Georgia Bulldogs: Rex Burkhead

Tale of the tape: Georgia-Nebraska

December, 9, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- We learned on Sunday that No. 22 Georgia (8-4) would face Nebraska (8-4) in its bowl game for the second straight season. Let's take a closer look at the two teams in advance of the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, which will kick off at noon ET on New Year's Day and air on ESPN2.

Remembering last year: Georgia closed its 45-31 victory over the Cornhuskers in the Capital One Bowl with a 21-0 run -- featuring touchdown passes from Aaron Murray to Chris Conley of 49 and 87 yards, respectively. Murray torched a previously stellar Nebraska pass defense for 427 yards and five touchdowns and Todd Gurley ran for 125 yards and a score. Huskers running back Rex Burkhead (140 rushing yards and one TD plus 39 receiving and another score) and quarterback Taylor Martinez (204 passing yards, two touchdowns plus 46 rushing) had their moments, but Nebraska's porous defense let the its second-half lead slip away.

Who's under center?: Both of these teams featured a first-time starting quarterback in their last game. Hutson Mason led Georgia back from a 20-0 deficit to beat rival Georgia Tech in double overtime, passing for 299 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The results weren't so positive for Ron Kellogg III in replacing Martinez. He passed for 199 yards, one touchdown and two picks and the Huskers lost 38-17 to Iowa.

Injury issues: The injuries to Murray and Martinez create perhaps the most glaring injury absences from last season's standouts, but both teams have struggled with physical ailments throughout the year. Martinez suffered a foot injury in the first game that hampered him initially and eventually shut him down by midseason. The Huskers also lost valuable offensive lineman Spencer Long and saw a number of other linemen deal with injuries, rendering a formerly dangerous offense ineffective. Sound familiar Georgia fans? Murray made it to the end of the season, but many of his most dangerous weapons did not. Malcolm Mitchell, Justin Scott-Wesley and Keith Marshall all suffered season-ending knee injuries before midseason and All-SEC tailback Gurley led a big group of players who suffered multiple-game injuries.

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIHow Georgia backup QB Hutson Mason does in comparison to Nebraska's backup QBs will be key in which team wins the Gator Bowl.
More similarities: It isn't just their matching 8-4 records, their having played in a bowl last season or their widespread injury problems that make these teams so similar. They have also dealt with similar problems throughout the season -- namely special teams ineptitude and ugly turnover margins. Nebraska is tied for 118th nationally with a minus-12 turnover margin (16 takeaways, 28 giveaways), while Georgia is not much better, tying for 97th with a minus-6 margin (14 takeaways, 20 giveaways).

Hailing Mary: Although it wasn't technically a “Hail Mary,” perhaps the most memorable play from Georgia's season came when Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall launched a 73-yard bomb into double coverage in the game's final minute, only to have Bulldogs safeties Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons converge and deflect the ball to Tigers receiver Ricardo Louis, who caught it for the game-winning touchdown. Likewise, Northwestern was on its way to a 24-21 win over the Cornhuskers before third-string quarterback Kellogg's Hail Mary deflected backward to Jordan Westerkamp for the game-winning score.

Best wins: Nebraska doesn't have a win against a ranked team, but it beat Penn State (7-5) in overtime and edged Michigan (also 7-5) 17-13. Georgia started the season with wins against No. 9 South Carolina (10-2) and No. 16 LSU (9-3) in the first month. The Bulldogs also edged rivals Florida (4-8) and Georgia Tech (7-5).

Worst losses: No. 17 UCLA scored 31 unanswered points to beat Nebraska 41-21 in September. The Huskers also turned it over five times in a 41-28 loss to No. 4 Michigan State in mid-November. Georgia's narrow losses to No. 12 Clemson and No. 2 Auburn were painful, but the two-game midseason losing streak against No. 8 Missouri (41-26) and Vanderbilt (31-27) might have been worse because of the injuries that weakened the Bulldogs' offense in those games.

