Bowl: Gator Bowl
Location: Jacksonville, FL.
Date: January 1. 12:00 Noon (ESPN2)
Last Year’s Winner: Northwestern
Georgia All-Time Bowl Record: 27-18-3
Nebraska All-Time Bowl Record: 24-25
Remember when the big argument in college football was whether the SEC was actually better than the Big Ten? I always used the Gator Bowl as a gague in the discussion because it features middle-of-the-pack teams from each conference, displaying the depth.
So although this really isn’t a relevant discussion anymore in college football, the Gator Bowl offers an excellent chance to catch the Big Ten and SEC battling in the postseason.
Georgia will be without quarterback Aaron Murray for this one, meaning he has played his last game in a Georgia Bulldogs uniform. Instead, it will be Hutson Mason making his second start in place of Murray. Against Georgia Tech on November 30, Mason completed 22 of 36 passes for 299 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in a winning effort. With those totals, Mason has accounted for 71 pass attempts, 648 yards and four touchdowns, which is good experience for a backup heading into a bowl game.
Lining up against the first-time bowl game starter will be a disappointing Cornhusker defense that has given up 27.6 points per game this season. The traditionally tough, hard-nosed, hard-hitting Blackshirts in Lincoln aren’t playing up to their name and their brand, and that’s why I’m really not worried about Hutson Mason in this game. His job is rather simple: manage the game. He won’t need to make any spectacular plays. As long as he understands his role and plays within his ability, the Bulldogs offense will be just fine. Besides, despite the bad number attached to Nebraska’s defense, they do only allow 205 yards per game through the air, good for fifth in the Big Ten.
This is why Todd Gurley needs to show up in a big way from the backfield. The first time Gurley went to battle with Mason, against Georgia Tech, he rushed for 122 yards and three touchdowns. You get the sense that the sophomore understands he needs to elevate his play in the absence of Aaron Murray. One thing Nebraska will do to your ground attack is stop it in the backfield. Gurley’s size doesn’t make it very ideal to resort strictly to a north-south attack, but it’s no scret that getting to the edge every time is hardly ever the best resort. Georgia will have to mix up its ground game against the Nebraska front and count on their offensive linemen to supply a push so Gurley can get his legs rowing.
I have one name to present to the Georgia Bulldogs defense: Ammer Abdullah. Consistently one of the most underrated players in the country, Ameer Abdullah has been putting on a clinic with the Cornhusker offense at running back. He finished the regular season with 1,568 yards on 254 attempts and eight touchdowns. I love the aggression with which he runs, and in a Big Ten conference that features the nation’s best defense in Michigan State, Abdullah has been the only running back in two years to exceed 100 yards against the Spartans.
Much like Georgia, Nebraska won’t need to depend heavily upon quarterback play from Tommy Armstrong, Jr. He’ll be asked to put the ball through the air, certainly, but he won’t need to do anything spectacular. Should Ameer Abdullah somehow be shut down, the Cornhuskers will actually have two options at quarterback. Armstrong will be making the start, but Ron Kellog III, who started the finale against Iowa, will also be available.
Whoever wins the turnover battle will win the Gator Bowl. Mistakes will be so incredibly costly in this game because of the style with which both teams will be playing.
Prediction: Nebraska- 30, Georgia- 38