Matchup breakdown: Georgia vs. Nebraska

FIVE KEYS


Marc Weiszer

1. Slow down Huskers’ ground game

Nebraska is eighth in the nation in rushing and had his 250 yards rushing eight times this season. Sophomore I-back Ameer Abdullah from Homewood, Ala,, a second-team All-Big Ten pick, leads the team with 1,089 rushing yards, but senior Rex Burkhead’s return from knee injury gives the Huskers a more experienced ball-carrier.

Quarterback Taylor Martinez has accounted for 973 rushing yards and a team-best 10 touchdowns.

The Bulldogs surrendered an SEC title-game record 350 rushing yards and became the first team in the game’s history to give up 100 or more yards rushing to two backs. Georgia is 12th in the SEC in run defense, giving up 177.8 yards per game.

2. Turn over Taylor

Nebraska has lost 21 fumbles and has 32 total turnovers, most in the Big Ten. Quarterback Taylor Martinez is a dangerous runner but also is fumble-prone when he’s on the move. He’s fumbled 15 times this season. The Cornhuskers are tied with Memphis for most fumbles among FBS schools. Georgia is tied for second in the nation in fumbles recovered with 16. It’s hard to see the Cornhuskers winning the game unless it wins or draws even in turnovers.

3. Deliver knockout punch

Georgia has been a good third-quarter team this season, outscoring opponents 169-122. That surge out of the locker room could come in handy against a Cornhuskers team that has shown resiliency this season with its ability to come from behind to win. Nebraska overcame deficits of 17 points to Wisconsin in the regular season, 12 to Northwestern, 10 to Michigan State and 14 to Penn State to win.

4. Take advantage of weapons in passing game

Nebraska’s run defense is highly suspect, but that doesn’t mean Georgia will abandon balance in its offense. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray should take shots downfield with Malcolm Mitchell and Tavarres King. The Cornhuskers lead the nation in pass defense, allowing 148.2 yards per game, but UCLA threw for 309 yards and four touchdowns against Nebraska, and Penn State passed for 240. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said he hopes an effective running game will force Nebraska to use a safety in the box to help, creating one-on-one matchups.

5. Play with passion again

Georgia didn’t get the victory against Alabama in the SEC title game but showed it belonged by going toe-to-toe for 60 minutes with a team that could win another national title. The stakes aren’t nearly as high in Orlando, Fla., but the Bulldogs need to play as if they are. An impressive performance would only add to what would be looked at as one of the nation’s elite teams this season. Going through the motions could put Nebraska in position for the upset.

 

WHO HAS THE EDGE?

Offense

Only Texas A&M in the SEC has more balance on offense than Georgia, which ranks fourth in the conference in passing and fourth in rushing.

Quarterback Aaron Murray is second in the nation in pass efficiency (172.4) and fourth in the SEC in passing yards per game (266.6)

The Bulldogs are 18th in the nation in scoring at 37.2 points per game. Nebraska is 28th at 35.1. Both teams rank in the top 30 in total offense also. The Cornhuskers averaged a Big Ten-best 462.2 yards per game, just ahead of Georgia’s 458.3.

Nebraska has given up 30 sacks, 85th in the nation.

Georgia leads all SEC teams in touchdowns in the red zone, scoring 76 percent of the time.

Quarterback Aaron Murray is second on the all-time SEC career touchdown passing list with 90, just 24 away from tying Danny Wuerffel for the SEC record.

Nebraska gained more than 430 yards in 11 of 13 games this season. Offensive right guard Spencer Long was a second-team Associated Press and Walter Camp All-America pick and a first-team All-Big Ten selection.

Quarterback Taylor Martinez will be making his 39th career start, more than any other player in program history. He’s completed 62.2 percent of his passes for 2,667 yards and 21 touchdowns. Receiver Kenny Bell leads Nebraska with 46 catches for 803 yards and eight touchdowns. Tight ends Kyler Reed (23 catches for 354 yards) and Ben Cotton (16 catches for 170 yards) each have two touchdown receptions.

Edge: Georgia

 

Defense

This is expected to be the final game in a Georgia uniform for linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree.

Olgetree leads the Bulldogs with 98 tackles despite missing the first four games of the season. He’s led the team in tackles in seven of the nine games he’s played, including each of the last five.

Jones has 12½ sacks, 22½ tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles.

Nebraska actually is ahead of Georgia in total defense. The Cornhuskers rank 22nd at 343.1 yards per game and Georgia is 27th at 351.2, but the Cornhuskers gave up 513 yards and 63 points to Ohio State and 640 and 70 points to Wisconsin in losses.

Linebacker Will Compton leads Nebraska with 101 tackles. Defensive end Eric Martin is second in the Big Ten with 8½ sacks and tied for third in tackles for loss with 14½. Safety Damion Stafford has a team-leading four interceptions.

Georgia’s defensive line will be tested after the loss of mammoth nose guard John Jenkins due to academics. Kwame Geathers and Abry Jones (returning from ankle surgery) need to step up in his absence.

Edge: Georgia

 

Special Teams

Senior Brett Maher was named the Big Ten Co-Kicker of the Year. He won the award last season. He’s 19 of 25 on field goals and averages 41.7-yards per punt. He hasn’t missed in 55 point after attempts. He has 112 points, leaving him five away from setting a Nebraska record for points by a kicker. Ameer Abdullah is 11th in the nation in punt return average at 13.1 He’s the only player in the nation with an 80-yard kickoff return and an 80-yard punt return this season.

Georgia is fifth in the SEC in kickoff returns at 23.0 yards per return and fifth in kickoff coverage. Freshman Collin Barber averages 41.6 yards per punt, 10th in the SEC. Freshman kicker Marshall Morgan is 8 of 13 on field goals.