Offensive stars: Gurley (903 rushing yards, 10 TDs in nine games) and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah (ninth nationally with 1,568 and 8 TDs) create an intriguing rushing matchup between two of the nation's best backs.

Defensive stars: Georgia inside linebacker Ramik Wilson leads the SEC and is 10th nationally with 128 tackles, plus he's tied for the team lead with 11 tackles for a loss. Junior college transfer Randy Gregory is a force on Nebraska's defense, leading the Huskers with 17 tackles for a loss, 9.5 sacks and 17 quarterback hurries from his defensive end position.

X-factor: Quarterback composure will be worth watching. We know Mason will start for Georgia after leading the comeback against Georgia Tech, although he got off to a slow start in that game. Kellogg tossed two first-quarter interceptions in the disappointing loss to Iowa. Freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr., who has started seven games this season, could also get the starting nod against the Bulldogs. Regardless of who starts for the Huskers, the team whose inexperienced quarterback plays a steadier game could very well end up as the winner.

3 Up, 3 Down: Georgia 45, Nebraska 31 

January, 2, 2013
1/02/13
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- No. 7 Georgia fell short of its championship goal this season, but the Bulldogs still managed to finish the 2012 season with a flourish.

The Bulldogs rallied to beat No. 16 Nebraska 45-31 in Tuesday’s Capital One Bowl to clinch just the third season with 12 wins or more in program history and essentially guaranteed their first top-10 finish since 2007.

Let’s recap some of the highs and the few lows from Tuesday’s season-ending victory:

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The running games were supposed to dominate in Tuesday’s Capital One Bowl, but it was Georgia’s passing game that eventually lifted the Bulldogs to a 45-31 win over Nebraska.


Both teams moved the ball effectively on the ground, yes, but it was Georgia’s aerial attack that helped the Bulldogs come from behind to win a game in which the two offenses combined for 1,032 total yards and 86 points.

Let’s take a closer look at Tuesday’s game:

It was over when: Damian Swann sealed Georgia’s victory when he intercepted a Taylor Martinez deep ball at the Bulldogs’ 7-yard line and returned it 27 yards to the 34 midway through the fourth quarter. The Bulldogs drove to Nebraska’s 30-yard line before turning the ball over on downs with just 2:33 to play.

Game ball goes to: Aaron Murray and Chris Conley. Early in the third quarter, it looked like Nebraska might run away with the game, but Georgia's quarterback and his sophomore receiver connected on two touchdown passes -- a 49-yard bomb midway through the third quarter that helped tie the score and an 87-yard tunnel screen that put Georgia up 45-31 early in the fourth -- to turn things Georgia's way. Murray finished with 427 passing yards and five touchdowns, and Conley had a career-high 136 receiving yards.

Stat of the game: 589. Georgia finished with 589 yards of total offense, eclipsing the previous Capital One Bowl record of 556.

Unsung hero: Rex Burkhead. He might not get a ton of attention because of the general defensive ineptitude on Tuesday, but Nebraska’s senior running back closed an injury-filled season with a dynamic final game. He ran 24 times for 140 yards and a touchdown and also caught a 16-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. It was his first multi-touchdown game since Sept. 22 against Idaho State.

What it means: Georgia will finish a season ranked in the top 10 for the first time since 2007 and achieved 12 wins in a season for only the third time in school history. Nebraska fell short of its first 11-win season since 2001.

Keys for Georgia in Capital One Bowl

January, 1, 2013
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Here are three keys for Georgia in the Capital One Bowl:

1. Slow down Huskers' run: In the month since Georgia last played a game, one of the most heavily discussed weaknesses from the Bulldogs’ 32-28 loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game was the 350 yards they allowed on the ground. That marked three straight games that Georgia’s opponent rushed for 300-plus yards, and that doesn’t bode well with Nebraska and its powerful running game ahead.

