Georgia Bulldogs: Kenny Bell

New Year’s Day is near, along with the end to long layoffs for No. 22 Georgia and Nebraska.

Mitch Sherman and David Ching come together for a final discussion on the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, set for Wednesday at noon ET on ESPN2:

How motivated is Georgia to win this game and why?

Ching: That's the big question entering this game, isn't it? It doesn't feel like either fan base is particularly jazzed about this matchup since these teams just played in a bowl a year ago. It wouldn't be a surprise if the teams deal with the same problem. Georgia seems like the more talented team here, but the coaches have to convince the Bulldogs that this is a game worth playing their best.

Sherman: I don’t expect motivation to be a problem for Nebraska. The Huskers don’t want their streak of nine-win seasons -- a point of much discussion and pride -- to end. A victory over an SEC opponent would serve as boost for Bo Pelini’s program and the Big Ten. Moreover, it has been a long, trying season in Lincoln; playing well in the Gator Bowl could change the narrative and allow the Huskers and their fans to focus on positives.

What do you expect out of the quarterback position?

Ching: Hutson Mason has the benefit of already making one start in a huge game. He started slowly against Georgia Tech in the regular-season finale, but helped the Bulldogs rally for a double-overtime win. Nebraska has a talented secondary that will test him, but I expect Mason to perform well. He has waited his turn behind Aaron Murray, but is well prepared to become a solid performer as a senior in 2014.

Sherman: We saw at the Big House in November that Tommy Armstrong has a knack for playing well under the spotlight. And for a redshirt freshman with seven starts under his belt, New Year’s Day is big. Armstrong is motivated. His linemen are healthier than at any point since late October. His receivers are healed up, and while Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa won’t surprise Georgia with their athleticism after last year, look for the Huskers to make plays in the passing game.

Who holds the edge when Nebraska has the football?

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley, Ahmad Christian
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia tailback Todd Gurley has been effective since returning for injury, rushing for six touchdowns in his last five games.
Ching: Probably Nebraska. I know the Huskers have struggled on offense for most of the season without Taylor Martinez, but Georgia's defense has only dominated against the least of its competition this season. I expect Nebraska to produce decent yardage and point totals against the Bulldogs, considering how half of their opponents this season generated at least 400 yards of offense and eight scored at least 30 points.

Sherman: If we’re answering based off the second half of the season, it’s Georgia, despite its defensive injuries and propensity to allow chunks of yardage. Offensively, Nebraska simply hit a wall after mid-October, with the exception of the Michigan State game. The Huskers didn’t once scored 30 points after all-conference guard Spencer Long went down on Oct. 12 at Purdue. Injuries are the wild card, though. Long remains out, but most of the others who missed time are back. If Nebraska creates some momentum early, it could top 400 yards for the first time in five games.

Who holds the edge when UGA has the football?

Ching: Georgia. The Huskers haven't defended the run particularly well -- they're 60th nationally at 161.2 yards per game -- and that doesn't bode well for stopping Todd Gurley after he's had a month to allow his injured ankle to heal. Nebraska's defense has been fairly average in every way, so even with someone other than Murray at the helm, I expect Georgia's high-scoring offense to keep rolling in Jacksonville.

Sherman: Season-long statistics don’t tell the whole story of this Nebraska defense. The Blackshirts are much improved from September, when they were trampled in the opening quarter by an FCS-level foe. Since Nov. 1, the Huskers rank among the top 20 defensive units nationally. They’re especially strong against the pass. And with time to prepare, Pelini will devise a scheme to test Mason. As for Gurley, well, he could pose a problem. The Huskers will miss defensive end Avery Moss. And Big Ten results so far this bowl season don’t bode well for Nebraska.

SEC's lunchtime links

August, 26, 2013
8/26/13
12:00
PM ET
Game week has arrived. No more waiting for the action because it all starts this week. Here are some links from around the SEC to whet your football appetite as game day nears:

SEC lunchtime links

August, 8, 2013
8/08/13
12:20
PM ET
"College Football Live" and its Summer Tour stops in Alabama today. Tom Rinaldi and Todd McShay will check in on Nick Saban, AJ McCarron and Co. Catch them throughout the day on "SportsCenter" and on CFB Live at 5 p.m. ET on ESPNU.

Here are some other things from around the SEC that you may find interesting.
  • Alabama's deep group of receivers may make this year's offense one of the best in school history, receiver Kenny Bell says.
  • Auburn fullback Jay Prosch draws strength from his faith and family as he tries to overcome his mother's death.
  • Georgia's offense didn't exactly light it up in the Bulldogs' first scrimmage.
  • LSU is trying to make sure its players act responsibly when using social media.
  • Kentucky forced just 13 turnovers last season and the Wildcats are making that a point of emphasis during the preseason.
  • Vanderbilt receiver Jonathan Krause is trying to rebound from a season in which he was the forgotten man on offense.
  • Florida having a successful season doesn't hinge on the quarterback, receivers or offensive line. It depends on how well the linebackers develop. The Gators did lose one of the country's top kick returners on Wednesday when the school announced that Andre Debose had suffered a torn ACL.
  • Texas A&M running back Ben Malena is a steadying force in the Aggies' backfield.
  • Five former college quarterbacks weigh in on how they believe Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel has handled his success.
  • Missouri still hasn't settled on a starting quarterback. James Franklin, is trying to hold off redshirt freshman Maty Mauk and sophomore Corbin Berkstresser.
  • Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze is frustrated with quarterback Bo Wallace's decision making.
  • TCU coach Gary Patterson took a shot at LSU coach Les Miles for reinstating running back Jeremy Hill after allowing teammates to vote to return to the team.

