Nebraska finds some much-needed good karma in 24-19 Gator Bowl win over Georgia
With all sorts of backups, a rainy field and a relatively empty stadium, no one could blame Georgia and Nebraska for coming out flat to start the Gator Bowl -- a rematch of last season's Capital One Bowl -- on New Year's Day. Both teams went scoreless in the first quarter. Eventually, however, the players found a groove, and the Cornhuskers emerged with a dramatic 24-19 win.
Quarterback Hutson Mason, who spearheaded a late Bulldogs surge, completed 21-of-40 passes for 320 yards and a touchdown, with one interception. Trailing by five points in the final minute, and facing fourth-and-three at the Nebraska 16-yard line, Mason made a good throw over the middle to tight end Arthur Lynch at the nine-yard line. But the senior couldn't come up with the catch, and the Cornhuskers held on for the victory.
Georgia was a shell of the team that came into the year with SEC title aspirations. In a season-opening 38-35 loss to Clemson on Aug. 31, the Bulldogs lost receiver Malcolm Mitchell to a torn ACL. Wideout Justin Scott-Wesley and running back Keith Marshall both went down with season-ending knee injuries in a 34-31 overtime win at Tennessee on Oct. 5, and receiver Michael Bennett missed time with a torn meniscus. Even quarterback Aaron Murray -- a steady and calming influence despite the carnage around him -- didn't escape the season unscathed. He suffered a torn ACL in a 59-17 win over Kentucky on Nov. 23.
Certainly, Georgia didn't enter 2013 with its sights set on finishing 8-5. But with the rash of injuries and a porous defense, this was actually one of Mark Richt's better coaching jobs in his 13 seasons in Athens.
The highlight of the game was a 99-yard touchdown pass from Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. to Quincy Enunwa (four catches, 129 yards, two touchdowns), which gave the Cornhuskers a 24-12 lead. The score was Enunwa's 12th of the year, setting a Nebraska single-season record.
The Bulldogs charged back after that. Sophomore tailback Todd Gurley, who also missed time this season with a nagging ankle injury, finished the game with 183 total yards. His lone score came on a 25-yard reception in the opening minute of the fourth quarter that cut the deficit to 24-19. However, Georgia failed to punch in one final touchdown.
The Cornhuskers went through a bitter season of their own, and the bowl win couldn't have come at a better time. Nebraska gave up 41 points in loss to UCLA on Sept. 14, fell to Minnesota for the first time since 1960 and closed out the regular season with a 38-17 loss to Iowa. The Huskers easily could have dropped two other games -- they needed overtime to beat Penn State on Nov. 23, and a were saved by a Hail Mary from backup quarterback Ron Kellogg III in a victory over Northwestern on Nov. 2.
Nebraska was also a victim of the injury bug, with senior quarterback Taylor Martinez (foot) playing in only four games. The defense was a disaster to start the year, though it did improve as the season wore on. There was also the constant speculation about coach Bo Pelini's job security, which made national headlines after a profanity-laced audiotape was leaked in mid-September.
The two teams could've used a reset on the season as a whole. In many ways, their respective journeys were similar to that of the title character in the latest Coen Brothers movie, Inside Llewyn Davis. The movie started and ended with Davis getting kicked in the gut -- a feeling that both the Huskers and Bulldogs know all too well. For Nebraska, this victory puts a positive cap on an otherwise disappointing year. For Georgia, well, a new year is just beginning.