CAPITAL ONE BOWL
The Capital One Bowl is always one of the more intriguing matchups to me, as it almost always seems to pit teams that had much grander visions than Disney for New Year’s. Nebraska went into the Big 10 Championship Game against Wisconsin with their first Big 10 title in sight, and then the Badgers let them up for 70. The Bulldogs were literally a play away from playing for a national championship when their last snap inadvertently ran out the clock against Alabama in the SEC Championship. Not only did they miss a shot at a title, they don’t even get a BCS bid, as rival Florida took the SEC’s 2nd slot.
How They Got Here
The Huskers turned in a 10-3 season in their second year in the Big 10, but the story of the year was a suspect defense. It was first exposed in week 2 by UCLA, who ran up 36 points and 650 yards in their 36-30 win. Loss number 2 came in Columbus to the Buckeyes, with 63 points against and nearly 500 yards. Even in wins, the defense showed many holes, all of which were exposed in the 70-31 loss to Wisconsin in the Big 10 title game. Junior quarterback Taylor Martinez turned in a strong season, nearly 2,700 yards through the air, and just under 1,000 yards on the ground. All told, the California native accounted for 31 touchdowns. Amir Abdullah lead the team in rushing with 1,089 yards, more than covering for senior star Rex Burkhead, who missed significant time with injuries. When healthy, Burkhead turned in 535 yards and 4 scores. All told, Nebraska had the nation’s 9th best rushing attack, and 27th best scoring offense.
The Bulldog’s were sitting at 5-0 and #5 in the nation going into their first true test of the season at South Carolina. The 35-7 loss in Columbia had the potential to derail what looked to be a special season in Athens. Instead, Georgia responded with 6 straight wins, including an impressive 17-9 victory in Jacksonville over then #2 Florida, on their way to a date with Alabama with a trip to Miami and the BCS Championship game on the line. In the season’s most thrilling game, Georgia lead in the 4th quarter, before a long Crimson Tide TD pass gave Alabama a lead with 3:00 to play. Georgia responded by driving down the field, only to have the clock run out on a bizarre tipped pass that was caught short of the end zone as time expired.
Nebraska Defense vs. Georgia Running Backs
15 years ago, this match up would have been a clash of titans. Nebraska’s famed blackshirts against one of the nation’s top running back tandems. Instead, we are left to wonder just how a team that gave up <checks math> all the yards (539 to be exact) on the ground less than a month ago against Wisconsin. Montee Ball and James White are a fantastic duo, but Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall combined for nearly 2,000 yards on the ground and 24 touchdowns in a defensive minded SEC. Nebraska better hope they found some answers since the debacle in Indianapolis.
Nebraska Running Game vs. Georgia Defense
Call it a cop out if you want, but this match up is every bit as intriguing as the one above. Georgia’s defense ranks just 77th nationally against the run, and the Huskers are fantastic on the ground. Abdullah, a healthy Burkhead, and Taylor Martinez will all challenge the Bulldogs defense. The key will be if their counterparts on defense are able to keep this game close enough to allow Big Red to sick to their ground game.
Conventional wisdom will have Georgia blowing out Nebraska, and that line of thinking does make sense. Last time we saw these two teams, one was 5 yards away from playing for everything, the other was giving up over 600 yards of offense to a 7-5 team. However, for all their accolades, the Georgia defense has not shown a consistent ability to stop the run, and the Huskers will keep it on the ground until they are left with no choice. I think Georgia wins this game, but it’s not the by the big number many think.