Georgia Bulldogs: Ron Kellogg III

Injuries impacted UGA, Nebraska seasons

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
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This season's similarities are striking for the combatants in this season's TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Georgia and Nebraska. Perhaps the most notable similarity between the Bulldogs (8-4) and Cornhuskers (8-4), though, is the numerous injuries that helped prevent them from playing up to their potential.

ESPN.com's David Ching and Mitch Sherman discussed how injuries affected the teams' seasons and what might have been if not for all the physical ailments.

1. Out of all of the injuries they sustained this season, which one was the costliest and why?

Ching: There are a lot of directions you could go here, but Todd Gurley's ankle injury and ensuing three-and-a-half-game absence probably hurt the most. Gurley is one of the biggest difference-makers in the country, and Georgia's potent offense simply wasn't as good without him in the lineup -- particularly when fellow tailback Keith Marshall suffered a season-ending knee injury the week after Gurley went down against LSU. It's not a coincidence that Georgia bounced back from a two-game losing streak upon Gurley's return, nor that the Bulldogs went 4-1 down the stretch once he was back. He totaled 755 yards and 10 touchdowns in those five games.

Sherman: Taylor Martinez began this season as most indispensable Husker -- and by November, we saw why. Without the fifth-year senior, who started a school-record 43 games at quarterback, including four this season, the Nebraska offense shifted from the strength of this team to a liability. The Huskers failed to gain 400 yards in each of their final four games. Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Ron Kellogg III performed admirably, but their numbers paled in comparison to the production expected from a healthy Martinez. In good position to become the second QB in FBS history to surpass 9,000 career passing yards and 3,000 rushing yards, he suffered the fateful foot injury in Nebraska’s season opener. By mid-September, his limitations were painfully apparent, stamped into the record books with losses to UCLA and Minnesota in Martinez’s final two starts.

2. Which position group dealt with the most injury issues?

Sherman: Problems on the offensive line began on the opening series of the sixth game against Purdue as All-Big Ten right guard Spencer Long went down with a season-ending knee injury. Long was the leader of the line and a motivating force for the entire team as a senior captain and former walk-on turned solid NFL prospect. As soon as his linemates began to wear Long’s jersey No. 61 as a tribute, the injury bug spread. First, it was left guard Jake Cotton. Tackles Jeremiah Sirles and Brent Qvale, despite staying in the lineup, dealt with injuries, too, as did center-turned-guard Cole Pensick. Long’s replacement, Mike Moudy, missed the final four games. The injuries hurt most in practice, and Long’s injury got the snowball rolling. Before the Purdue game, Nebraska rushed for 285 yards or more in four of five games. After Purdue, it never topped 195 on the ground.

Ching: Georgia's safeties could make a reasonable argument here, but let's go with the receivers. Malcolm Mitchell suffered perhaps the most bizarre injury of the season when he tore an ACL while leaping into the air to celebrate Gurley's 75-yard touchdown run against Clemson on the Bulldogs' second offensive possession of the fall. Justin Scott-Wesley, who essentially caught the game-winning touchdown passes in the fourth quarter against South Carolina and LSU, tore an ACL while covering a punt against Tennessee. Michael Bennett and Chris Conley also missed multiple games with midseason injuries, and junior college transfer Jonathon Rumph didn't play until Game 8 against Florida after injuring his hamstring in August. Because of the regular lineup shuffling, six Bulldogs have at least 20 catches this season.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIGeorgia went 4-1 after sophomore RB Todd Gurley returned to the lineup, and the only loss was the 'Miracle at Jordan-Hare.'
3. What do you think this team might have accomplished if health hadn't become such a factor?

Ching: I hesitate to say Georgia would have been a BCS title contender because its defense was probably not championship caliber. But it's hard to predict what might have been with any certainty since the Bulldogs started losing key contributors in the first quarter of the first game. I'll go so far as to say the Bulldogs at least would have won a third straight SEC East title and been in the running for an at-large BCS bowl spot. With Aaron Murray, who suffered a season-ending knee injury of his own against Kentucky, at the trigger and an impressive array of skill talent, this had the potential to be the scariest offense Georgia has ever put on the field, but we never saw the full complement for even one full game.

