ORLANDO, Fla. — One thing Nebraska will see from Georgia’s defense Tuesday is a relentless effort to get the football.
And giving it up has been one of the Huskers’ problems on offense this season.
“We’ve shown our guys on tape that they’re going to hold guys up, dig at the football, and we have to do a great job of hanging on to the football,” NU offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. “I feel like offensively that’s been our Achilles’ heel all year.”
Nebraska has fumbled 34 times this season, losing 21. Georgia opponents have 36 fumbles, including seven forced by All-America linebacker Jarvis Jones, and the Bulldogs have recovered 16 of those.
Nebraska also is bracing for Georgia defensive backs to be physical in pass coverage, and assistant Rich Fisher said that will be a test for Husker receivers.
“We’re going to have to go compete for balls,” Fisher said. “All the catches are going to be contested. We’re going to have to create some separation and compete for the ball.”
Beck said the Georgia secondary is a little like Michigan State’s, which featured solid cover cornerbacks and safeties who were good with run support.
“Michigan State played that same kind of style on the perimeter,” Beck said. “We’re expecting to see guys up in our face like Michigan State played us.”
One thing that should help NU receivers is the month off between games. Fisher said the demands on players like Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa to also block on the perimeter can add up.
“We’ve been able to get guys that have been nicked up a little healthier,” Fisher said.
Another Spartan similarity
Speaking of Michigan State, Nebraska linebacker Will Compton said the Georgia offense has a similar pro-style element to it, including a quarterback (Aaron Murray) who runs very little.
Nebraska has fared better in recent seasons against those kinds of attacks.
“For what we do personnel-wise and our packages, we do match up well with them,” Compton said. “I know Coach Bo (Pelini) is very confident in the game plan we’re implementing.”
Compton said he thinks the Husker defense has prepared well for the Capital One Bowl coming off its meltdown against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game.
“I know what we’ve done on our end,” he said. “We just have to worry about us. It’s not us vs. Georgia, it’s us vs. ourselves, like it always is. I’m confident with how we’ve prepared and our game plan going into it.”
Nebraska’s coaches know that Georgia’s big-play passing game won’t be easy to stop, especially since the Bulldogs have so many deep threats.
Georgia’s completed 17 passes of more than 40 yards, tied for third-most nationally. Murray has completed deep balls to six receivers (two of whom are out for Tuesday’s game).
“Anybody who lines up out there can go downtown on you,” NU secondary coach Terry Joseph said.
Nebraska’s pass defense is statistically the nation’s best, holding opponents to 148.2 yards per game and a completion percentage of 46.4. The Huskers have allowed three passing plays of more than 40 yards. No team has allowed fewer.
But Murray may be the most talented QB the Huskers have faced this year, Joseph said. Defensive coordinator John Papuchis said Murray “throws the deep ball exceptionally well.”
Senior safety P.J. Smith thinks the height advantage for Georgia’s receivers will likely entice the Bulldogs to try more long throws. Especially out of formations that appear to be run-first looks.
“It’s a big challenge for us,” Smith said. “We’ve got to be on our ‘A’ game.”
NU prepares for pace
Nebraska’s defense has spent good portions of practice this month preparing for the specific moments when Georgia’s offense increases its pace.
The Bulldogs don’t always operate out of the no-huddle, but they’re effective when they do, Papuchis said.
“On film, it’s obvious they catch some guys that aren’t ready,” Papuchis said.
He said the extra time to prepare has been helpful. The NU defenders have had more reps against their high-speed offense. The scout team’s been scripted to go faster, too.
But the up-tempo approach has given the Huskers some problems this year.
That’s why Georgia runs it, Murray said — to limit the possible play calls and maybe catch the opposing defense off-guard.
“I think the biggest thing for us as an offense is we try to create great tempo,” Murray said. “Try to get going fast, try to get lined up and get the play call.”