Gator Bowl 2014: Georgia vs. Nebraska TV Info, Predictions and More
The names and dates are the same; only the location has been changed. For the second time in as many years, the Georgia Bulldogs and the Nebraska Cornhuskers will square off on January 1, this time in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla.
Last year, the Bulldogs came away with a 45-31 victory in Orlando in the Capital One Bowl, but the slate is wiped clean for the two teams, both 8-4, as they look to shake off their disappointing seasons.
For Georgia, a high preseason ranking and a strong early-season start came undone as a rash of injuries became insurmountable and a young defense struggled to develop.
The Cornhuskers' season has been plagued with controversy surrounding head coach Bo Pelini and a general lack of momentum. The Huskers failed to put together a winning streak in excess of three games this season.
Here's what you need to know:
Date: Wednesday, Jan. 1
Time: Noon ET
Place: Everbank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.
Radio: Georgia Bulldogs Radio Network, Husker Sports Radio Network
Georgia Bulldogs Keys to Victory
Stop the Run
Last year, Nebraska ran all over Georgia and in doing so controlled the pace of the game for much of the first half. The Cornhuskers' rushing attack, although it's missing Rex Burkhead, is equally potent this season.
Running back Ameer Abdullah has quietly rushed for 1,568 yards this season and is the picture of consistency. He's only been held under 100 yards on two occasions, a 98-yard effort against UCLA and an 85-yard performance against Iowa.
While much of the talk leading up to the game will focus on Georgia's poor pass defense, stopping the run takes away Nebraska's best weapon. Three quarterbacks have gotten significant playing time for the Cornhuskers this year, but none boasts a passer rating higher than 140.
Hutson Mason played well in his first career start against Georgia Tech, but the Bulldogs must get more out of him moving forward. Most notably, the Dawgs must get a complete effort from him early in the game.
Fortunately, Mason's reputation as a backup was one of a quick starter. His slow start against Tech needs to be written off as first-game jitters as he prepares to take on a strong passing defense.
Nebraska Cornhuskers Keys to Victory
Limit Big Plays
Last year, each of Georgia's six touchdowns against Nebraska came on a play in excess of 20 yards. Aaron Murray's college career is over, but Mason still has plenty of playmakers available.
Nine Georgia players who have registered plays of 35-plus yards in 2013 will take the field against Nebraska. The Cornhuskers must limit the big plays to keep a still-prolific offense from scoring points in bunches.
Control the Clock
The most effective way to limit Georgia's offense will be clock control. A successful running game as well as the short passing game can keep a young Bulldogs defense on the field.
Leaning on Abdullah will force Georgia to move safety Josh Harvey-Clemons into the box in run support. This will open up the passing game across the middle of the field as young defensive backs find themselves in single coverage.
Slow, methodical drives can expose a mediocre defense and frustrate a high-powered Bulldog offense.
Players to Watch for Georgia
- RB Todd Gurley: Gurley has accounted for 1,247 yards of offense and 15 total touchdowns in 2013 despite missing 14 quarters of play due to injury.
- WR Chris Conley: The Dawgs' leading receiver, Conley has hauled in team highs in catches (42) and yards (605).
- ILB Ramik Wilson: Wilson leads the SEC with 128 total tackles from his inside linebacker spot.
- CB Damian Swann: Swann had a huge game against Nebraska last year, and many expected a more productive junior season out of him this year. He'll be looking to return to form.
NFL Draft Prospects:
- TE Arthur Lynch: Outside of the injured Murray, Lynch is likely Georgia's best draft prospect. He has NFL size, decent speed and a well-developed blocking repertoire. He's projected as a third- or fourth-round pick according to NFL Draft Scout.
- OT Kenarious Gates: A 38-game starter, Gates will be suiting up for the final time as a Bulldog and looking to attract the eyes of scouts in the process.
Georgia's complete depth chart is available here.
Players to Watch for Nebraska
- RB Ameer Abdullah: Despite a stellar season, Abdullah is not expected to go pro after this season. Another year as the Huskers' premier back will serve him well as he looks to add to this year's campaign.
- QB Tommy Armstrong: The freshman signal-caller has played well in erratic action. The Cornhuskers' QB of the future has thrown for 803 yards and seven touchdowns, but he has completed just 53 percent of his passes and tossed seven interceptions. A few more weeks of practice before the bowl game will go a long way in his development.
- SS Corey Cooper: A big, physical defensive back, Cooper leads the team in total tackles (81) while doing a little bit of everything defensively. He's registered five tackles for loss, two sacks, one interception and a forced fumble.
NFL Draft Prospects:
Unfortunately for Nebraska, a number of longstanding contributors have gone down with injuries in their final collegiate season. Quarterback Taylor Martinez may or may not get NFL looks, but he accounted for 10,234 yards of offense and 87 touchdowns as a Cornhusker. His foot injury is expected to keep him out of this game.
Offensive guard Spencer Long started every game for Nebraska in 2011 and 2012 before being lost for the season with a knee injury in October. He's considered the ninth-best prospect at guard in this year's draft according to ESPN's draft tracker.
Nebraska's complete depth chart is available here.
What They're Saying
Ramik Wilson on Georgia's Defense
The SEC's leading tackler told David Ching of ESPN that Georgia's defense needs to start playing a complete game. "We've got to stop coming off slow in the first half," Wilson said of the Bulldogs' typically lax early-game performance. "We've got to finish, and that's what we've been doing in the second half."
Bo Pelini on His Freshman Quarterback
A few weeks ago, Pelini told the media, via PennLive, "[We] still believe in Tommy [Armstrong], still think he's going to be a really good football player for us. He's young. He's a freshman. He's not going to be perfect."
Georgia Player Weighs in on Bowl Matchup
Michael Bennett, a junior wide receiver, took to Twitter to express his dismay with the Bulldogs' bowl matchup, saying, "Nebraska again? You kidding me?"
The tweet has since been deleted, but not before Seth Emerson of Macon.com made a record of it.
For Nebraska, this game game gives the Cornhuskers an opportunity for revenge and head coach Bo Pelini a chance to register his sixth consecutive nine-win season.
On the surface, Georgia seems to have much less to play for. Mark Richt's job is safe, and he should have no intention to alter his coaching staff. Furthermore, with so many players still injured (in addition to Murray, wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley as well as running back Keith Marshall are out), this game is simply the end of a long, disappointing season.
Upon further review, however, this game means much more for a Georgia team that has a bright future in 2014. Defensively, the Bulldogs will likely only lose one starter (Garrison Smith), and the offense will return almost all of its skill-position players.
Georgia will be playing for a 2-0 record for new quarterback Hutson Mason and momentum moving into the offseason as the offense continues to evolve around its new leader and the defense looks to improve.
For many fans, this game is all too similar to last year's matchup, and such frustrations are understandable. The result will also be the same.
Georgia wins by 14.