Scouting report: Nebraska 

December, 28, 2012
12/28/12
7:15
AM ET
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.

What to watch in the SEC: Week 14

November, 29, 2012
11/29/12
10:59
AM ET
For the first time, Alabama and Georgia will meet in the SEC Championship Game on Saturday in the Georgia Dome. Here’s a look at what to watch in a contest that’s a play-in game for the Discover BCS National Championship Game:

[+] EnlargeAaron Murray
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesGeorgia's Aaron Murray will show off his skills in the biggest game of his collegiate career Saturday.
1. All eyes on Murray: Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray has been quiet this week. He cut off all media interviews and instead devoted all his focus to the biggest game he or anybody on this team has played since arriving in Athens. Murray will go down as one of the most prolific quarterbacks in SEC history. He has passed for 3,201 yards and 30 touchdowns this season and leads the SEC in passing efficiency with a 177.1 rating. He is the first player in SEC history to have three straight 3,000-yard passing seasons and has 89 career touchdown passes, tying him with Peyton Manning for second place all-time in the SEC. What Murray hasn’t done is play particularly well in big games. He could shed that label forever by leading the Bulldogs to a win. Quarterbacks’ legacies are shaped by how they perform in these types of games. Murray is playing his best football right now. Ever since the Florida game, when he was picked off three times, he has thrown 13 touchdown passes and zero interceptions in four games.

2. Making plays at receiver: Both teams have suffered casualties at receiver this season. Most recently, Alabama lost Kenny Bell for the season when he broke his leg last week against Auburn. Georgia earlier this season lost Michael Bennett and Marlon Brown to injuries. Tavarres King has quietly had a big season for the Bulldogs with eight touchdown catches, and Malcolm Mitchell will also be key in this game with his ability to make big plays down the field. More than ever, Alabama will lean on freshman Amari Cooper in the passing game with Bell out. Cooper has eight touchdown catches and is averaging 17 yards per catch. Alabama coach Nick Saban is also prepared to pull the redshirt off Chris Black, who hurt his shoulder in August and underwent surgery. Black is healthy and wants to play in this game.

3. Denting Alabama’s defense: Alabama leads the country in scoring defense for the second straight season. One of the reasons why is that the Crimson Tide simply don’t give up big plays. They have allowed 89 plays this season that have gained 10 yards or more, which is nine fewer than any other Football Bowl Subdivision team. Opponents are averaging 1.9 drives per game against Alabama that reach the red zone, the lowest average among FBS teams. Running the ball in the red zone against Alabama has been nearly impossible. The Crimson Tide are allowing 0.82 yards per rush in the red zone this season, the lowest average in FBS. What makes this such an intriguing matchup is that Georgia has specialized in generating big plays on offense. The Bulldogs have 75 plays that have gained 20 yards or more, which ranks seventh among FBS teams. The only game this season that they didn’t have a play of at least 30 yards was their 35-7 loss to South Carolina.

4. Winning the big ones: This is a stage Alabama is accustomed to being on, and the Crimson Tide have been at their best in marquee games under Saban. They are 3-1 against nationally ranked teams this season and have won nine of their past 11 games against nationally ranked foes. Georgia, on the other hand, has faced just two nationally ranked teams this season. The Bulldogs beat Florida 17-9 and lost to South Carolina 35-7. Georgia has struggled the past few seasons against nationally ranked opponents, losing eight of its last 11 games to teams ranked in the Top 25. The win over Florida on Oct. 27 was Georgia’s first win against a top-10 opponent since the 2009 season and its first win against an SEC team ranked in the top 10 since beating No. 9 Florida 42-30 in 2007.

5. Forcing turnovers: It’s no coincidence that Alabama and Georgia lost the turnover battle in each of their losses this season. Alabama turned the ball over three times in its 29-24 loss to Texas A&M, which didn’t turn the ball over at all. Georgia had one turnover and South Carolina none in the Bulldogs’ loss to the Gamecocks. Which defense can force the most turnovers in this game? Alabama has scored 157 points off turnovers this season, the most in the SEC and fourth most in the FBS. For the season, Alabama is plus-14 and Georgia plus-9 in turnover margin. Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron has thrown just two interceptions all season, and both came in the Texas A&M loss. Murray has thrown seven interceptions this season but hasn’t thrown any in five of his last six outings. The exception was the Florida game when he threw three.
For all the talk about how Shawn Williams’ “soft” comments woke up Georgia’s sleeping defense before the Florida game, Jarvis Jones points to a different weekend that re-energized an underperforming unit.

