I don't even really have the energy to be mad anymore. Georgia came up just short, just like most of this season. The result of this bowl game would have been different with a healthy Todd Gurley. Just like the rest of the 2013 season. We lost the turnover battle and committed costly special teams screw ups. Like we have all season.
We finished the game without key offensive line starters we began the game with, which contributed to some awful offensive execution. That was sort of new. And to be fair the weather didn't help either squad on that score. Nebraska deserves a good dose of credit for executing better than Georgia in the weather, and that execution was really the difference in this one. Georgia put the ball in the hands of senior receivers Rantavious Wooten and Arthur Lynch late with the game on the line. Both dropped it. And there you go.
For once the defense was not really the issue, giving up only 19 points despite being placed in really bad positions by the offense on more than one occasion. The 99 yard touchdown pass by Tommy Armstrong in the third quarter was a comedy of errors as Shaq Wiggins just didn't go with the receiver running the fly route and Quincy Mauger took a good angle to the ball, but chose to throw a shoulder into the receiver rather than tackling him. To put it in Zork terms, it wasn't effective.
Offensively Georgia led Nebraska in first downs (22-15) and total yards (427-320) and were essentially even in third down conversions and rushing yards (107-144). But 14 of Nebraska's points were directly attributable to the two turnovers, and that about does it. It's over. An 8-5, injury-riddled season ended with a loss in which the Bulldogs were driving for the winning score with less than a minute left behind an offensive line that was playing reserves because Dallas Lee and Chris Burnette were, and stop me if you've heard this one, out with injuries.
So we move forward. Hutson Mason finished 21-40 with one bad interception and one touchdown. He threw the ball away like David Greene in his heyday. People often forget that, in his prime, David Greene worked in thrown away second down passes the way other artists might work in oils or clay. Like Greene, Hutson Mason isn't winning any foot races, knows this, and deals with it well most of the time. The real issue were the downfield passing plays on which Mason had tons of time but just couldn't find open receivers. I'll know more after rewatching this one, but my sense was that they were there. Michael Bennett in particular was, and I'm using a technical term here, wide ass open at least twice on the outside when Mason didn't see him and just threw it away.
A lot of that is familiarity with the receivers that you only gain by working with them in game situations. Mason's never going to have that the way Aaron Murray did, unless he can get the NCAA to grant him that critical eighth year of eligibility. But he has the tolls to be a very good quarterback, to do the things Georgia needs him to do.
One of the things he needs to be able to do in 2014 is hand off to a healthy Todd Gurley. Because Todd Gurley at 75% is a very good tailback, but Todd Gurley at 100% is good enough to carry a team to a national title. No, I'm not joking about that. Think back to the times in 2013 (South Carolina, early against LSU) when Gurley was healthy and ask yourself what college defense was going to stop that guy. There is not one. With Keith Marshall's recovery from surgery still ongoing, and uncertainty about whether he'll be ready to go in 2014 or might instead need to redshirt, Todd Gurley's offseason is going to be very, very important.
As I noted above, this one was not on the defense, which gave up a respectable 307 total yards, 1/3 of which came on a single play. That unit will get better with experience, but how much better is the question. Scott Lakatos in particular has his work cut out for him. I'm no longer certain that Bacarri Rambo, Sanders Commings, and Shawn Williams didn't make Lakatos's coaching look a lot better than it was in 2011 and 2012. Because the current crop of young defensive backs does not look better to me than they did at the beginning of the season, with the possible exceptions of Shaq Wiggins. In fact, it's been pretty clear in the second half of the season that they're actually playing more tentatively at times than they were three months ago.
There are also gaping holes on the offensive line that require filling, along with the loss of Arthur Lynch and questions about whether Jay Rome will ever be healthy enough to stay on the field. Those are questions we'll have several months to ruminate on. For now, I'm just glad no one else is going to get injured. After a weary slog of a season in which most everything that could have gone wrong did, I'm left resisting the urge to dwell on what might have been. It coulda, woulda, shoulda been a helluva year. And it was, in all the wrong ways. For now, let's all enjoy the rest of bowl season, because the long, cold winter (and spring and summer) of our college football discontent approaches with a quickness. Until later . . . .