Christmas is behind us and New Year’s Day is almost upon us, which means it’s high time I got it in gear and brought you a few reflections and observations on the Georgia Bulldogs’ Capital One Bowl matchup with the Nebraska Cornhuskers. To do that properly, I must offer you not only an increment of insight, nor merely a measure of minutiae, but, rather, Too Much Information:
Joining the Big Ten may generally have been a good move for Nebraska, but it shouldn’t help the Cornhuskers on Tuesday. Since Vince Dooley arrived in Athens, the Bulldogs have gone 8-1 against teams that belonged to the Big Ten on the day of the game, and there is no current or former Big Ten team the Red and Black have faced more than once against whom the Classic City Canines have a losing record.
In bowl games against opponents ranked in the Associated Press top ten, Nebraska has gone 11-21 all-time. Georgia will take the field tomorrow ranked sixth in the AP poll.
We in Bulldog Nation are, of course, concerned about the possibility that the Athenians will come up short in their bowl game for the third year in a row. Fortunately, Georgia seldom experiences such a streak of futility in postseason play, as the Red and Black have not lost back-to-back-to-back bowl games in consecutive campaigns since the three years in which Ray Goff earned varsity letters in the Classic City: 1974, 1975, and 1976.
Nebraska is 8-11 all-time in Sunshine State bowl games. That ledger includes an 0-2 mark in Orlando, where the Cornhuskers lost the 1991 Citrus Bowl to the second-ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, 45-21, and fell to the South Carolina Gamecocks by a 30-13 margin in the 2012 Capital One Bowl. Since defeating the Tennessee Volunteers in the 2000 Fiesta Bowl, Nebraska has gone 0-3 against Southeastern Conference squads in postseason play.
During his career as an assistant coach with the Florida St. Seminoles, Mark Richt went 5-1 overall against Nebraska and 4-0 against the Cornhuskers in bowl games.
The Cornhuskers lead their league in long plays from scrimmage, having had 203 plays go for ten or more yards, 75 go for 20 or more, 31 go for 30 or more, 13 go for 40 or more, ten go for 50 or more, and seven go for 60 or more. Of course, the Bulldogs are pretty explosive in their own right---221 plays of ten or more yards, 90 of 20 or more, 45 of 30 or more, 18 of 40 or more, eleven of 50 or more, and five of 60 or more---but, given the susceptibility of the Georgia defense to getting gashed, the Big Ten silver medalists’ propensity for big plays ought to give us pause.
Yeah, this one wasn’t too terribly tough to figure out, now, was it? Nebraska ranks ninth in the Big Ten in scoring defense, eleventh in rush defense, eleventh in sacks allowed, eleventh in turnover margin, and twelfth in fumbles lost. To the extent that running the ball, scoring points, taking down the quarterback, and taking the ball away are among the keys to victory, the ‘Dawgs ought to be poised for success.
Forget everything you just read. This game comes down to which teams show up and which players play. Following conference championship game losses, both combatants could as easily show up demoralized as determined. Will the loss of a shot at the national championship leave the Bulldogs motivated or disheartened? Will getting rolled up and smoked by the Wisconsin Badgers give the Cornhuskers reason to doubt or something to prove? The team whose coaching staff does a better job of getting its players to give a damn has the edge in this contest.
Added to the question of the teams’ motivation is the matter of the collegians who will take the field. Georgia lost John Jenkins but brings back Abry Jones, while Nebraska faces uncertainty at the center spot. That is one of the two critical matchups in this contest; the Bulldogs and the Cornhuskers both field explosive offenses, weak run defenses, and stout pass defenses, so the question of which backup performs best in the middle of the Georgia defensive line and the Nebraska offensive line is crucial to the course the contest will take.
The other meaningful matchup is between Aaron Murray and a ‘Husker pass defense ranked No. 1 in the nation. To some extent, Nebraska’s excellence against aerial assaults is a bit of a chimera; the Big Ten fields only one passing offense ranked higher than 35th in Division I-A, and why would anyone go to the air against a Cornhusker defense ranked 97th in the land against the run? Nevertheless, Murray will be going up against the third top-ten pass defense he has faced this season, so it is worth considering how he performed against the last two such elite secondaries with whom he crossed paths.
The first was the Vanderbilt Commodores, who are ranked ninth nationally and allow 175.8 passing yards per game; Murray threw for 250 yards against the ‘Dores. The second was the Alabama Crimson Tide, who are ranked fourth in the country and surrender 166.2 passing yards per game; Murray threw for 265 yards against the Tide. Since returning home from Jacksonville in late October, Murray has thrown 14 touchdown passes and one interception in his last five games.
Although I predicted a convincing win for the Bulldogs on the podcast, that was before I knew about the loss of Jenkins. I remain confident of victory, but I now believe a shootout riddled with big plays for both sides is more likely.
My Prediction: Georgia Bulldogs 45, Nebraska Cornhuskers 35.