ORLANDO, Fla. — Crazy things tend to happen in bowl games and they are notoriously hard to predict. But generally if you can identify the most motivated team you will have identified the eventual winner.
Good luck trying to do that with Georgia and Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl.
The No. 7-ranked Bulldogs (11-2) are coming off a devastating SEC Championship loss in which they literally finished five yards short of a BCS championship berth. On the same day hundreds of miles away in Indianapolis, the Cornhuskers (10-3) suffered arguably their most humiliating defeat in the history of the program. They gave up 539 yards rushing in falling to Wisconsin 70-31 in the Big Ten Conference championship.
With Georgia locked out of a BCS bowl opportunity and Nebraska embarrassed in its last game, it could be argued that neither team is very motivated to be in the land of Disney with no real stakes for which to play. Then again, the opposite could be true.
“Different things motivate different people,” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. “Our circumstances are different than Georgia’s. Everything’s unique to a certain football team and relative to each guy on each particular team. But I’m sure both teams will be tremendously motivated. At the end of the day, it’s competition; it’s football. Every guy should be motivated because it’s the next game, the next challenge.”
Georgia coach Mark Richt has sold his players hard on the history angle. Only two other Bulldog teams have been able to win 12 games in a season, the 1980 national champions (12-0) and Richt’s SEC Championship squad of 2002, which went 13-1 and won the Sugar Bowl.
But Richt insists historical milestones aren’t the primary motivation.
“On a personal level, there’s always a scene in the locker room after the game,” he said. “We’re all going to be in there and I’m going to talk to this team for the very last time. You want that last memory to be a good one. That’s a big motivating factor for me and I think it is for them, too.”
The Bulldogs haven’t left their last two bowl trips with a very warm feeling. They fell to Central Florida 10-6 in the 2010 Liberty Bowl and dropped a 33-30 triple-overtime decision to Michigan State a year ago at the Outback Bowl.
Georgia’s Aaron Murray was the quarterback in both those games and he’s bent on a different outcome.
“I’ve never won a bowl game so I definitely want to do that,” said Murray, a junior who’s contemplating the NFL draft. “And there are a lot of other thing like finishing (ranked) in the top five and winning 12 games. If we don’t win, it becomes just another season.”
Nebraska has the ability to trip up the Bulldogs. While the 39-point loss to Wisconsin remains in everyone’s conscious — and probably contributed to Georgia being tabbed a double-digit favorite — the Cornhuskers beat that same Badgers’ team two months earlier. They also steamrolled nine other opponents with an offense that is eighth in the nation in rushing (254.5 ypg) and averages 462 yards and 35.1 points overall.
“I reminded our guys of our South Carolina game,” Richt said, referring to the Bulldogs’ 35-7 loss to the Gamecocks on Oct. 6. “I said, ‘Hey, men, we got beat down pretty good in that one. If that was our last game, how would people visualize us?’ We don’t view ourselves as that team and I’m sure they don’t look at themselves as the team that played that last game of the year. So I think there are some similarities in our seasons.”
Georgia has some matchup issues. Nebraska features one of the most dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks in the country in senior Taylor Martinez, who has zig-zagged his way to 973 rushing yards and 10 TDs. The Cornhuskers also have a 1,000-yard rusher in I-back Ameer Abdullah.
The Bulldogs haven’t played particularly well against mobile quarterbacks. And they enter the game with a defense than is in flux.
Starting noseguard John Jenkins was ruled academically ineligible for postseason play and defensive line coach Rodney Garner left to take a job at Auburn one day before Christmas break. Meanwhile, three juniors are contemplating early entry into the NFL draft in two-time All-American outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, middle linebacker Alec Ogletree and defensive lineman Kwame Geathers.
“When game time comes we’ll be ready to execute,” said Jones, who needs two sacks to break David Pollack’s single-season record. “If you look, we’ve had a lot of different lineups this year, a lot of different situations. But I think we’ve got a great group of guys and everybody’s honed in. We’re focused.”
In addition to Jones, nine defensive seniors who have started at least one game will be moving on after Tuesday’s bowl game. The Bulldogs say that is just another motivational factor.
“For me personally, this is the last game I’ll ever play wearing the red and black,” senior cornerback Sanders Commings said. “I definitely want to go out a winner wearing the Georgia uniform. Our underclassmen want to win for our seniors, but they feel the same way I do. I want to win the last game for Georgia and for them.”
Said Richt: “I just think that there is enough veteran guys that and this is their last moment wearing the red and black. I just can’t imagine them not playing with great game. Will they play a great game? I don’t know. But I think they’ll play with great effort.”
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