published Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

Georgia Bulldogs, Nebraska go at it again

Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason (14) hands off to Todd Gurley (3) against Georgia Tech.
Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason (14) hands off to Todd Gurley (3) against Georgia Tech.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

GATOR BOWL

No. 23 Georgia (8-4) vs. Nebraska (8-4)

Noon. • EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla. • ESPN2 & 102.3 FM

THE MATCHUP

Nebraska will try to establish the run with junior tailback Ameer Abdullah, who has rushed for 1,568 yards this season but was held to 85 yards and 3.7 yards per carry in the 38-17 loss to visiting Iowa that closed the regular season. “He’s a muscular, solid dude, and he’s a tough, physical runner,” Georgia senior defensive tackle Garrison Smith said Tuesday. “He’s got great vision and can cut back, so he’ll be a challenge.” Georgia has been solid this season against the run, most notably holding LSU to 77 yards, and forcing the Cornhuskers to go to the air could make today an adventure considering Nebraska has been unsettled at quarterback, as have the Bulldogs in their secondary.

ONE TO WATCH

When the Georgia-Nebraska pairing was announced, some of the Bulldogs expressed disappointment in having to play the same bowl opponent as last season. Junior quarterback Hutson Mason, who redshirted last year, wasn’t among them. “I don’t care who we’re playing,” Mason said. “I’m just glad to be playing. It’s a challenge, and we’re playing on national TV. That’s what I came here for, so I’m pumped.” Mason will be making his second career start, having rallied the Bulldogs from a 20-0 deficit to a 41-34 double-overtime win at Georgia Tech on Nov. 30. The 6-foot-3, 202-pounder threw an early interception before recovering to complete 22 of 36 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns.

IN THE END

If Georgia is motivated to play this game, the Bulldogs should not have any trouble, barring a breakdown or four in the secondary. After an injury-riddled midseason stretch in which the Bulldogs dropped games to Missouri and Vanderbilt, they rallied to win four of their last five, with that lone loss being the heartbreaker at Auburn. “We are ready to play,” Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said Tuesday. “With bowl games, you know the opponent for a long time, and you prepare and you look at more film than you would ever dream on one team. We prepared well before we left for Christmas, and I thought we did a good job of coming back with focus.”

— David Paschall

PREDICTION

Georgia 41, Nebraska 24

JACKSONVILLE — The Georgia Bulldogs have to prepare for Auburn, Florida, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt on an annual basis.

Oh, and Nebraska, too.

For the first time in Georgia football history, the Bulldogs are playing the same opponent in a bowl game in consecutive seasons. Georgia defeated Nebraska 45-31 at last season's Capital One Bowl in Orlando, and the two will collide today at noon in the Gator Bowl at EverBank Field.

"There is absolutely some familiarity now with each other," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "Both staffs are pretty much intact, and both schemes are very much the same as they were a year ago. That game film from a year ago is precious."

The No. 23 Bulldogs and Cornhuskers each went 8-4 during the regular season, with Nebraska's losses to UCLA, Minnesota, Michigan State and Iowa coming by double digits.

Georgia won last year's matchup behind quarterback Aaron Murray, who threw for 427 yards and five touchdowns. Murray will miss today's rematch as a result of the torn ACL he suffered in the 11th game of this season against Kentucky, and taking his place will be redshirt junior Hutson Mason.

Taylor Martinez threw for 204 yards and two scores for the Cornhuskers, but he is out for today's game as well.

The Cornhuskers rushed 52 times for 239 yards in last season's matchup, Rex Burkhead leading with 24 carries for 142 yards and two touchdowns. Ameer Abdullah added seven carries for 48 yards and is the focus of Georgia's defense this time around, with the 5-foot-9, 190-pound junior having amassed 1,568 yards and 130.7 yards per game.

"We aren't messing around," Abdullah said. "We understand what a win could do for this program going into next year. We are focused and have the right attitude."

Said Georgia defensive tackle Garrison Smith: "They run the ball like an SEC team."

Georgia's Todd Gurley had 23 carries for 125 yards and a touchdown in Orlando and should give today's game a quality tailback showdown.

The Bulldogs were favored to win last season's Capital One Bowl by nine points. They are nine-point favorites over the Cornhuskers again today, though most of Georgia's games this season have been closer.

"We've been in some dogfights, and we're used to it," Smith said. "Just look at our last game. We were behind the whole game against Georgia Tech, and we came back from 20 points and won in overtime. That showed we can handle it."

EverBank Field had a capacity crowd of 84,693 for Georgia's 23-20 win over Florida in early November, but thousands of empty seats are expected for today's game, which could be accompanied by rain. Last season's Gator Bowl, which was won by Northwestern over Mississippi State, had an announced crowd of 48,612.

"I think there will be a lot of fans there, and I think they will be able to create a lot of noise," Richt said. "I think we'll hear cheering and maybe some booing."

Odds and ends

Georgia and Nebraska held their final Gator Bowl press conferences Tuesday. ... Richt did not say whether offensive coordinator Mike Bobo has talked with Georgia Southern about its head-coaching vacancy but added that he is not surprised Bobo is receiving interest from other schools. ... Richt said junior receiver Chris Conley, who injured his ankle in Friday's workout, will try to play.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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