ATHENS, Ga. -- With just a few days left until No. 7 Georgia (11-2) inaugurates the new year with a Capital One Bowl matchup against No. 16 Nebraska (10-3), don’t just assume the Bulldogs will enjoy a Jan. 1 cakewalk despite entering as 10-point favorites.
Yes, Nebraska is coming off a humiliating 70-31 loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, but the Cornhuskers have developed a reputation as a bounce-back club under coach Bo Pelini. They have lost five games by 25 points or more under Pelini, but they’re 4-1 in the next game after those big losses.
In other words, Georgia can’t afford to produce a flat effort against a Nebraska team that is fully capable of exploiting the Bulldogs’ shortcomings in defending the run -- or else it could be an unhappy new year for those in red and black.
Let’s take a look at five UGA-related storylines as we move closer to kickoff:
1. Rare meeting
Although Nebraska and Georgia are two of the most successful programs in college football history -- the Cornhuskers are fourth all-time with 851 wins and Georgia is 10th with 747 wins -- they have met only once before. Nebraska throttled Georgia 45-6 in the 1969 Sun Bowl. Both programs are making their 48th appearance in a bowl game, which ties for fifth all-time behind Alabama, Texas, Tennessee and USC.
2. Running wild
A key factor to watch is which team has best addressed its problems defending the run. Georgia allowed a season-high 350 rushing yards in its 32-28 loss to Alabama. Meanwhile, Nebraska just surrendered the most rushing yards in school history when Wisconsin rolled up 539 yards in a blowout win in the Big Ten title game. Both teams are traditionally known for playing rugged defense, but they’ve struggled against the run throughout the season, with Georgia ranking 77th nationally (177.77 ypg) and Nebraska ranking 95th (194.85).
3. Last go-round?
This will be the final college game for two senior-laden defenses -- Georgia has six defensive starters who are seniors, while Nebraska has seven -- but it could also represent a farewell for some of Georgia’s talented draft-eligible juniors. Bulldogs linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree have been projected as first-round NFL picks should they leave school after the season and nose guard Kwame Geathers and quarterback Aaron Murray will also have pro decisions to make after the bowl game.
4. Containing the QB
Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez is actually the school’s all-time leading passer, but much of his aerial success is predicated by the Cornhuskers’ ability to move the ball on the ground. And that starts with Martinez himself. He has touchdown runs of 92 and 76 yards this season and is a major threat running and throwing off zone-read plays. There have been times since Georgia implemented the 3-4 defense in 2010 that dual-threat quarterbacks have given the Bulldogs problems -- like South Carolina’s Connor Shaw and Buffalo’s Alex Zordich earlier this season -- so Jones and his compadres on the edge will have to make sure they don’t let Martinez get loose to make drive-extending big plays.
5. Bowl woes
Georgia’s Mark Richt and Nebraska’s Pelini have done their share of winning in recent years, but they’re both trying to end an unfortunate trend for their programs. Richt is one of the nation’s winningest active coaches and his Bulldogs have claimed two straight SEC East titles, but they’re trying to snap a two-game bowl losing streak. Likewise, Pelini has won at least nine games in all five of his seasons at Nebraska and has a division title in three of the last four years, but his Cornhuskers have also lost two consecutive bowls -- including a 30-13 loss to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl last season.