College Football

Gator Bowl Pits Rematch of Nebraska-Georgia 2013 Post-Season Game

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Not only is a prestigious bowl victory on the line, but for embattled Nebraska Head football Coach  Bo Pelini, the outcome may determine whether he keeps his job.

Nebraska (8-4) will meet No. 23 Georgia (also 8-4)  Jan. 1, 2014 in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl at noon (ESPN2) in EverBank Field.

If the matchup sounds familiar, it should. Last year Georgia, representing the SEC, took advantage of a fourth quarter Nebraska fumble and defeated the Big 10 team 45-31 in the Capital One Bowl game in Orlando. This will be Nebraska’s 50th (24-25) appearance; Georgia’s 49th (27-18-3),

That loss plus a disappointing 2013 season, off-the-field remarks by the six-year head coach criticizing Cornhusker fans, and an outburst against an NCAA referee over a disputed call, among other factors, have put Pelini’s job in jeopardy although recently Nebraska Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst gave him a vote of confidence and said he hopes to see him at the helm in the future.

That aside, Pelini is only 2-4 in Bowl games, including losses in the last three, which doesn’t sit right with fans in this football-crazed state. In 2009 –  his first as head coach – , he led the Cornhuskers to a Gator Bowl victory over Clemson.

Georgia is making its fourth appearance in the Gator Bowl, their first since 1989. Between them, these two storied programs have amassed 99 bowl appearances – Nebraska will be in its 50th; Georgia, its 49th.

Georgia Head Coach Mark Richt said in a recent press conference last year’s bowl game will be very valuable in preparing for the Gator Bowl because “there are not a lot of changes with either team.”

“With the way our season went and all the adversity we went through, I’m glad to play this game and have the chance to play again. The opportunity to play this team is going to help our younger guys and give them more experience and get them ready for next year,” he said.

Pelini said his team is improving on a daily basis. “Guys have grown up a lot. Does that mean they’re the finished product? By no means. But they’ve come a long way. Every opportunity for them to get out here is important,” he said following a recent practice.

But both teams have had serious injury problems, two of which led to change in quarterbacks for the Bulldogs and Huskers since the opening season starters.

Overall Georgia amassed 489.8 yards total offense (313 passing making them the 18th best team in football in that department. They averaged 38. 2 points a game while giving up 29.4. Nebraska amassed 420 total yards, 221 rushing (19th best) with an average of 32.6 points a game, and allowing 25.3.

According to press and college reports on the two  teams’ defensive strengths and weaknesses, the defenses are markedly different. Nebraska, led by cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste, enters the game as the 21st best defense against the pass while Georgia is 65th.

The  receiving burden will fall on Chris Conley, who caught for 605 yards in 42 receptions (4 TDs) for Georgia. Though early in the season there was talk of redshirting the freshman, injuries forced him into the lineup and he did not disappoint.

“He’s always where he’s supposed to be … he’s always working hard and doing the very best he can, said Richt, who grew up in Omaha as a Cornhuskers’ fan. “Every route he runs at full speed.”

The rankings are somewhat reversed when it comes to rush defense with the Bulldogs ranked 41st and the Huskers, 57th.

But is Georgia good enough to stop Nebraska junior back Ameer Abdullah, a third team AP all-American, who had the key fumble in last  year’s bowl game, but has amassed 1,568 yards (8 TDs) on the ground this season., the most by a Nebraska back in more than a decade, second best in the Big 10 to Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde.

If the Georgia defense concentrates on stopping Abdullah, Nebraska redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., who took over in October from ailing regular QB Taylor Martinez, could be the game breaker.

But Armstrong’s record is suspect, with only a 53 percent completion rate and an equal number of touchdowns and interceptions (7 each).

Georgia’s sophomore running back Todd Gurey, overcame early season injuries, to post impressive numbers on the ground, 144 attempts, 903 yards, 10 TDs, and in the air, 30 catches, 344 yards, 5 TDs.

Georgia’s backup quarterback, Hudson Mason, will be making only his second start of the season in the bowl game.

According to the Marietta Daily Journal, in a 41-34 overtime win over Georgia Tech Nov. 30, Mason threw two touchdown passes after a shaky start that saw the Bulldogs fall behind 20-0.

After calming down in the second half, Mason ended up completing 22 of 36 passes for 299 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. According to the school, the comeback from the 20-point deficit was the biggest in Richt’s 13 seasons as coach and the third-largest in school history.

Following that game, Mason told the Marietta paper he hopes to build off the win, which should propel him into the 2014 regular season as the starting quarterback.
He said in a press conference that Nebraska is better than its 8-4 record as is Georgia. Mason said the Huskers’ veteran secondary is particularly strong which will force him to throw complete passes and move the ball.

“Nebraska and Georgia are truly among the greatest of football traditions in the nation,” said Bowl chairman Andy Pradella. “The Cornhuskers and Bulldogs have had exciting seasons and we are looking forward to a truly great Bowl matchup.”