Edge: Nebraska

 

Coaching

Georgia coach Mark Richt is 117-40 in 12 seasons, including 7-4 in bowl games. He is 5-2 in January games and 48-8 in non-conference games. The Bulldogs are down one full-time assistant after Rodney Garner left the team during bowl practices to join Auburn’s staff. Nebraska coach Bo Pelini is 49-19 in his fifth season. Pelini has nine or more wins in each of his five seasons.

Edge: Georgia

 

Intangibles

Bowl games can be about which team wants it more and which team is ready for the season to be over. Georgia players have talked about how the program showed it was a legitimate national-title contender by nearly upsetting Alabama. Nebraska has plenty to prove after being embarrassed in blowout fashion in the Big Ten title game.

Edge: Nebraska

 

Overall

The SEC has won three of the last four Capital One Bowl games, with South Carolina and Alabama winning the last two years by a combined score of 79-20. Nebraska is 7-0 at home this year but 3-3 away from Lincoln, Neb. Georgia won’t throttle the Cornhuskers by as much as Wisconsin did, but the Bulldogs should take this one rather handily and get to 12 wins for the third time in program history.

Edge: Georgia

 

Matchup to watch

Georgia running game vs. Nebraska front seven

The SEC’s fourth-most prolific rushing offense gets its crack at a Nebraska defense that Wisconsin ran over, through and by in the Big Ten championship game when it piled up 539 rushing yards in a 70-31 win.

The Cornhuskers are giving up an average of 194.8 yards per game, which is 95th in the nation and ahead of only Indiana in the Big Ten.

Georgia is averaging 184.2 yards per game on the ground behind freshman tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall.

“Everybody has a bad game and that was just one of their bad games,” Gurley said. “Those guys got two to three weeks of practice. That’s a big adjustment right there to even think about stopping the run. I know a lot of guys probably think, ‘Well, Georgia’s going to run all over them.’ I know right now Nebraska’s thinking that they’re trying to stop the run.”

Gurley (1,260 yards, 16 touchdowns) and Marshall (723 yards, eight touchdowns) are 17 yards away from rushing for a combined 2,000 yards this season.

“They’re both extremely talented, physical downhill runners,” Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. “They have the ability to break tackles and make big plays. That flashes over and over throughout the course of the season. Obviously we’ve got to do a good job of tackling. The first guy at the point of attack has to do a good job of hitting and wrapping up. We’ve got to get 11 hats to the ball. It’s going to be a huge factor in the game, our ability to stop the run.”

Wisconsin got some big plays running on the edge.

Georgia’s offensive line has four starters who weight at least 300 pounds. Nebraska starting defensive tackle Cameron Meredith is 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds. Starter Baker Steinkuhler, a second-team All Big Ten selection, is out with a knee injury.

“It’s going to be a good game for running the ball,” Georgia offensive guard Dallas Lee said. “They’re pretty much all seniors. They’ve played a lot of ball. It’s going to be on us to execute our assignments and go out there and beat them.”

Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo maintains that the Bulldogs can’t rely too heavily on the run.

“You’ve still got to go into the game and you’ve got to try to be balanced on offense,” he said. “I think that’s what makes the offense go, the ability to run and throw. Any defense, if you become one dimensional. … they’re going to be able to stop you. We’re going to try keep our balance and keep those guys honest. That’s what makes us go. That helps our whole team. I don’t think we’re there yet up front where we can line up and say hey we’re going to run the ball every down and be physically dominant.”

Said quarterback Aaron Murray: “We always want to be a balanced offense. We always want to be able to run the ball because we do so much play-action passing. That really sets everything up.”

 

FAST FACTS

Nebraska

The Cornhuskers were the highest ranked Big Ten team in the final BCS standings. Nebraska was 16th, ahead of No. 18 Michigan and No. 20 Northwestern.

Tom Osborne, the legendary former Nebraska football coach, is retiring as athletic director effective on Tuesday after five years in the position. His replacement is Shawn Eichorst, who left Miami and was an associate athletic director at Wisconsin and at South Carolina.

Georgia

The Bulldogs are 26-18-3 all-time in bowl games. That .585 winning percentage is fifth in the SEC behind Ole Miss (.636), Auburn (.622), Mississippi State (.600) and Alabama (.594).

Georgia is sixth all-time for bowl appearances with 47 and is making its 16th straight bowl appearance, behind only Florida State (30), Florida (22) and Virginia Tech (20) and tied with Georgia Tech.

 

TALKINGS POINTS

“I will be challenging our leadership to finish better than we did a year ago and to kind of solidify the job that they’ve done, because I think they’ve done an outstanding job to this point. I think they need to put an exclamation point on it or at least finish strong in a manner worthy of the way they led the entire offseason from January until now. That will be a big part of it. I’ll be talking a lot to the younger guys — the guys who know they are going to be coming back — to honor those guys the way they play. They’ve got some skin in it when it comes to the future of our program.”

— Georgia coach Mark Richt on message to team heading into bowl

 

“We kind of know the lay of the land. I like how we’ve approached it.”

— Nebraska coach Bo Pelini on playing in the Capital One Bowl for the second straight season. South Carolina beat the Cornhuskers last season 30-13

 

“He’s a phenomenal player. I’ve watched a lot of film on him. He plays hard. He never stops. He’s got a really good motor. Everyone does. I’m excited to test myself on where I’m at as a player.”

— Nebraska offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles on Jarvis Jones

 

“You have to keep Martinez in the pocket. He’s a great athlete. He makes scramble plays. That makes it difficult for a defense. If you stop the pass then he can extend the play.”

— Georgia linebacker Christian Robinson on containing Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez