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Big Ten Bowl Preview: Gator Bowl

TEAMS: Georgia (8-4, 5-3 SEC) vs. Nebraska (8-4, 5-3 Big Ten)

TIME: January 1st, 12:00 p.m. EST

 TV: ESPN2

For the second New Year’s Day in a row, the Georgia Bulldogs and the Nebraska Cornhuskers will face off in a bowl game. Last bowl season, these two teams played in the 2013 Capital One Bowl, a game in which 7th-ranked Georgia beat 16th-ranked Nebraska, 45-31. However, due to tons of injuries on both sides, this year’s matchup isn’t as high-profile as last year’s.

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Georgia was ranked fifth in both the AP and USA Today preseason poll. They had the talent to compete for the national championship. But the Bulldogs started to fall victim to the injury bug, especially on offense. Georgia’s wide receivers were hit bad when Malcolm Mitchell tore his ACL in the opener against Clemson, Justin Scott-Wesley torn his ACL against Tennessee and Michael Bennett missed two games. The feared running back tandem of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall took a hit when Marshall tore his ACL against Tennessee. And then star senior quarterback Aaron Murray tore his ACL against Kentucky, effectively ending his career as a Bulldog.

Considering all those injuries, Georgia’s season was still pretty impressive. Their four losses were to teams with a combined record of 41-9. Two of their four losses were to teams playing in BCS games (Clemson and Auburn) and they lost to a Missouri team that played in the SEC championship game. Mark Richt and his team should be commended for going 8-4 with that schedule, while playing in the SEC and sustaining all those injuries.

Looking at the Bulldogs who are healthy and will play against Nebraska, there’s still a lot of talent. Hutson Mason got the start in Georgia’s regular season finale against Georgia Tech and he fared pretty well throwing for 299 yards and two touchdowns. Despite suffering an ankle injury earlier in the season, Gurley (903 rush yards, 10 TD’s) looks to be back in shape and will look to reach 1,000 rushing yards on the season. Along with Bennett, Chris Conley and Rantavious Wooten will be reliable targets for Mason.

On defense, the Bulldogs have two linebackers with over 100 tackles in Ramik Wilson (128 tackles) and Amarlo Herrera (107 tackles). This defense also boasts three players that have at least six sacks in Ray Drew, Garrison Smith and Leonard Floyd. Georgia’s secondary could be considered their weakness because it’s a young unit and a unit that only has five interceptions on the season.

Bo Pelini’s Cornhuskers were a favorite to win the Legends Division in the Big Ten, but they too were hit with lots of injuries. The most notable of Nebraska’s injuries is star senior quarterback Taylor Martinez. Martinez suffered a foot injury early in the season and just hasn’t been able to get healthy enough to get back on the field. In addition to Martinez, wide receiver Jamal Turner missed most of the season, top wide receiver Kenny Bell has missed time and tight end Jake Long missed about half the season. Injuries are obviously a part of sports, especially in a violent game such as football, but Georgia and Nebraska have endured a lot more than most teams do.

Offensively, Nebraska has been led at quarterback for most of the season by senior Ron Kellogg III, a former walk-on. With Martinez’s original backup, Tommy Armstrong, suffering an injury as well, Kellogg emerged to lead Nebraska to big wins such as the Hail Mary win against Northwestern and an overtime win against Penn State. In nine games, he has compiled 919 passing yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions. Joining him in the backfield is one of the best running backs in the country, Ameer Abdullah. In 2013, the junior has rushed for 1,568 yards and eight touchdowns. He has run for over 100 yards in every game this season except for two games (where he reached 98 and 85 yards). Wide receiver Quincy Enunwa (624 rec. yards, 10 TD’s) will be targeted often by Kellogg.

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

On defense, sophomore defensive end/ junior college transfer Randy Gregory has been the star for the Cornhuskers with his 8.5 sacks. Linebacker David Santos (81 tackles) mans the middle of the defense while Nebraska’s secondary is led by two seniors in Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans (both have four interceptions).

Prediction

Whichever backup quarterback can play better will obviously give their team a better chance to win. In comparison to Mason, Kellogg has played a lot more this year and he has Abdullah to hand the ball off to. Mason also has a great running back in Gurley and has some great options on the outside to throw to as well. If Gregory can wreak havoc in the backfield and get to the inexperienced Mason, then Nebraska will win. But Georgia is one of the most battle-tested teams in the country and that will certainly help them in a game like this one.

Score: Nebraska 24 Georgia 31

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Tags: Gator Bowl NCAA Football

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