Teams with 8-4 records that wind up in mid-tier bowls generally have a few nagging problems, and that’s certainly the case with Georgia and Nebraska, who meet again Wednesday in Jacksonville.
The Dogs’ defense has been a weakness all season long, especially the secondary. The Cornhuskers have been inconsistent on both sides of the ball. Both teams have had injury problems, and both have lost their productive starting quarterbacks, but the Bulldogs’ high-scoring, explosive offense, averaging 38.2 points a game, stuttered only briefly in the transition from Aaron Murray to Hutson Mason, while neither of Big Red’s two backup QBs really has gotten any real traction. Redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr., who missed the final regular season game with an ankle injury, is the likely starter for the Huskers. He’s good at running the option but has completed just 53 percent of his passes and has seven passing touchdowns and seven interceptions.
No matter who’s at QB, Nebraska’s passing attack hasn’t been that impressive, ranking 93rd in the nation, though Georgia’s leaky secondary has allowed teams not known for passing seem to have success anyway (as in Auburn and Georgia Tech). Plus, the Dogs will be missing a defensive starter in Josh Harvey-Clemons.
Mostly, though, the Huskers have relied on a terrific running back in All-America selection Ameer Abdullah, who is averaging 6.2 yards a carry this season and has gained 1,568 yards with eight touchdowns. He’s likely to keep Nebraska in the game, though Georgia’s run defense has been its strength on that side of the ball and Abdullah will be going up against one of the SEC’s stronger linebacking corps and has been somewhat prone to fumbles. UGA’s defense has to make sure it wraps up those tackles, though.
The Dogs, meanwhile, have their own terrific back in Todd Gurley, who’ll go up against a Nebraska defense that hasn’t defended the run all that well. The Huskers also will be missing defensive end Avery Moss, who’s out of the game because of personal issues. However, the Dogs’ inconsistent offensive line needs to watch out for the other DE, Randy Gregory, who leads the Big 10 with 9.5 sacks.
Georgia playcaller Mike Bobo, who’s due a big raise after this season whether he flirts with Georgia Southern or not, also commands one of the nation’s better passing attacks, but they’ll be going up against a pretty stiff Huskers pass defense, so quarterback play is likely to be a key.
While a hesitant Mason got off to a slow start against Tech, he came back strong and doesn’t seem likely to regress against Nebraska. Probably the main concern for Georgia is whether the Dogs are likely to be slightly less motivated about being in Jacksonville than the Huskers, which could lead to another of those infamous slow starts that require coming back from 20-point deficits.
Still, even if the Dogs do start slow, chances are that Gurley will make the difference, and that’s a good thing. It’s also probably why Georgia comes into the Gator Bowl a 9-point favorite. If the Dogs perform up to their capabilities, that should be about right.
And Happy New Year everyone!
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— Bill King, Junkyard Blawg