Tuesday, December 31, 2013
Nebraska keys to victory in Gator Bowl
By Mitch Sherman
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Nebraska seeks a sixth consecutive nine-win season on Wednesday in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, facing No. 22 Georgia at noon ET on ESPN2.
Here are three keys to a Husker upset victory:
Run the football: Ameer Abdullah needs to get loose. The Huskers’ junior I-back is surely capable. He topped 100 yards in 10 games this season, including a stretch of eight straight that featured a 123-yard effort against Michigan State -- the nation’s No. 1-ranked defense against the run. Georgia is solid in rush defense, ranking fifth in the SEC and 42nd nationally. But Nebraska is healthier on the offensive line than for any game since mid-October. And with Tommy Armstrong Jr. back to full speed or close, the traditional option and zone-read running game re-enter the equation for offensive coordinator Tim Beck.
Stop the run: Notice a trend? Without starting quarterbacks Aaron Murray of Georgia and Taylor Martinez from Nebraska, the winner of this game will earn its keep in the trenches. Like Nebraska, the Bulldogs have a horse in the backfield in Todd Gurley, who averaged more than 6 yards per carry and scored 15 touchdowns in nine games. Georgia rushed for 176 yards per game, while Nebraska allowed 161. Advantage UGA, right? Probably. Though the Huskers were much improved in nearly all aspects on the defensive side this season, they slammed the door on an opponent’s running attack only against Michigan over the final six games.
Play smart: Much easier said than done this year for the Huskers, who posted a minus-12 turnover margin and repeatedly committed errors in the punt-return game to lose valuable yards of field position. Often, Nebraska simply couldn’t get out of its own way. Had it simply broken even in turnovers and avoided most of the special teams mistakes, you’re likely looking at a 10-win team, even without Martinez for all but four games. That speaks to the manageable nature of the schedule this year. Georgia, despite four losses of its own, is arguably the most talented team the Huskers have seen. Nebraska probably must win the turnover battle and finish ahead in the kicking game, too.