior defensive end Ray Drew said.¬†
Drew was referring to the weather, which consisted of a constant drizzle that wasn‚Äôt too heavy, but didn‚Äôt make playing a bowl game any easier either.
Georgia‚Äôs defense allowed 14 first downs, 144 rushing yards and a painful 163 passing yards. The Cornhuskers also converted on four of their 13 attempts on third down, an area that hasn‚Äôt sat well with Georgia this season. The Bulldogs have allowed opponents to convert on 73 of their 180 third down attempts in games prior to the Gator Bowl. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said it wasn‚Äôt the third-down situations that hurt his defense.
‚ÄúI haven‚Äôt seen the stats, but that‚Äôs a pretty good running team. Their line is pretty good at run blocking, but I felt like we handled the run game for the most part,‚Äù Grantham said. ‚ÄúThird downs, there was a couple they got out there, but for the most part I thought we were OK.‚Äù
Instead, Grantham said Georgia just wasn‚Äôt able to execute on the fly.¬†
‚ÄúAt the end of the day we didn‚Äôt play good on sudden change, you know, on the dropped punt and the turnover,‚Äù Grantham said. ‚ÄúIn those situations there, you‚Äôd like to make them kick field goals. At least two out of three, but we didn‚Äôt make them kick field goals on either one of them.‚Äù
On top of those crucial in-game lapses, Georgia‚Äôs defense was missing a few key players.
Sophomore strong safety Josh Harvey-Clemons and sophomore cornerback Sheldon Dawson did not play in the Gator Bowl due to what Georgia coach Mark Richt called a ‚Äúviolation of team regulations.‚Äù The suspensions didn‚Äôt help Georgia‚Äôs secondary, but freshman free safety Quincy Mauger said the players stepped into the lineup were ready to play.
‚ÄúJosh Harvey-Clemons is well-experienced at the star and the strong safety position,‚Äù said Mauger, who missed a tackle on receiver Quincy Enunwa before he trotted in the end zone for a 99-yard touchdown. ‚ÄúWe missed that a lot. At the same time, we play with the same 11 people. We get all the rotations in, so it‚Äôs nothing new to all the players that come in and step up.‚Äù
There was also freshman free safety Tray Matthews, who was on the sideline the entire game. The player who was once named Most Improved Defensive Player at the end of spring practice will have to focus on ending a lingering hamstring injury for good.¬†
‚ÄúTray practiced all week, but he just hasn‚Äôt been healthy,‚Äù Grantham said. ‚ÄúThe guys that played are the guys that have worked in practice, so you‚Äôve got to go with your guys that are healthy and give you the best chance to win. He‚Äôs obviously got to work to improve his health as far as getting healthy so he can go compete for the job.‚Äù
Grantham didn‚Äôt get down on his younger players following the loss. However, he did acknowledge the strides they will have to make in order to be successful on a consistent basis. ¬†
‚ÄúWe‚Äôve got some guys that have obviously got to grow and mature and understand that attention to details because every play matters, and if we do that there‚Äôs probably going to be 14 less points on the board,‚Äù Grantham said.¬†
As far as competition goes, Drew said the Georgia defense that has been called young all season handled everything well. Regardless of the Gator Bowl loss, he said he is excited about what next season holds.¬†
‚ÄúAs a whole, I‚Äôm encouraged for next season because of what I saw today. I believe we played tough,‚Äù Drew said. ‚ÄúWe have experience and these guys know what to expect. We‚Äôve been through it all.‚Äù