The Cornhuskers are eighth nationally in rushing at 254.5 yards per game, so the Bulldogs have their work cut out in trying to get a different result against Taylor Martinez (175 attempts, 973 yards, 10 TDs), Ameer Abdullah (219-1,089, 8 TDs) and Rex Burkhead (74-535, 4 TDs) than they did against Alabama’s Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon.

2. Generate big plays: Georgia has been one of the nation’s best big-play offenses this season -- the Bulldogs have 64 plays that covered at least 25 yards -- and that capability could come in handy against Nebraska. In the Cornhuskers’ three losses, they surrendered eight touchdowns that covered 30 yards or more: four against Ohio State, three against Wisconsin and one against UCLA.

Keep an eye on freshman tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, who have combined for 12 runs of 25-plus yards, including eight that went for touchdowns. Also, senior receiver Tavarres King -- who set a school record with 205 receiving yards in last season’s Outback Bowl loss to Michigan State -- is the FBS’ active career leader with 18.8 yards per catch.

3. Force mistakes from Martinez: Nebraska’s quarterback has highlight-reel skills as a runner and passer, but he is prone to committing crucial errors as well. In Nebraska’s three losses, Martinez fumbled five times -- losing two -- and tossed six of his 10 total interceptions. In Nebraska’s 10 wins, he fumbled a total of 10 times.

The Cornhuskers are tied for the most fumbles in the FBS with 21 and have committed the sixth-most turnovers with 32. That seems to favor Georgia, whose defense generated 27 takeaways -- 21st nationally -- and ranked second nationally with 16 fumble recoveries. Martinez will have to keep a close watch on Georgia’s All-America outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who leads the nation with seven forced fumbles in 11 games.

Game breakdown: Georgia vs. Nebraska

December, 31, 2012
12/31/12
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No. 7 Georgia and No. 16 Nebraska meet on New Year’s Day in Orlando, Fla., in one of the highest-profile non-BCS games of this bowl season. The key to Tuesday’s game might be discerning which of them actually takes that reality seriously.

It’s not the BCS championship game, where Georgia could easily be playing, or the Rose Bowl, which Nebraska expected before laying an egg in a 70-31 loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. But the winning program on Tuesday could very well wind up where it has not been in quite some time.

Georgia was once a top-10 team essentially every season under coach Mark Richt, but it has not finished the season in the Associated Press top 10 since 2007. Likewise, Nebraska finished the season ranked in the AP top 10 eight times in nine seasons between 1993 and 2001, but it has not finished the season there in the last decade.

Let’s take a look at how they might make it there with a victory to inaugurate the new year:

No. 7 Georgia vs. No. 16 Nebraska

Tuesday, 1 p.m.
Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium, Orlando, Fla.
ABC

Records: Georgia 11-2, Nebraska 10-3

Last game: Georgia lost 32-28 to Alabama in the SEC championship game on Dec. 1. Nebraska lost 70-31 to Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game on the same day.

What’s the Story? Georgia and Nebraska are both trying to snap two-game bowl losing skids and end their seasons with a milestone victory of sorts. Nebraska hasn’t won at least 11 games in a season since 2001 and Georgia has only won 12 games twice in school history.

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Scouting report: Nebraska 

December, 28, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- The winner of Tuesday’s Capital One Bowl might very well be the team that can best gear itself up for a non-BCS game when both teams’ sights were initially set much higher.

No. 7 Georgia (11-2) came within a few yards of playing for the BCS National Championship, but fell just short in a 32-28 loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game. Meanwhile, all No. 16 Nebraska (10-3) had to do to play in the Rose Bowl was beat a five-loss Wisconsin team in the Big Ten championship game, but the Cornhuskers laid an egg in a 70-31 loss where they surrendered 539 rushing yards.

Although these are two of the winningest programs in college football history, Georgia and Nebraska are hardly familiar with one another. They have met just once, in the 1969 Sun Bowl, so Monday’s matchup in Orlando, Fla., stands among the high-profile non-BCS games this bowl season.

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Bulldogs look to wrap up Huskers' run

December, 19, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Stats don’t lie -- and in this case, the stats say that Georgia has not defended the run well this season.

