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The big 2014 Gator Bowl breakdown: Frustration Bowl for Georgia and Nebraska

You wouldn't be able to blame either Georgia or Nebraska for wanting to get this season over with. It hasn't gone according to plan. Still, the two will face off in the Gator Bowl early on Wednesday. Which teams shows up?


From the breakdown of Wednesday's Gator Bowl:

G Spencer Long: Out for season (knee)
QB Taylor Martinez: Out indefinitely (foot)
DE Avery Moss: Out for bowl game (personal)
DL Kevin Williams: Out for season (knee)

CB Sheldon Dawson: Out for bowl game (disciplinary)
S Josh Harvey-Clemons: Out for bowl game (disciplinary)
OL Austin Long: Out for season (academics)
RB Keith Marshall: Out for season (knee)
WR Malcolm Mitchell: Out for season (knee)
QB Aaron Murray: Out for season (knee)
TE Jay Rome: Out for season (foot)
WR Justin Scott-Wesley: Out for season (knee)

Among others, this list doesn't include Georgia receiver Chris Conley, who aggravated an ankle injury and is questionable. Contrary to popular belief, Nebraska and Georgia do have enough healthy, eligible bodies to form a two-deep for the Gator Bowl. But still...

Bowl games are useful and often exciting for a number of reasons. They can give you a chance to send off your seniors. They can reward your fans with a fun trip to a potentially exotic locale. They can offer you a chance to build for the future with extra bowl practices and a spotlight for younger players. They can match your team up against either an old conference rival or an interesting team you don't get an opportunity to play very often.

The Gator Bowl can certainly offer both Georgia and Nebraska chances to showcase some younger players and build for 2014. But you can't blame both the programs and their fans if they kind of just want this damned 2013 to end.

Both the Huskers and Bulldogs went 8-4 this fall; the season could have been worse for both, but this isn't what these two programs had in mind, and the above injury list shows us why. Georgia was decimated by injury on offense and a lack of discipline on defense. Nebraska only got four games out of senior quarterback Taylor Martinez and shuffled between two youngsters. Plus, the Huskers' head coach, Bo Pelini, seemed all but fired on two different occasions.

With players originally intended to be part of the second string in 2013, these two teams will play in a rematch of last year's Capital One Bowl, a 45-31 Dawg win that was certainly fun but left no one saying, "I've got to see those teams play again!" Are you excited yet?

Motivation will be enormous in this game. Who has practiced the hardest and best over the last couple of weeks? Who will find an extra boost of energy in key moments? Find the answers to those questions, and in this battle of two frustrated teams (with fanbases demoralized for a few different reasons), you'll probably figure out the winner. Georgia has the advantage on paper, for what it's worth; we'll see if the Bulldogs are the ones who show up the strongest.

How they got here

NU's season to date

Nebraska began the season ranked 18th, but the red flags began showing up rather quickly. The Huskers allowed 34 points in a narrow win over Wyoming, then collapsed in the second half of a 41-21 flogging by UCLA at home. And in a rather vindictive move, a fan leaked a recording of an old Pelini rant about NU fans in the days following the loss to the Bruins.

Taylor Martinez would miss the next three games with injury, come back for a loss at Minnesota, then miss the rest of the season. The Huskers beat up on bad Illinois and Purdue teams and got back to 25th in the polls before the loss to Minnesota and would spend the rest of the season unranked. Tight wins over Northwestern (via Hail Mary), Michigan, and Penn State, along with a competitive loss to Michigan State, suggested the Huskers were improving late in the season, but the sentiment turned negative again following a frustrating, three-touchdown home loss to Iowa.

Pelini found himself on the hot seat, got himself off of it, then found it again. Technically his job might not be entirely safe -- we'll see what happens if the Huskers get run off the field in Jacksonville -- but he'll probably be fielding a lot of questions in this coming offseason. If nothing else, that should be relatively entertaining.

Georgia's season to date

Despite a young, questionable defense, Georgia began the season ranked fifth in the preseason polls because of what was supposed to be a ridiculous offense. That offense was on the field for about four plays.

Still, the offense was never the problem. A shaky, young, undisciplined defense did the Dawgs in even more than injury.

