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Loran Smith: Georgia caps season with nearly everything clicking

Pregame, Georgia and Nebraska both had the same emotional challenge for the Capital One Bowl — getting up from the mat after disappointing championship playoff games.

The Cornhuskers were smarting from the embarrassment of giving up 70 points to Wisconsin, and Georgia had to reenergize its focus and resolve after the heartbreaking loss to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference matchup in the Georgia Dome. For a half, the big-play offenses of both teams were equalized by the plethora of mistakes, which likely were the result of being rusty following the four weeks of game inactivity.

Georgia gained the upper hand in the third quarter, when the Bulldogs defense recovered a fumble with the scored tied, marched to the go-ahead touchdown — which they expanded into a two-touchdown margin — and dominated the all-important fourth quarter.

The Bulldogs again played with Abry Jones on the sideline. His absence was felt, as it had been late in the season, but it showed up dramatically in the SEC championship game. There is one defining statistic that probably kept Georgia from winning the SEC championship more than the last play of the game, which went awry.

The Bulldog sdefense was thin in depth and numbers all year. Luckily, there was not an abundance of injuries on the defensive side of the ball. Consider that Georgia worked with a complement of 28 players all season, when normally there would have been at least 40. Georgia had no defensive depth. Fatigue set in against Alabama.

A healthy Abry Jones would have gotten at least 35 snaps in the title game. This would have allowed for at least 10 snaps of rest for three-plus others on the defensive line. What would have that meant to the Georgia effort?

With the defense being depleted of experience and leadership for 2013, the naysayers have focused on this deficiency to relegate Georgia to a back seat when preseason ratings come out. With favorable recruiting results, however, the defense will begin again in August with some semblance of depth. Certainly the numbers will be favorable. This depth, with an experienced offense, could be significant.

The Georgia offense gained momentum in Orlando, Fla., when Aaron Murray’s accuracy regained sharpness and the Bulldogs began to run the ball consistently. The offense was given to shooting itself in the foot in the first half even though it put up 23 points.

“We forget,” said Mike Bobo, Georgia’s offensive coordinator, “that their defense was making plays. In the second half, we executed better and came up with some truly outstanding plays — like Keith Marshall’s catch for a touchdown. Aaron put it where only Keith could catch the ball. The catch was superb. It was a sensational play on the part of the quarterback and the receiver.”

The most classically executed play came in the fourth quarter when Murray hit Chris Conley on the inside screen for an 87-yard touchdown. Two things of significance took place. It was third-and-long, and Bobo guessed that Nebraska might come with an all-out blitz, which it did. This left no safety in coverage.

Arthur Lynch then blocked to perfection the defender assigned to Conley, and Kenarious Gates blocked the guy assigned to cover Lynch. A pass receiver could not have been more open. As soon as Murray delivered the ball, you knew that Conley would take it to the house.

Don’t forget the effort of the offensive line, which made its blocks across the board. “Six more inches and a Nebraska defender could have blocked the pass,” Bobo said of Conley’s reception. This is but a reminder that in big games, the difference often comes down to a smattering of plays.

The biggest factor is that the leadership of the team would not allow for a depression to set in after losing to Alabama. The 2012 Bulldog team was one of the Georgia’s most accomplished.

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