World-Herald staff writer Rich Kaipust breaks down the Nebraska-Georgia matchups in the Capital One Bowl.
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NU rush offense vs. Georgia rush defense: Nebraska got Rex Burkhead back full-time for the Big Ten championship game, then wasn't able to use him the way it planned after falling behind immediately against Wisconsin. If the Huskers can avoid a similar situation, the 1-2 punch of Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah — plus the run threat of quarterback Taylor Martinez — should be a good challenge for Georgia, which allowed 350 rushing yards to Alabama in the SEC championship game (and 306 to Georgia Tech and 302 to Georgia Southern in the two games prior). NU ranks No. 8 in rushing offense, the Bulldogs just No. 77 in rushing defense. Edge: Nebraska
NU pass offense vs. Georgia pass defense: Nebraska made strides this season, but now goes against a Bulldog unit that ranks No. 8 in pass defense (173.5 yards per game), allows opponents to complete just 56.8 percent of their attempts and has as many interceptions as touchdowns allowed (11 of each). Georgia defensive backs will get up and be physical with NU receivers, so Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa and Jamal Turner will have to fight to create separation. Martinez had just one TD pass in the Huskers' three losses, with six interceptions and 12 sacks. Edge: Georgia
Georgia rush offense vs. NU rush defense: All you have to do is look back to Dec. 1 to see the advantage for Georgia here. Freshman tailback Todd Gurley ran for 122 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama in the SEC title game, while Nebraska was hardly even a speed bump for Wisconsin (539 yards, 10.8 per carry) in the Big Ten matchup. Gurley is complemented by Keith Marshall, and the two freshmen have combined for 1,983 yards and get 6.3 and 6.6 per carry, respectively. NU has no immediate answer for losing tackle Baker Steinkuhler in the heart of its defense, and its issues with tackling and bad angles still pop up. Edge: Georgia
Georgia pass offense vs. NU pass defense: Nebraska might be a good test for Georgia junior Aaron Murray, who has thrown for 3,466 yards and 31 touchdowns. The Huskers still rank No. 1 nationally in pass defense (148.2 yards per game) and No. 2 in pass efficiency defense. Until Wisconsin went 8 for 10 throwing it, Nebraska had held seven straight opponents to sub-50 percent passing. Georgia has eight players with 15 or more receptions, so the Huskers won't be able to focus on somebody like Tavarres King, who has eight TDs and averages 21.7 yards a catch. Edge: Even
Special teams: Can Nebraska go out on a good note here, or will the struggles and miscues dog the Huskers all the way through the season? The Huskers' return games have been nonexistent since midseason, and even kicker/punter Brett Maher has had some ups and downs. Georgia doesn't do any one thing particularly well, but the Bulldogs have blocked five kicks and Malcolm Mitchell at least needs to be respected on returns. Edge: Georgia
Intangibles: The unknown until kickoff might be which team handled its bowl practices better and stayed more businesslike after their Dec. 1 disappointments. Both Georgia and Nebraska have lost back-to-back bowls, but the Bulldogs had won seven of their previous eight and have the more experienced head coach with Mark Richt (eight 10-win seasons, two SEC titles). Georgia will have a crowd edge at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium, but its biggest advantage might come in its ability to create turnovers (27). Edge: Georgia
Key matchup: Martinez called Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones “just another football player out there,” but the All-American is anything but ordinary. It won't come down to one Husker's responsibility but rather take a group effort to keep Jones blocked or contained. If the Huskers can't or don't, the junior might only add to his 22 1/2 tackles for loss, 12Ĺ sacks and seven forced fumbles.
Nebraska will win if: It can protect the football, establish its run game from the start and keep the Georgia offense off the field.
Georgia will win if: The Bulldogs come to play and match the intensity and desire that almost carried them to the national championship game.
Our take: Study the rosters and it's not hard to see which one features more future NFL draft picks. That said, bowl games have a way of falling into the hands of the team that wants to be there and prepares better. Who is that? We'll have to wait to find out, but all things equal it will be tough for Nebraska to win this one unless it made some defensive fixes in December, can control the pace with its offense and not help Georgia at all with turnovers or special-teams mistakes. Neither junior starting quarterback has won a bowl game yet, but Murray appears intent on getting his first one against the Huskers' hurting defense.
Prediction: Georgia 35, Nebraska 27
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>> This week's edition of "The Big Red Today Show":
>> NU coach Bo Pelini speaks to the media on Monday, Dec. 31:
>> UGA coach Mark Richt speaks to the media on Monday, Dec. 31:
>> Monday's Husker pep rally in Orlando, Fla.: