JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Junior cornerback Josh Mitchell had the two turnovers that he and teammates spent all month talking about creating in Wednesday's Gator Bowl, but he didn't seem to think his efforts were too out of the ordinary.
Right place, right time. That was the stance Mitchell took regarding the fumble recovery and interception that led to 14 Nebraska points in a 24-19 win over Georgia.
He said he gained possession of a loose ball simply because he was hustling. He picked off a pass because the quarterback threw the ball right to him.
Nothing more than that, Mitchell said. With the amount of effort and emphasis NU's players and coaches placed on getting takeaways since bowl preparation began, it could have been anyone.
“We talked about it, getting turnovers, all week — for the past three weeks,” Mitchell said.
It was Mitchell who stepped up Wednesday, though.
Teammates have always admired Mitchell for his never-back-down, inspiring attitude. He's listed at 160 pounds, but he presses receivers like they're the ones with the weight disadvantage, and he fires upfield in run support with the head-hunting demeanor of a hard-hitting safety.
Few guys talk and yell more than Mitchell, who's always trying to motivate or encourage teammates by being vocal. He shouts to other defenders. To himself. To opponents.
Said sophomore linebacker David Santos: “He's that guy.”
That guy who hadn't recorded a takeaway during the 2013 regular season yet was telling Santos before the Gator Bowl that an interception was coming. Nebraska had just two takeaways in its final six games.
But Mitchell ended up following through on his claim by simply doing his job, then reacting appropriately when the time came.
And the defense enjoyed the benefits.
“We were jumping around, having a good time out there,” redshirt freshman defensive tackle Vincent Valentine said.
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Mitchell's plays were the catalyst for that. And the Huskers hope they'll be a sign of things to come for one of the defense's new leaders.
Defensive backs Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Ciante Evans and Andrew Green have been the ones underclassmen look to in the secondary for the last two seasons. They played their last game Wednesday.
Include Mo Seisay in that mix of departing seniors, and NU's left with plenty of holes to fill on its depth chart at cornerback, and at the nickel and dime spots. Mitchell will be the only non-safety with extensive experience returning in NU's secondary.
But leading comes naturally to Mitchell. He won't have to change his approach.
In fact, the defense's lone captain through the regular season said he'll tell Mitchell not to stress over whether he's saying the right thing or truly reaching some of the youngsters.
“You have to make sure you do your job first and foremost, carry out your assignment before you can lead anybody else,” Evans said. “Make sure you're working hard, doing everything that you can do to be prepared for the game.”
Everything else takes care of itself, Evans said.
That's sort of how the Gator Bowl went, anyway.
Mitchell said five days before the game that the Huskers had to create takeaways to win. But forcing the issue wasn't the way to go about it.
Each guy had to stick to his role, then capitalize on the potential breaks. The entire unit had to be locked in, which is ultimately what happened Wednesday.
“We put it all together,” Mitchell said. “We prepared to come win this game, and that's what we did.”