As we sit watching a great Chick-fil-A Bowl, I realize that I haven’t written
much anything on our own bowl game. There’s been some great analysis elsewhere, but we know this team so well that the keys become either the obvious (turnovers) or the unpredictable (motivation).
You never know about the motivation thing until they get to hitting. Both teams will say and have said the right things. It is strange, though, how much Georgia’s motivation has been questioned. It’s the age-old question about whether it’s easier to shake off a blowout or a heartbreaking loss, but both teams bring baggage into this game. Georgia of course came up yards short of the national title game, but Nebraska got run over by an underdog they had already beaten with a trip to the Rose Bowl at stake. Their reward is a trip back to the same bowl they got last season – will they be motivated to return?
When we last saw these two teams, Nebraska was getting blown out by a middling Big 10 team, and the Dawgs went toe-to-toe with the defending national champion. That made the Capital One Bowl seem like a mismatch, but it’s a lot more likely that neither team will play as they did in their championship games. Nebraska is much better than their showing in Indianapolis, and Georgia will find it tough to sustain the high level of play with which they finished the season after a month of holidays, family time, and other distractions.
For a Georgia team that was gashed for 350 rushing yards by Alabama, facing the nation’s #8 rushing attack isn’t a comfortable thought. The Huskers have five players with over 300 rushing yards, and all five average at least five yards per carry. Complicating things is quarterback Taylor Martinez, one of the best playmakers in the nation. We know of Georgia’s troubles with dual-threat quarterbacks, and Martinez is a better dual threat than either Franklin at Missouri and Rodgers at Vanderbilt.
Another complication is Georgia’s defensive line. Jenkins is ineligible, and Abry Jones won’t be in top condition if he plays at all. That leaves a fairly thin group including Geathers, Drew, Smith, and Washington with much experience. Mike Thornton is also available, but he’s working back from a leg injury on a cut block by Georgia Tech. If Nebraska can stay on the field and sustain drives, this group could wear down against another good running game. This is another area where Martinez’s abilities come into play. He’ll have his designed runs, but the plays to watch will be the third downs that break down. Can Georgia’s defense contain Martinez and get off the field, or will Nebraska’s quarterback improvise to move the chains?
You don’t like to talk about it, but Georgia’s defense is full of guys who could be expected to have one eye on their draft status. On one hand, that’s a positive – this is another big stage for them, and for the underclassmen it’s the last game they’ll play in before they get poked and prodded by NFL scouts. If they value this opportunity to make a final impression, it could mean good things for the Georgia defense. On the other hand, the proximity to the draft and potentially a lot of money could make some play tentative in order to avoid injury. While this is a big game, it doesn’t have the stakes of a BCS or especially a title game. We should find out very quickly whether Georgia’s defense brings the same intensity with which it finished the season.
With so many variables on defense, I’m looking to the offense for consistency. The offense was fantastic in November, and they played Alabama as well as any team not led by a Heisman winner. Murray is in good form, Gurley has been consistently excellent, and additional weapons (like the tight ends) have emerged. It would take a lot for Georgia to put up 40 points, let alone 60 or 70, but it’s going to take a better effort on offense than Georgia has come up with in the past two bowls.
The less said about the 2010 showing against UCF, the better. But even last year the offense was a weakness. They put up 30 points against Michigan State, but remember how shaky it was. Those points included a long bomb to King and a punt return by Boykin. Georgia had a decent scoring drive in the fourth quarter after falling behind, but that was about all of the sustained offense they could muster. As the game wore on, MSU’s defensive line became more dominant to the point that Georgia all but conceded their inability to run in overtime. The game also featured some crippling turnovers by Murray that let MSU overcome their 16-0 halftime deficit.
With solid performances against Florida and Alabama under their belt, we’re still not far removed from questions about this team’s ability to perform against ranked teams. They’ve since answered those questions, but this is still one of the better teams Georgia has faced all season. It’s their fourth opportunity against a ranked opponent in the 2012 season, and the Dawgs need a win to get to .500 against their ranked foes.
It’s been what seems like an eternity since Georgia’s last bowl win, and there aren’t many key players who were on that 2009 Independence Bowl team. It’s been since 2008 that Georgia has beaten an opponent of this quality in a bowl.