Bowl season is a curious time of year. It throws the schedule off not only for teams but also for fans. That's why I'm here to provide you with a game-themed libation two days before kickoff. On a Sunday. In the brave new world of Georgia blue laws, I can do that, after all.
Bowl games are most often decided less by which team is better than by which team shows up. Of course both Alabama and Notre Dame have plenty to play for in a few days. Georgia and Nebraska however, losers of their respective conference championship games, have had to work to gin up the enthusiasm to prepare for Tuesday's Capital One Bowl.
For Georgia particularly, it's obviously been difficult to go from being on the verge of playing for a national title to getting psyched for a trip to Sea World. Nebraska at least has the desire to prove that the 70-31 thrashing laid on them by Wisconsin was not representative of their season.
The prevailing narrative surrounding this game has been that Georgia will have to stop Nebraska's rushing attack. But that's an overly simplistic objective. Nebraska ran the ball all season, but struggled to find a guy to consistently carry the mail. Rex Burkhalter struggled with injury throughout the year, Atlantan Imani Cross showed a lot of promise, but it was ultimately sophomore Ameer Abdullah who led the team in rushing with 1089 yards.
While a great deal has been made of quarterback Taylor Martinez's improvement as a passer this season, the fact is he's still a runner who can throw, not a thrower who can run. Martinez tallied 2667 passing yards so far in 2012, with 21 touchdowns through the air versus 10 picks. Contrast that with Aaron Murray's 3466 yards, 31 scores and 8 interceptions and it's clear which of the two quarterbacks is the greater aerial threat. What sets Martinez apart is the 973 rushing yards he amassed on the season, the second most of any Cornhusker. That included 205 yards on the ground against the Michigan State squad which came back to beat Georgia in last year's Outback Bowl.
Running quarterbacks have always given the Bulldogs trouble, and I don't believe Martinez will be any different. He will get his chances, he'll break free once or twice. If Georgia's to prevail in this game, it will be by containing Martinez and forcing him to make mistakes. Doing that requires discipline and adherence to a solid game plan. If the Bulldogs play smart and aggressive, I like their chances. But I am seriously worried about the distractions and dejection of the past month having an effect. I am truly afraid that Alabama could, metaphorically, beat us twice. It's really just a question of how much pride this team has, what type of effort they're willing to put in. Poor preparation usually manifests itself in the form of big plays. And that's why Martinez scares me.
I sense that some of the chatter we've heard from the coaches recently about some new guys getting a look for more playing time is less about those guys doing things they haven't been doing all season, and more about making clear to the guys who are starting that now is not the time to deviate from the hard-nosed, smart play that got them so close to the promised land.
So while you're worrying about whether Mark Richt's boys are going to deliver a third straight disappointing bowl effort, or instead demonstrate a great deal of resilience and character, I advise you to enjoy a spirit which exhibits a great deal of character and which our Nebraskan coevals can relate to: Troy & Sons moonshine, made in western North Carolina from heirloom local sweet corn.
Some would say drinking legal moonshine is like drinking alcohol-free beer: it viciates the point of the exercise. I disagree. Quality is quality, and the folks at Troy & Sons make a quality product. They take pride in what they do, and I suspect they would even if no one was expecting them to. I can only hope that this Georgia Bulldog football team feels the same sense of pride, and applies it to Tuesday's festivities. I'll be back tomorrow with an equally mind-bending creation: the Monday Tailgate. Until then . . .