After surrendering 300-plus rushing yards in each of the last three games, Georgia (11-2) dropped to 77th nationally in run defense with an average of 177.8 yards per game. But while they can’t dispute that Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech and Alabama all topped the 300-yard mark, the Bulldogs insist that those numbers are somewhat deceptive.

Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech, after all, typically run the ball on nearly every down in their option offensive sets. And Alabama also boasts a particularly powerful running game with a veteran offensive line and two star tailbacks in Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. So some Georgia defenders are quick to discount any notion that the Bulldogs are weak against the run.

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Georgia, Nebraska struggling vs. run 

December, 3, 2012
12/03/12
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ATHENS, Ga. -- After both of their defenses were shredded by opponents’ running games Saturday, Capital One Bowl coaches Mark Richt and Bo Pelini obviously realize their Jan. 1 opponent will enter the game thinking run defense is an area they can exploit.

Richt’s Georgia club allowed 350 rushing yards to Alabama’s punishing offensive line and tailbacks Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon in a 32-28 loss in the SEC championship game. But Pelini’s Nebraska defense endured an even more humiliating experience in the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin, allowing the Badgers to rush for 539 yards -- the most ever allowed by a Cornhuskers defense -- and win 70-31.

James White
Richard Mackson/US PresswireWisconsin RB James White runs past Nebraska DB Daimion Stafford for a touchdown during the Big Ten championship game Saturday.
“You give up big rushing yards and that’s a recipe for disaster,” Pelini said Sunday night on a conference call announcing that his No. 16 Cornhuskers (10-3) would meet Richt’s No. 6 Bulldogs (11-2) on New Year’s Day in Orlando. “I know it was for us last night, our number of missed fits and missed tackles. You can’t recover from that. I’m sure Georgia, I’m sure that played a big part even though their game was a lot closer than ours. That’s going to be an area that both teams are going to have to shore up and probably an area that both teams are going to try to exploit.”

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Capital One Bowl

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
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Georgia Bulldogs (11-2) vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers (10-3)

Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET, Orlando, Fla. (ABC)

Georgia take by DawgNation's David Ching: Shortly after watching his team survive Georgia’s last-ditch effort to score the winning touchdown in the closing seconds of Saturday’s SEC championship game, Alabama coach Nick Saban said it would be a “crying shame” if the Bulldogs (11-2) didn’t play in a BCS bowl.

The 32-28 win by Saban’s Crimson Tide ensured that would not be the case, however, spoiling Georgia’s BCS championship hopes in soul-crushing fashion. The Bulldogs no doubt think it’s a shame, as well, after falling 5 yards short of the winning score and a chance to play Notre Dame for a national title. Instead, Georgia will attempt to put the finishing touches on what could become the best season in a decade by winning its bowl. A bowl victory would give Georgia its third 12-win season in school history.

The Bulldogs got to this point by playing stout defense in the second half of the season -- starting with a 17-9 win against then-No. 2 Florida -- to go along with a balanced offense led by quarterback Aaron Murray and tailback Todd Gurley. They swept rivals Florida, Tennessee, Auburn and Georgia Tech for the second straight season and rallied from the lone blemish in the regular season, a 35-7 loss at South Carolina, in impressive fashion.

The Bulldogs will naturally ask what if for months after Saturday’s crushing loss, but Georgia’s back-to-back SEC East championships and the near-miss against Alabama indicate that the Bulldogs are once again major players on the national scene.




Nebraska take from Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Bo Pelini’s Huskers head to the Capital One Bowl for the second straight season, and this time they do so with an extremely sour taste in their mouths. Nebraska was on the cusp of its first conference championship since 1999 after a resilient performance down the stretch in Big Ten play. Needing only to beat a Wisconsin team it defeated Sept. 29, Nebraska imploded in the Big Ten title game, surrendering 70 points and 539 rushing yards, the most rushing yards it has ever allowed.

