Tied at 31-31, Georgia found itself in quite a battle with Nebraska through three quarters before the Bulldogs exploded for a nice redeeming win.
Georgia's Mark Richt, Aaron Murray and Jarvis Jones after Capital One Bowl win
No. 7 Georgia bounced back from a painful SEC championship loss to Alabama by dispatching No. 16 Nebraska 45-31 in a wild Capital One Bowl before 59,712 Tuesday afternoon at Citrus Bowl Stadium in Orlando.
This was a back-and-forth affair that featured a blocked punt for a safety, an interception return for a touchdown, four lead changes, five turnovers and a ton of offense by both teams. The game was tied at 31-31 until Georgia quarterback and game MVP Aaron Murray threw a pair of touchdown passes early in the fourth quarter to give the Bulldogs (12-2) the lead for good.
“It’s more fun to win than lose, I’ll tell you that,” said Georgia coach Mark Richt, whose Bulldogs snapped a two-year bowl losing streak. “We’ve lost the last two bowl games and gotten kind of tired of that.
“We wanted to win this bowl to prove to ourselves again that we are one of the better teams in the country. I’m just real thankful for the victory.”
Murray led Georgia by completing 18 of 33 passes for 427 yards and five touchdowns to four different receivers and two interceptions. One of those picks was returned by NU’s Will Compton for a touchdown.
“Our guys kept fighting,” said Murray, a junior will must now decide whether he will leave early for the NFL or return as a senior in 2013. “When you put up 45 points against a team like Nebraska, you have to feel happy about that.
“It was an awesome game. I am excited to get a (bowl) win. It’s great for our seniors who have meant so much to our team. We’re only the third team in Georgia history to get 12 wins. In the future, I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m just enjoying this right now.”
Freshman running back Todd Gurley had 125 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries for Georgia.
Nebraska's Bo Pelini and Will Compton after NU's Capital One Bowl loss.
Chris Conley had two touchdown catches totaling 136 yards for Georgia, while Tavarres King had three grabs for 104 yards and a score. Bulldogs corner Damian Swann had a pair of interceptions for Georgia.
Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez was 16 of 27 passing for 204 yards and two touchdowns and two interceptions for the Huskers (10-4).
“I’m proud of our team,” said Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. “They played hard. I thought they played their tails off. We just didn’t make enough plays. We had our opportunities.”
Senior running back Rex Burkhead, making his final appearance for Nebraska, had 140 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.
“Rex played the way he always does, like he did for four years – with passion,” Pelini said. “He’s a tremendous football player and a tremendous human being. I can say that about that entire senior class.
“People forget, when these guys came in this program wasn’t in very good shape. These guys were a big part of getting it back to where it is.”
Martinez was sacked five times, including twice by Georgia All-American outside linebacker Jarvis Jones. After trailing 24-23 at halftime, the Bulldogs allowed NU just one second-half touchdown.
“We came out there and, not to take anything away from Nebraska, but I think our coaches did a great job of making some halftime adjustments,” Jones said. “The guys believed in it. We just kept fighting, executing and having fun.”
Georgia rebounded from a painful 32-28 loss to Alabama in the SEC title game, a defeat that cost the Bulldogs a shot at the national championship. The Bulldogs rolled up a Capital One Bowl-record 589 yards total offense.
Georgia's Justin Scott-Wesley makes a grab in front of Nebraska defender
The Huskers were also smarting from a 70-31 loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, a defeat that cost Nebraska a Rose Bowl berth and the school’s first conference title since 1999. Wisconsin rolled up 640 yards total offense in that game and again, here in the bowl game, the Huskers surrendered a handful of costly big plays. Georgia had 10 plays go for 20 or more yards. All six of Georgia’s touchdowns were 24 yards or longer.
“There were some situations where you have to make plays and they made it; we didn’t,” Pelini said. “It cost us a football game.
“Some of it was (Murray) scrambling. But those are plays we have made for most of the year. We didn’t play the ball well today for whatever reason.”
Richt was glad to see Murray and his offense spark those big plays.
“When you make a big play here and there, all of a sudden it gives you a boost of energy,” Richt said. “We made enough big plays at the right moment. I’m proud of Aaron and the job he did. He had a couple of picks early and hung in there and was resilient.
“Somebody said he was the MVP, so somebody thought he played pretty good by the end of the game,” Richt joked.
As It Happened
Georgia had the ball to open the game and drove from its own 25 to the Nebraska 36. But on second-and-8 there, Murray’s pass was intercepted by Nebraska’s P.J. Smith and returned 18 yards to the Nebraska 23.
Georgia forced a quick three-and-out and the Bulldogs’ Shawn Williams broke through and blocked it out of the end zone for a safety and a quick 2-0 lead with 11:39 left in the first quarter.