He looks at Georgia’s embarrassing 35-7 loss to South Carolina on Oct. 6 that sent the Dawgs back to Athens with their tails between their legs and tossed their SEC/BCS hopes temporarily into the garbage.

It also served as a time for the Dawgs’ defense, which returned just about everyone from a unit that ranked fifth nationally in total defense a year ago, to realize that skill alone wasn’t going to get the job done.

[+] EnlargeJarvis Jones
Daniel Shirey/US PresswireJarvis Jones says the Georgia defense hit stride after the loss against South Carolina.
The defense needed to get its swagger back by relocating its focus, something the junior linebacker said was lost with distractions and arrogance.

“South Carolina did a great job of reminding us and humbling us and got us on the right path,” Jones said.

That path has been a relatively smooth one for the Bulldogs, and extremely bumpy for opponents. Since its rough outing against the Gamecocks, the Bulldogs have risen in the defensive rankings and have allowed just 301 total yards per contest in the past six games. During that span only one team -- Kentucky -- scored 20-plus points on the Bulldogs. Before that, five of Georgia’s first six opponents scored 20 or more.

Granted, only two of Georgia’s past six opponents currently rank within the top 50 in total offense (Georgia Tech, 28; Ole Miss, 46), but the defense’s play is a far cry from what it was at the beginning of the season.

“We've been focused and we've been disciplined and very coachable,” said Jones, who is third in the SEC in tackles for loss (19.5) and sacks (10.5). “That got us to the point where we are today.”

He's also hoping it gets Georgia past Alabama’s bruising offense in Saturday’s SEC championship game.

The second-ranked Crimson Tide will arrive in Atlanta with one of the SEC’s most balanced offenses. Alabama is fourth in the league in total offense, averaging 433 yards a game, and is second in scoring at 39 points per game.

AJ McCarron is the second-most efficient quarterback in the country -- right behind Georgia’s Aaron Murray -- with a QB rating of 176.25 -- and the two-headed running attack of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon has accumulated 1,848 bruising rushing yards and 24 touchdowns.

Add arguably the nation’s best, most NFL-ready offensive line and some talented receivers, and Georgia’s defense faces its toughest test of the season.

“They have great athletes and great coaching,” linebacker Christian Robinson said. “When those two things are as well done as Alabama does, you're going to have some problems. They're the best team we'll face up to this point.

“When you're able to run the ball and do play-action, and you have the skill guys outside, that's dangerous.”

One skill guy who will be out for the Tide is receiver Kenny Bell (broken leg), who was arguably Alabama’s top deep threat. With him gone, the Tide will likely turn to its running game even more. That hasn’t boded well for opponents, as Alabama is averaging 5.4 yards per carry (5.3 in conference play) and 214 rushing yards per game.

Stopping the run has been an issue for the Dawgs at times. Georgia is surrendering more than 163 rushing yards a game and nearly 4 yards a carry. Back-to-back triple-option attacks from Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech churned out 608 yards on the Bulldogs in the past two weeks.

But Alabama won’t surprise the Georgia with triple-option nonsense. Simply put, Alabama is aiming to ram the ball down the Dawgs’ throats and then catch them woozy with the play-action.

“You don't see a lot of missed assignments,” Robinson said of Alabama’s running game. “You see hat on a hat. If you get a hat on a hat, that means the running back finds the hole and is able to get to that second level a lot faster than some other teams we've maybe played in the past.

“Both of those backs are able to hit it up and spin, and turn for those extra yards that a lot of other backs that we've faced to this point haven't been able to do.”

Georgia’s defense is ready to be hit in the mouth, but if the past few weeks have told us anything, it won't hesitate to hit back, again and again.
Justin Hunter and Da'Rick RogersAP Photo/Wade PayneJustin Hunter (11) and Da'Rick Rogers (21) are considered to be the best receiving duo in the SEC.
Our SEC position rankings continue with a look at schools' wide receiver and tight end groups.

Past rankings:
On to the league's wide receiver/tight end groups:

1. Tennessee: The Vols are equipped with two of the top wideouts in the league with Da'Rick Rogers, who was second in the SEC in receiving last year, and Justin Hunter, who might be the SEC's top deep threat. It sounds like Hunter will be 100 percent this fall after his ACL injury last year. Junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson is big, fast and possesses the big-play gene. The speedy Zach Rogers is back and is so is talented tight end Mychal Rivera.

(Read full post)

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Dawgs Continue Class Rankings Climb
National recruiting analyst Craig Haubert discusses Georgia's latest ESPN 300 recruit: WR Van Jefferson. It's the fourth consecutive week the Bulldogs added a ranked prospect and their third straight week rising in the class rankings top 10.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

SEC SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 8/28
Saturday, 8/30
Sunday, 8/31