Sherman: It’s difficult to quantify in wins and losses, considering the other problems that plagued these Huskers, notably with turnovers and on special teams. Nebraska could have outscored Minnesota with a healthy Martinez and Long. And it’s likely that the second-half meltdown against UCLA never would have happened if Martinez was operating at full strength. The Huskers moved the ball well in a 41-28 loss to Michigan State. Injuries weren’t the issue against the Spartans; turnovers were, but freshmen committed all five. And Martinez, while turnover-prone since his freshman season, torched the Spartans a year ago. But even at 10-2, Nebraska would have missed a repeat trip to the Big Ten title game.

Tale of the tape: Georgia-Nebraska

December, 9, 2013
12/09/13
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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.

Bulldogs facing Huskers again in Gator

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Seems like we've been here before.

For the second straight year, No. 22 Georgia (8-4) will conclude its season with a New Year's Day bowl matchup against Nebraska (8-4) in Florida.

“I think it's becoming a good rivalry,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, who was born in Omaha, Neb., and cheered for the Cornhuskers as a child. “... We're looking forward to playing Nebraska. They're obviously a very good team, and we think we're pretty good, too. It was a great battle last year and we'll just see what happens this year.”

The Bulldogs defeated the Cornhuskers 45-31 last January in the Capital One Bowl, with quarterback Aaron Murray torching Nebraska for 427 passing yards and five touchdowns. The rematch -- this time in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, which will kick of at noon in Jacksonville and air on ESPN2 – will pit teams that endured decidedly less exciting seasons than last January's combatants.

Georgia tumbled from a No. 5 preseason ranking to out of the polls following a midseason lull created by debilitating injuries to key offensive players like receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley and tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. The Bulldogs went 4-1 -- losing on a last-minute touchdown pass against eventual SEC champ Auburn -- and averaged 41.2 points per game once Gurley returned from an ankle sprain suffered in a September win over LSU.

The Bulldogs lost Murray to a season-ending knee injury in a November win against Kentucky, however, meaning that junior Hutson Mason will make his second career start against Nebraska. He passed for 299 yards and two touchdowns in the Bulldogs' comeback, overtime win against Georgia Tech on Nov. 30.

“That's part of football. We all understand that and we're not complaining, we're not crying about it,” Richt said of the injuries. “We just find out who's next in line and make sure they know what to do and give them an opportunity for them to have their day. Hutson has been preparing for a long time for this opportunity and we think he's ready to play well.”

Nebraska also slid from its No. 18 preseason ranking after losing senior quarterback Taylor Martinez to a season-ending foot injury. The Cornhuskers initially went with Tommy Armstrong Jr. (803 passing yards, 7 TDs, 7 INTs) at quarterback, but Ron Kellogg III (919, 6-3) -- who tossed the game-winning Hail Mary touchdown pass against Northwestern -- made his first career start in the 38-17 loss to Iowa that concluded the regular season.

[+] EnlargeHutson Mason
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIHutson Mason will make just his second career start against Nebraska in the Taxslayer.com Alamo Bowl.
The Huskers also lost 41-21 to No. 17 UCLA, 34-23 to Minnesota and 41-28 to the Big Ten's champion, No. 4 Michigan State – all of which will play in bowl games.

“We had a great experience at the Gator Bowl when we played there in my first year here [2009],” Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said in a release from the bowl. “We have some familiarity with Georgia having played them last year in the bowl game, but these are two different teams. This will be a great challenge for our football team, and we look forward to the opportunity.”

This will be Georgia's fourth appearance in the Gator Bowl, most recently beating Michigan State 34-27 on Jan. 1, 1989, Vince Dooley's final game as the Bulldogs' coach.

It's also the Bulldogs' second trip to Jacksonville this season, after beating Florida 23-20 at EverBank Field on Nov. 2. Regardless of where Georgia played its bowl game -- the most likely alternatives seemed to be Atlanta's Chick-fil-A Bowl or the Music City Bowl in Nashville -- it would have been in a city where the Bulldogs have already played this fall.

So while his team's fans won't be visiting a particularly exotic location, Richt believes the Bulldogs' familiarity with Jacksonville -- and the party atmosphere that UGA fans associate with their annual visits to the region around Halloween -- means it still has some appeal as a bowl destination.

“I know the Georgia people love Jacksonville. There's no doubt about that,” Richt said. “We've been playing in Jacksonville for about 80 years, so everybody really I think enjoys that and understands the area and is looking forward to spending more time there.”

Final exams started at Georgia last week and will continue through Wednesday. The Bulldogs will hold their first practice in preparation for Nebraska on Saturday, with the team holding its annual football gala later that night.

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