The Bulldogs took the ball after the ensuing free kick and marched 80 yards in 10 plays to grab a 9-0 lead. Murray hit Justin Scott-Wesley for a 24-yard gain to the Nebraska 43. Keith Marshall had a 12-yard run for another first down. Finally on third-and-8 at the 29, Murray hit Arthur Lynch for the 29-yard touchdown and a 9-0 lead with 7:54 left in the first quarter.
“It was a play we put in specifically for Nebraska,” Lynch said. “We saw something with their defense and we ran it. I came open. I was more open than I thought. I turned upfield and it was a race to the end zone. Luckily, I got in there.”
Nebraska battled back with a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown march. Burkhead got it started with runs of 3 and 21 yards. Ameer Abdullah then had carries for 11 and 3 yards before Martinez hit Burkhead for a 16-yard gain and a first down at the Georgia 21. Martinez rushed for 7 yards there before he hit Jamal Turner for the 14-yard touchdown which trimmed the Georgia lead to 9-7 with 4:42 left in the first quarter.
The Huskers then surged into the lead as, on the second play of Georgia’s ensuing series, Nebraska linebacker Will Compton intercepted a Murray screen pass and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown and a 14-9 Huskers lead with 4:15 left in the first quarter.
“They had shown that play throughout the course of the year,” Compton said. “He backstepped and I kind of sat there for a second. I recognized the receiver coming to crack (back block) and I just tried getting up out of the wash. I didn’t think he was going to throw it. We had a few guys there. He threw it and, fortunately, I caught it.”
The lead was short-lived though as Georgia, following a touchback on the kickoff, struck for a 75-yard touchdown pass from Murray to Tavarres King that put the Bulldogs back up 16-14 with 4:04 left in the first quarter.
Late in the first quarter, Nebraska’s Brett Maher missed a 47-yard field goal. The quarter ended with the teams combing for 323 yards and 30 points. Murray, himself, threw for 153 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions in the first quarter alone.
Georgia extended its lead to 23-14 early in the second quarter. Martinez underthrew a pass and Georgia’s Damian Swann made the interception. He returned it 19 yards to the Nebraska 38-yard line. The Bulldogs needed four plays to find the end zone as Murray ripped off a 10-yard gain on a third-down draw, setting up Gurley’s 24-yard burst for the touchdown and a 23-14 lead with 10:33 left in the first half.
Nebraska, benefitting from a pair of Georgia personal foul penalties, took the ball down to the Bulldogs’ 19-yard line. But on third-and-10 there, Martinez was sacked for a 3-yard loss. Maher’s 39-yard field goal trimmed the Georgia lead to 23-17 with 8:48 left in the first half.
The Huskers then forced a Georgia punt and got the ball back on their own 24. That’s where they embarked on a six-play, 76-yard scoring march. Burkhead started it with runs of 5, 6 and 2 yards. Martinez then kept a play alive and threw deep down the middle to Kenny Bell for a 35-yard gain down to the Georgia 28. Georgia was penalized for a face mask, moving the ball down to the Georgia 16. On first down there, Martinez faked a give to to the motion man in play action and hit a wide open Burkhead down the middle for the 16-yard touchdown and a 24-23 lead with 4:43 left in the half.
Georgia’s Marshall Morgan missed a 47-yard field goal on the Bulldogs’ ensuing series. Each team had the ball after that, but neither could threaten a score before the half expired. At the half, the teams had combined for 564 yards with Murray throwing for 195 and Martinez throwing for 168.
The teams then exchanged touchdowns on their first possessions of the second half. Nebraska had it first and moved 75 yards in a methodical 13 plays. Martinez found Bell for 11 yards early in the drive. Abdullah then had a nifty run where he went up the middle and cut outside for a 26-yard gain down to the Georgia 24. Two plays later, Martinez faked a give and kept it for a 9-yard gain down to the 9.
Burkhead did the rest with runs of 1, 5 and 3 yards for the touchdown. On the third-down touchdown run, Nebraska rushed to the line of scrimmage and caught Georgia’s defense before it got set. The touchdown put Nebraska up 31-23 with 9:42 left in the third quarter.
Georgia roared right back with a five-play, 79-yard touchdown drive. Murray converted a third down with a 13-yard toss to King. On first down at the Nebraska 49, Murray dropped to throw. He pump-faked once and threw deep down the right side to Chris Conley for the touchdown. Conley got behind NU corner Ciante Evans and safety Daimion Stafford was late providing help over the top.
The score cut the Nebraska lead to 31-29. Georgia coach Mark Richt opted for a two-point conversion and the ball was placed on the left hashmark. Murray took the snap and rolled right. He hit a wide open Rhett McGowan for the two-point conversion to tie it at 31-31 with 7:26 left in the third quarter.
