Published Tuesday, December 31, 2013 at 9:40 pm / Updated at 9:49 pm
Nebraska Notes: NU expects tweaks with Mason at QB
Gator Bowl: Nebraska vs. Georgia
When: 11 a.m. Wednesday
Where: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.
Radio: 1110 AM KFAB

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Even with only one game of film on Georgia's backup quarterback, Nebraska seems confident in its ability to prepare for Hutson Mason and the Bulldogs' passing attack.

Mason, who's taken over for the injured Aaron Murray, completed 22 of 36 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Bulldogs to a 41-34 overtime win over Georgia Tech in the regular season finale. Mason showed impressive accuracy and a strong arm, according to NU defensive back Ciante Evans.

“He did a good job,” Evans said. “He handled the offense well.”

The Huskers do expect some tweaks to the system and a few new wrinkles now that Mason's been practicing as Georgia's top quarterback for a month. But coach Bo Pelini is convinced that the Bulldogs will stick to their basic principles on offense.

“What they do, they do well,” he said. “It's not a lot of trick 'em things going on. Very similar to what they did a year ago. They believe in what they do.”

Huskers see openings

Nebraska's leaders on offense don't want the skill level of Georgia's rebuilding defense to take them out of what they do best.

Junior I-back Ameer Abdullah and senior wide receiver Quincy Enunwa indicated Tuesday that the Huskers have identified some weaknesses in the Bulldogs' defense. NU's coaches will have a plan. It's up to the players to take advantage Wednesday.

“We're going to go out and play our game,” Enunwa said.

The Bulldogs lost seven members of last year's defense to the NFL. This season's unit ranks 80th nationally in points allowed per game at 29.4.

But Abdullah expects a challenge Wednesday.

“We're looking to get their best shot,” he said.

Battle of the running backs

Gator Bowl fans will get a peek Wednesday at a pair of tailbacks who might be Heisman Trophy candidates in 2014.

Nebraska's Abdullah will go into the game ranking No. 7 nationally with 130.7 rushing yards per game. His 1,568 yards this season are the most by a Husker since Ahman Green in 1997.

Georgia sophomore tailback Todd Gurley, with 903 yards (6.3 per carry), is chasing his second straight 1,000-yard season despite missing three games and part of a fourth.

“They're both great backs,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “They're different — they have different styles, obviously built differently — but great players come in a lot of different shapes and sizes, and a lot of different skill sets.”

Abdullah is a 5-foot-9, 190-pounder, while Gurley is 6-1 and 232 pounds. Both Pelini and NU defensive end Jason Ankrah said the Huskers also must stay aware of Gurley in the Georgia passing game after he had five touchdown catches among his 30 receptions.

“We have a lot of respect for Gurley, and I think he's a heck of a football player with his size and strength, and he can do a lot of different things,” Pelini said. “But I said it all year: I wouldn't trade Ameer for any back in the country.”

Abdullah hit 100 yards in 10 of 12 games this season and averages 6.2 per carry. He was named a third-team All-American by the Associated Press.

“He's a talented guy,” Georgia defensive end Garrison Smith said. “He's muscular, a rock-solid dude, a really tough, physical runner.”

Smith said Abdullah didn't necessarily remind him of any back in the SEC, but said: “The guy can really play football.”

No nostalgia for old stadium

Before there was EverBank Field, the old home to the Gator Bowl was ... the Gator Bowl.

Gator Bowl President Rick Catlett said Tuesday that those involved with the bowl game and those around Jacksonville don't necessarily miss the stadium along the St. Johns River that was built in 1927 and then expanded and renovated in the 1940s, '50s, '70s and '80s.

“No, no ...” Catlett said. “None of us.”

After the Jacksonville Jaguars were awarded an NFL franchise in November 1993, the Gator Bowl hosted its last bowl game that Dec. 31 when Alabama beat North Carolina 24-10. The bowl was moved to Gainesville for one year while EverBank Field was being constructed, first called Jacksonville Municipal Stadium and then Alltell Stadium from 1997 through 2006.

EverBank Field's location compared with the old Gator Bowl?

“Four yards east of where it was,” Catlett said.

Catlett worked for the mayor's office in the final years of the Gator Bowl stadium and said the aging facility was slowly becoming decrepit. He recalled the 1983 matchup between Florida and Iowa coming on the heels of a week of temperatures in the 20s — and the stadium being without running water for the game.

But in its heyday, the Gator Bowl hosted a Pat Sullivan-Archie Manning showdown after the 1970 season, featured Ohio State coach Woody Hayes slugging a Clemson linebacker in 1978 and included six games in the 1980s that drew crowds of 80,000 or more.

With EverBank Field, Catlett said, Jacksonville plans to stay in bidding for college playoff games and has a facility that can hold 85,000.

Nebraska beat Clemson 26-21 in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1, 2009. The Huskers never played in the old Gator Bowl stadium.

* * *

Video: NU coach Bo Pelini at the Gator Bowl press conference:

Video: UGA coach Mark Richt at the Gator Bowl press conference:

Video: Watch the Husker pep rally in Jacksonville:

Contact the writer: Jon Nyatawa    |   402-473-9585    |  

Jon Nyatawa has covered local sports, primarily Nebraska football and baseball, for The Omaha World-Herald since 2008.

Contact the writer: Rich Kaipust    |   402-444-1042    |  

Rich Kaipust is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and some general assignment tasks, including the College World Series and U.S. Olympic Swim Trials.

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