When Georgia’s first drive ended with an interception, Bulldogs fans must have wondered if their team had shown up at the Capital One Bowl with it mind somewhere else.
But when Georgia ended Nebraska’s first drive with a blocked punt and a safety, fans didn’t have to worry about whether the team would suffer from a lackluster effort.
Georgia beat Nebraska 45-31 on Tuesday in the Capital One Bowl at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla. It was a solid end to the 2012 season that will always be remembered for coming up five yards short against Alabama.
Georgia picked up its 12th win. Aaron Murray and Alec Ogletree had games to remember. The Bulldogs have momentum going into recruiting season and the 2013 campaign.
Georgia could have shown up in Orlando just going through the motions after getting knocked out of the BCS title game and few would blame them. Nobody lists the Capital One Bowl among its preseason goals before August two-a-days, and nobody wants to get there courtesy of a heart-breaking loss in a conference championship game.
Georgia didn’t play its best game of the year. The Bulldogs hadn’t played in a month and the rust showed. The offense suffered from early turnovers. Nebraska’s running game bulldozed the Bulldogs for almost three full quarters. But Georgia worked through the kinks and took control in the fourth quarter and won by a two-touchdown margin that was wider than it felt.
Nebraska entered the game with the top passing defenses in the nation. But Murray inflicted damage to those numbers in spectacular fashion.
Murray, a fourth-year junior, had one of the best games of his career. He completed 18 of 33 passes for 427 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. He was especially brutal on Nebraska from long distance as all five of his touchdowns came from at least 24 yards out.
Even Murray’s interception that was returned for a Nebraska touchdown stretched 24 yards.
Georgia has thrown downfield effectively all season, and the Capital One Bowl was no exception. Murray hit Chris Conley for touchdowns of 49 and 87 yards. He hit Tavarres King for a 75-yard touchdown. Arthur Lynch caught a 29-yard scoring pass, and Keith Marshall caught a 24-yarder. Murray averaged 23.7 yards a completion, and more than a quarter (27.8 percent) of his completions ended with touchdowns.
Murray also showed an ability to bounce back from catastrophe. Two of Georgia’s first three drives ended with interceptions, including one that Nebraska linebacker Will Compton returned for a 24-yard touchdown. After the second interception, Murray didn’t have another turnover and directed the Bulldogs to five touchdowns and a field goal.
Georgia’s run defense has been probably the most disappointing aspect of the season, and Nebraska took advantage.
Despite having a unit studded with experienced NFL prospects, Georgia has given up massive chunks of yardage, including 350 to Alabama in the SEC championship game.
Georgia’s porous run defense took a hit before kickoff when nose tackle John Jenkins was ruled academically ineligible, and his absence had an impact. Nebraska halfback Rex Burkhead ran for 140 yards and a touchdown. Ameer Abdullah added 48 yards and a 6.9 average. Quarterback Taylor Martinez only netted 46 yards but had to absorb 30 yards from five sacks in the process. As a team, Nebraska totaled 239 yards and 15 first downs on the ground.
Georgia looked so disorganized in the third quarter that Burkhead scored on a 2-yard run when Nebraska’s quick snap caught the Bulldogs defense before it could even line up.
Although Nebraska started strong, it didn’t finish that way.
Nebraska’s running game that had bulled its way to a 31-23 third-quarter lead all but disappeared after Ogletree forced a fumble. The Cornhuskers had a reputation for making second-half comebacks, sometimes from double-digit deficits. But in the Capital One Bowl, Georgia finished strong and Nebraska wilted.
Ogletree’s forced fumble and recovery changed everything. Nebraska had reacted to Georgia’s game-tying touchdown by powering from its own 14-yard line to the Georgia 38-yard line in just six snaps. But Ogletree knocked the ball loose and recovered it himself. After that play, Georgia held Nebraska to three-and-out on two straight possessions as Georgia scored two straight touchdowns. Nebraska managed just 59 yards and no points in its final four possessions.
Much of Georgia’s defense will prepare for the upcoming NFL draft. The Bulldogs’ offense will await word on Murray’s decision whether to make the jump. In the meantime, the countdown to signing day and the start of spring drills has started in earnest.