Nebraska then drove to the Georgia 39, but lost possession when it was ruled that Abdullah had fumbled. The Bulldogs could not capitalize on that miscue, but it was a missed opportunity for the Huskers.
“That play hurt us,” Pelini said. “He made the first down. He thought he was down. Why that didn’t get reviewed, that’s beyond me. But it was par for the course on how that game was called.”
After the teams exchanged punts, Georgia moved 74 yards in six plays to grab the lead for good. The key play was Murray’s 31-yard pass to Scott-Wesley on a deep out. Gurley rumbled 10 yards for a first down at the Nebraska 24. On first down there, Murray rolled to his right to buy time and threw down the sideline to Keith Marshall. Marshall exploited a match-up with NU’s linebacker Compton and made the one-handed grab for the touchdown and a 38-31 lead with 14:52 left in the game.
“I ran a shallow arrow route,” Marshall said. “But I saw him scrambling and we know the scramble rules. You turn upfield and run. He threw a great pass and I just turned and reacted to it.
“It was a critical time in the game. It was tied and that gave us the lead.”
Georgia then forced a Nebraska punt and was backed up in its own end. Facing third-and-12 at the Bulldogs’ 13, Murray hit Conley with a simple underneath pass. The Bullldogs blocked it perfectly and Conley was gone down the middle of the field for the backbreaking 87-yard touchdown that staked Georgia to a 45-31 lead with 11:03 left.
“From the snap, they were bringing everyone on a blitz,” Murray said. “We had a little jailbreak screen. It was either going to be a huge play or a bust. My job was to get it too him any way I could and he did the rest of the work. It was pretty cool to see as soon as he caught the ball, there was no one in sight. It was off to the races for him.”
Pelini added, “They ran an outscreen and (the safety) jumped his guy. We pass that off. He’s done that a number of times. He missed it and we were free. We were coming off the edge. We got aggressive. Turns out, that was a bad call by me.”
Nebraska then drove from its own 25 to the Georgia 36. But on first-and-15 at the 41, Martinez threw high and late down the middle. Swann swooped in for his second interception of the day to snuff the Huskers’ threat with 7:12 remaining in the game.
Nebraska got the ball back, but its last-ditch possession was stopped by a fourth-down sack of Martinez by Georgia’s Alexander Ogletree with 1:08 left.
* This Georgia team became just the third in school history to finish with 12 wins. It also happened with the 1980 national championship team (12-0) and the 2002 SEC championship team (13-1).
* Murray set a new Georgia bowl record with five touchdown passes and also set the school’s single-season touchdown mark with 36 scoring passes. His 87-yarder to Conley is also the longest in Capital One Bowl history. He also tied the Capital One Bowl record of five touchdown passes.
His 427 yards passing is the second-most in Capital One Bowl history, trailing just a 447-yard effort by Buster O’Brien of Richmond against Ohio U. in 1968. That total is also the fourth-most in a game in Georgia history.
* Georgia broke the old Capital One Bowl total offense record of 556 yards set by Richmond against Ohio U. in 1968.
* Georgia’s 45 points are a school bowl record, breaking the mark of 44 against Texas A&M in the 2009 Independence Bowl.
* Georgia’s Jones, with two sacks today, ended the year with a school single-season record 14-1/2 sacks, breaking the previous mark of 14 by David Pollack in 2002. Pollack was on hand broadcasting the game for ESPN. Jones’ 24-1/2 tackles-for-loss this year also breaks Pollack’s mark of 23-1/2 from 2002.
* Georgia evened the all-time series with Nebraska at 1-1. The lone previous meeting was in the 1969 Sun Bowl, won by Nebraska 45-6.
* Georgia improved to 27-18-3 all-time in bowl games, including 8-4 under 12th-year head coach Mark Richt. The Bulldogs snapped a two-game bowl losing streak and won their fifth bowl game in seven years.
Over the last 10 years, Georgia is 4-1 against Big Ten teams in bowls. Georgia is now 5-1-1 all-time in bowl games played in Orlando.
* Nebraska’s all-time bowl record fell to 24-25 as the Huskers lost their third straight bowl game. Nebraska is 3-3 in bowl games under fifth-year head coach Bo Pelini. (His record includes a win over Michigan State in the 2003 Alamo Bowl as NU’s head coach.)
Nebraska dropped to 0-3 all-time in bowl games played in Orlando.
* The Big Ten and SEC have met head-to-head in the Citrus or Capital One Bowl every year since the 1992 season. In that time, SEC teams now have a 12-9 edge in the series between the conferences.
* Click here for the box score from the Capital One Bowl.