Game Day: Nebraska vs. Georgia

A chance to build

Husker players would like to see the 2014 Gator Bowl be a bridge to something else: the 2014 season. A win Wednesday would serve as a connector to a campaign in which most of the defense and key parts of the offense are slated to return. "It's huge to start off 2014 with a win," said junior I-back Ameer Abdullah.

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2-Minute Drill by Rich Kaipust

Nebraska rush offense vs. Georgia rush defense

Nebraska hopes to get back to near full speed after the rash of injuries on its offensive line. The Huskers were limited to 89 yards against Iowa and averaged just 141.8 per game and 3.7 per carry in their last four games overall. Georgia linebacker Ramik Wilson was the SEC tackles leader as the Bulldogs held five of eight conference opponents under 145 rushing yards. Edge: Nebraska

Nebraska pass offense vs. Georgia pass defense

The Huskers need to take better care of the football after throwing 11 interceptions in their last seven games, including two game-changers against Iowa. But NU veteran receivers Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa will get some opportunities against an inexperienced Georgia secondary susceptible to the big play. The danger for Tommy Armstrong and/or Ron Kellogg is the pressure the Bulldogs bring (32 sacks, 105 hurries). Edge: Georgia

Georgia rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

It's no stretch to say Georgia tailback Todd Gurley starts the 2014 season in the Heisman Trophy conversation, and television on New Year's Day isn't a bad place to launch your campaign. The sophomore is healthy again and running behind a veteran line, and Nebraska has had its issues with getting backs to the ground. Edge: Georgia

Georgia pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

Georgia isn't going to be quite the same without record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray, but junior Hutson Mason still has the weapons at his disposal that help the Bulldogs rank No. 16 nationally in passing offense and No. 11 in passing efficiency. Nebraska will have to find a way to generate some rush against an offense that allowed just 18 sacks despite throwing 420 passes. Edge: Georgia

Special teams

Georgia lacks punch in the return game, ranking last in the SEC in kickoffs (16.9 yards) and 13th in punts (3.2). But the Bulldogs are solid in coverage, All-SEC kicker Marshall Morgan has made 20 of 22 field goals and Collin Barber averages 44.1 yards per punt. For NU, Mauro Bondi has 46 touchbacks in kickoffs (25 more than Georgia) and Pat Smith has connected on 11 of 12 field goals. Edge: Georgia

Intangibles

Motivation is a legitimate question after both teams played in conference championship games a year ago and expected to be better than 8-4 this season. Both have negative turnover margins, but experience in close games. Nebraska hasn't won a bowl since 2009 (0-5 in last five postseason games overall), while Georgia owns an 8-4 bowl mark under Mark Richt. The crowd should be pretty much equal. Edge: Georgia

Key matchup: Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason vs. Nebraska cornerbacks

Although a fourth-year junior, Mason had played little behind Aaron Murray until the last six quarters of the regular season. Nebraska can challenge him with veteran cornerbacks in coverage such as Ciante Evans, Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Josh Mitchell.

Nebraska wins if ...

It can get better quarterback play in a battle of backups.

Georgia wins if ...

It comes out with the right motivation and mind set.

Our take

Nebraska has watched SEC opponents eventually pull away in its last two bowl games, so it has to prove it can play the full 60 minutes. Both teams got battered by injuries this season, although NU hasn't had as many of the season-ending variety and will get some players healthy for this one. The Huskers' defensive improvement will get challenged here and they better keep their turnover problems under control, or else ...

Our prediction: Georgia 35, Nebraska 23

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Extras

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Big Red Today coverage

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sooner is for 
the better

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So the freshman ...

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* * *

1. Michigan State

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COACHES

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