How will the Huskers respond? Until Saturday night, their resiliency had been their hallmark, as they erased double-digit, second-half deficits in four Big Ten games (versus Wisconsin, Northwestern, Michigan State and Penn State) to win the Legends Division. Junior quarterback Taylor Martinez made significant strides from 2011, completing 62.2 percent of his passes with 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He shares the backfield with an outstanding group of ball carriers, led by senior Rex Burkhead and sophomore Ameer Abdullah, who filled in admirably for Burkhead during most of the season. The Huskers' offense can strike quickly and often, but it also is too prone to mistakes with 32 turnovers, the sixth most in the FBS.

Nebraska’s defense truly has been a mixed bag this season. The Huskers improved down the stretch in Big Ten play but fell apart in losses to UCLA (653 yards allowed), Ohio State (498 yards allowed) and Wisconsin (640 yards allowed). The Blackshirts will need to rebound in a big way against quarterback Aaron Murray and Georgia.

Pregame: Capital One Bowl

January, 1, 2012
1/01/12
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Georgia (11-2, 7-1 SEC) vs. Nebraska (10-3, 7-1 Big Ten)

Who to watch: Considering that the two defenses in the Capital One Bowl rank 95th (Nebraska at 194.9 rushing yards allowed per game) and 77th (Georgia, 177.8 ypg) against the run, we recommend that you keep an eye on the respective teams’ running threats.

The run is particularly important for Nebraska, which ranks eighth nationally in rushing offense at 254.5 yards per game. Quarterback Taylor Martinez (175 attempts, 973 yards, 10 TDs) and running backs Ameer Abdullah (219-1,089, 8 TDs) and Rex Burkhead (74-535, 4 TDs) present a major threat for a Bulldogs defense that has surrendered 300-plus rushing yards in three straight games.

Georgia’s offense is more balanced than Nebraska’s -- the Bulldogs average 274.2 passing yards and 184.2 rushing yards per game -- but offensive coordinator Mike Bobo will no doubt try to set up his passing game with his dynamite one-two punch of freshman tailbacks, Todd Gurley (199-1,260, 16 TDs) and Keith Marshall (109-723, 8 TDs). Marshall has two touchdown runs of 70-plus yards this season, providing the home run threat out of the backfield that the Bulldogs have lacked for several years.

What to Watch: Georgia’s defensive front against Nebraska’s offensive line. The Cornhuskers have a pair of All-Big Ten offensive linemen in guard Spencer Long and tackle Jeremiah Sirles, but center Justin Jackson is out with an injured ankle. Their backup center, either Mark Pelini or Cole Pensick, will not have to go up against Georgia’s senior All-SEC noseguard, John Jenkins, who will miss the game after being declared academically ineligible last week. But they’ll hardly get much of a break in having to block 6-foot-6, 355-pound nose Kwame Geathers, who will replace Jenkins in the starting lineup.

Nonetheless, after getting shredded by Alabama’s powerful running game, Georgia’s defensive line will be subject to close observation against Nebraska’s talented runners.

Why watch? The Capital One Bowl is traditionally one of the highest-profile non-BCS bowl games, and this one fits the bill. No. 7 Georgia came within 5 yards of upsetting Alabama and playing for the BCS title. No. 16 Nebraska could have played in the Rose Bowl before laying an egg against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game.

Surprisingly enough, though, these teams have played only once before despite their positions as two of the winningest programs in college football history. Nebraska’s 45-6 win over the Bulldogs in the 1969 Sun Bowl still ranks as the worst bowl loss in Georgia history.

Prediction: Nebraska is going to score, but can it score enough to keep up with Georgia? The Cornhuskers have played six games against teams that rank in the nation’s top 50 in scoring offense. They went 3-3 in those games and allowed an average of 39.5 points per game. And here’s the kicker: Georgia boasts the highest-scoring offense Nebraska has faced this season, as the Bulldogs rank 19th nationally in scoring at 37.2 points per game. Georgia 38, Nebraska 24.

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