The Georgia Bulldogs are playing in a bowl game in January---just not the one it had hoped for.
The Bulldogs were on the verge of a national championship berth before losing to Alabama in the SEC championship game and instead will play against the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando on Tuesday.
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"We spent ourselves in a worthy cause," coach Mark Richt said to the Associated Press. "We, of course, wanted to play for a national championship. We knew we were just a few yards or a tipped ball, or however you want to say it away from winning it. It was heartbreaking, no doubt. We were highly hurt by it. ... So you have to kind of get over the heartbreak of that."
Nebraska also knows about heartbreak, as the Cornhuskers lost in their own conference title game, falling the Big Ten championship game 70-31 against Wisconsin, who will play against Stanford in the Rose Bowl later on Jan. 1.
Richt knows the program well, as he was born in Nebraska and was a Cornhuskers fan from a young age.
"I've known about Big Red for a long time. It's been ingrained in my family," he told Georgia's official website. "My mom and dad were born in Nebraska, and all of their families are from there. All of my siblings except one were born in Nebraska, so I've got a lot of ties there."
The Bulldogs will be looking to erase the memory of the 32-28 loss to Alabama on Dec. 1 when they ran out of time on the five-yard line after a tipped pass from quarterback Aaron Murray was caught by Chris Conley, who was tackled as the clock expired.
Georgia started off the season with five straight wins, but lost 35-7 on the road against South Carolina to fall to 5-1 on the year. The Bulldogs won their next six games, including a 17-9 victory over Florida on Oct. 27 to reach the conference title game.
Murray has been one of the most impressive quarterbacks in the nation and is one of the main reasons why Georgia won the SEC East division. He has passed for 3,466 yards abd 31 touchdowns with just eight interceptions while completing over 65 percent of his passes.
The fourth-year junior reached 90-career touchdown passes this season after throwing for one touchdown in the final game against Alabama, passing Peyton Manning for second on the all-time SEC list. Murray was stellar in a 29-24 win against Kentucky following the loss to South Carolina, throwing for a season-high 427 yards and four touchdowns with zero interceptions.
Murray led an offense that ranked 20th in the nation in scoring, averaging over 37 points per game. The team is averaging 274 passing yards per game and has done a good job of rushing the football this season, gaining nearly 200 yards per game. True freshman Todd Gurley led the SEC with 1,260 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns while averaging 6.3 yards per carry.
The Nebraska defense has been stellar against the passing game this season, leading the nation with 148 yards per game. The team has been solid against the running game, but has given up a total of 1,254 rushing yards in three losses, meaning Gurley could be in for a big day.
The Cornhuskers were particularly vulnerable against the run in the Big Ten title game, giving up over 500 rushing yards and allowing Wisconsin to have two 200-yard rushers for the first time in school history.
"Obviously our championship game didn't go the way we wanted to," coach Bo Pelini said. "But it (this bowl) gives us an opportunity to play ... and we're looking forward to the challenge."
The title game wasn't the only rough rushing game for Nebraska, who have given up over 140 yards five times, including to Northwestern's Venric Mark, Penn State's Zach Zwinek, Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell, Ohio State's Braxton Miller and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin, who had 217 yards in the early season victory.
"They're not the first team we've played and they're not going to be the last that has a good running football team," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "We've played enough of them this year, physical running backs, physical groups up front. We won 10 games for a reason. It's not easy winning 10. We've got a tremendous challenge ahead of us to try to get 11."
Nebraska will try to utilize the running game to take advantage of a Georgia defense that is allowing just 18.8 points per game. The Bulldogs were gashed for 350 yards in the loss against Alabama and now faces a team in the Cornhuskers that gained over 250 yards per game on the ground, ranked eighth in the nation.
Quarterback Taylor Martinez is a dual threat, throwing for 2,667 yards and 21 touchdowns with 10 interceptions, while rushing for 973 yards and 10 touchdowns. Running backs Ameer Abdullah and Rex Burkhead have combined for 12 touchdowns this season, but were totally shut down in the conference title game against Wisconsin.
The Georgia defense will rely on linebacker Jarvis Jones to help stop the potent rushing attack of Nebraska. The SEC defensive player of the year has been a star for the Bulldogs, recording 77 tackles, 22.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks and creating seven forced fumbles.
The Bulldogs stumbled early in the season after losing 36-30 to UCLA in the second week, but won the next three games in a row, including a 30-27 win over Wisconsin. Following a 63-38 defeat to No. 12 Ohio State the next week, Nebraska won the next six games in a row, including road victories against Northwestern, Michigan State and Iowa.
PREDICTION: Georgia 42, Nebraska 35. Both teams are entering the game following conference title game losses, but Nebraska looks much worse for wear after getting trampled by Wisconsin's rushing game. Taylor Martinez had one of the plays of the year in the conference championship, but the Georgia defense and Jarvis Jones will be prepared to shut him down. Murray is poised to shine in what could be the finals game of his college career, while Gurley will try to become the latest running back to run well against the Huskers. Nebraska has history on its side, as the two teams have only met once, with the Cornhuskers wining 45-6 in the 1969 Sun Bowl.
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