Celebrating a long touchdown run by Todd Gurley against Clemson, No. 1 receiver Malcolm Mitchell injured his knee and was lost for the season. Over the course of the next month, Gurley would go down for a while, backup Keith Marshall would go down for the year, emerging receiver Justin Scott-Wesley would go down for the year, and new go-tos Michael Bennett and Chris Conley would both miss time. In all, 13 Dawgs would catch at least six passes in 2013; only three of them played in all 12 games.

Despite incredible week-to-week turnover at the skill positions, Georgia kept clicking along with a top-10 offense (seventh according to Off. F/+) thanks to quarterback Aaron Murray and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo. And then Murray got hurt in November.

Still, the offense was never the problem. A shaky, young, undisciplined defense did the Dawgs in even more than injury.

The Dawgs lost by three points to No. 8 Clemson in the opener, beat No. 6 South Carolina and No. 6 LSU in September, got upset by Vanderbilt by four points at the height (nadir?) of the injury glut, and lost at Auburn -- BCS title game participant Auburn -- by last-second miracle pass.

A comeback win over rival Georgia Tech in the season finale brought back a little luster, but this season was a trial in so many ways. We'll see what Georgia has left in the tank.

Data dump

Team Record BCS F/+ Rk Line Off F/+ Rk Def F/+ Rk ST F/+ Rk
Nebraska 8-4 NR 45 57 41 41
Georgia 8-4 22 20 -9 7 47 63
Std. Downs S&P+ Pass. Downs S&P+ Rushing S&P+ Passing S&P+ First Down Rate Explosive Drives Methodical Drives
NU Offense 43 50 17 65 79 88 42
Georgia Defense 24 41 23 32 81 85 114
Adj. Line Yards Opportunity Rate Power Success Rate Stuff Rate Adj. Sack Rate Std. Downs Sack Rate Pass. Downs Sack Rate
NU Offense 32 22 39 24 51 29 51
Georgia Defense 30 21 124 65 18 16 36
Std. Downs S&P+ Pass. Downs S&P+ Rushing S&P+ Passing S&P+ First Down Rate Explosive Drives Methodical Drives
Georgia Offense 8 15 30 4 54 34 22
NU Defense 95 28 95 54 57 61 4
Adj. Line Yards Opportunity Rate Power Success Rate Stuff Rate Adj. Sack Rate Std. Downs Sack Rate Pass. Downs Sack Rate
Georgia Offense 42 57 9 70 30 60 27
NU Defense 88 63 22 57 15 7 14
Field Position Adv. FG Efficiency Punt Efficiency Kickoff Efficiency Punt Return Efficiency Kick Return Efficiency
NU Special Teams 81 13 66 64 98 25
Georgia Special Teams 94 7 31 82 114 84

Nebraska's biggest advantages:

They can grind away. Typically, methodical drives are hard to pull off because they require offenses to go mostly mistake-free for quite a few plays in a row. College offenses don't do that very well.

But in the case of the Georgia defense, it's the opposite. The Dawgs are the ones who struggle to avoid mistakes over a long series of plays, and it costs them. While Georgia was particularly strong against the run and was perfectly sound on a play-for-play basis, the defense was one of the worst in the country at preventing methodical drives. If you can peck, poke, and maybe convert a couple of third-and-sixes, Georgia will eventually break down and give you some points.

On a play-for-play basis, the Nebraska defense is a lot like Georgia's: athletic, aggressive, and mistake-prone.

This makes sense when you look at Georgia's two-deep. While there is solid experience up front, there are six freshmen or sophomores among eight players at linebacker, and there are four true freshmen playing roles in the secondary. No matter how athletic or talented, young players are infinitely more prone to random stupidity.

Despite the loss of Martinez, and despite some general inconsistency, Nebraska can still move the ball pretty well. Ameer Abdullah and a pair of solid backups (Imani Cross, Terrell Newby) combined for 33 carries, 193 yards and a couple of touchdowns per game, and while the passing game faltered after an efficient 2012 campaign, the duo of Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa can still take advantage of the breakdowns Georgia will likely offer.

Though neither Tommy Armstrong, Jr., nor Ron Kellogg III have seized control of the quarterback reins with fantastic play, they should still get the job done enough to get Nebraska into the 20s or 30s.

Where's Gregory? On a play-for-play basis, the Nebraska defense is a lot like Georgia's: athletic, aggressive, and mistake-prone. The differences: Most of Nebraska's mistakes come up front, where a porous line allows for a few too many opportunities for opposing running backs. (Hello, Todd Gurley.) But the Huskers prevent big plays reasonably well, and if you try to grind out longer, more methodical drives like they want to do to you, they'll eventually make some plays.

The Huskers recorded 88 tackles for loss (16th in the country at 7.3 per game) and 34 sacks (16th at 2.8 per game). Young ends Randy Gregory and Avery Moss combined for 14 sacks and 23 hurries, and Nebraska is able to generate solid pressure without blitzing. Georgia's offense does relatively well in pass protection, but with backup Hutson Mason behind center, the Dawgs would be well advised to not fall behind schedule. Mason was pretty good in his first start against Georgia Tech -- 22-for-36 for 299 yards, two scores, and a pick -- but he was sacked five times.

Georgia's biggest advantages:

The Dawgs might not have to worry about passing downs. Georgia was without Gurley for a while and without Marshall for a long while, and the Dawgs' offensive line was only decent in run-blocking, far from spectacular. But for whatever advantages Nebraska might hold up front in pass-rush situations, the Huskers can be pushed around.

While you can grind out methodical drives against the Dawgs, that doesn't work on every possession.

And Georgia will probably push them around. If Nebraska cannot generate a decent presence in the Georgia backfield, Gurley will get a running start toward the line of scrimmage, and … you don't want him getting a running start.

South Carolina and North Texas were, for one reason or another, able to hold Gurley to just 4.4 yards per carry. The other seven opponents he faced (including Clemson, LSU, Florida, and Auburn) were not so lucky; he averaged 7.3 per carry against them. He also caught 30 passes for 344 yards. He is a monster, and his backups, especially J.J. Green (365 yards, 5.9 per carry) certainly held their own in his absence.

If Nebraska cannot slow Gurley down, then the odds are good that the pass will work just fine as well. Even if Chris Conley cannot go, players like Michael Bennett and Rantavious Wooten have been damaging at times, and play-action could be incredibly effective. Slow Gurley down, or give up 500 yards.

Georgia can defend the run. The strength of the Nebraska offense is also the strength of the Georgia defense, and while you can grind out methodical drives against the Dawgs, that doesn't work on every possession. Georgia made 55 non-sack tackles for loss this year, including seven each from linebackers Ramik Wilson and Jordan Jenkins.

The odds are good that Nebraska will need some big plays to win, and if Georgia is hemming in the running game, the Huskers might need to generate something through the air. To put it politely, that hasn't exactly been an NU strong suit this year.

Overreactions for 2014

We tend to overreact to particularly positive or negative bowl results when it comes to projecting forward for the next season. How might we overreact to this game?

The future is now for both of these teams. Nebraska is loaded with underclassmen at the skill positions, and Armstrong, a redshirt freshman, is likely to begin 2014 as the starting quarterback. The Huskers are quite young in the front seven (it's no coincidence that that's also where they're weakest defensively) and will really only face rebuilds at offensive tackle and cornerback. Those are two important positions, yes, but there's a lot of experience elsewhere.

If Armstrong, Abdullah, Bell or others have a big day from a yardage perspective, or if the front seven actually holds up somewhat against the Gurley Offensive, then that could be cause for some decent, positive overreaction in the offseason.

Georgia, meanwhile, will be looking to build for 2014 in this game as well. Mason, a junior, is the presumptive starting quarterback in 2014, Gurley is a sophomore, and Bennett and Conley are still both underclassmen. (So are the guys who got hurt.) Georgia will have to replace both starting guards, but assuming Bobo doesn't take the Georgia Southern job, the offense will hum again next year. (And it might regardless.)

The defense, meanwhile, is really hoping that inexperience was at the root of its 2013 problems. If experience mends some issues, this could be a hell of a defense moving forward, since it starts only one senior. Regardless, there won't be any excuses for another poor effort in 2014, and holding the Huskers in check could result in a pretty high preseason poll position.


F/+ Projection: Georgia 38, Nebraska 26
Win Probability: Georgia 78%

On paper, Georgia holds a severe edge here, but again, this could be a major motivation game. If the Huskers have it and the Dawgs don't, Nebraska makes up ground in a hurry.

I don't see that happening, though. Georgia is a better team, and its struggles are due more directly to things like injuries and not simply playing mediocre football. If this is a blowout, it goes in Georgia's favor, though a close game certainly isn't out of the question.

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