Hopefully, Georgia’s rematch with the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Jan. 1 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville will go better than the initial press conference held Sunday night featuring bowl officials and the two respective head coaches, Mark Richt and Bo Pelini.
The teleconference was so marked with static and other audio disturbances that Richt could hardly hear the questions from UGA and Nebraska beat media. And, the presser ended with Cornhuskers coach Pelini not being able to stay and field any questions due to all the interference emanating over the phone lines.
But Richt briefly was able to give a few responses concerning the contest that will be a rematch of the 2013 Capital One Bowl in Orlando, when the Bulldogs toppled the Cornhuskers, 45-31.
When it was noted that this will be Georgia’s first appearance in the Gator Bowl since Jan. 1, 1989, when the Bulldogs defeated Michigan State 34-27 in Vince Dooley’s final game at the UGA helm, Richt commented thusly: “Coach Dooley was also my boss, he hired me and I’m very thankful for that. Hopefully, Coach will come down with us and enjoy it with (wife) Barbara and any other family members that hopefully he’ll bring.”
Asked if he was disappointed in facing the same team in a bowl in consecutive years, Richt essentially said, not at all.
“Oh, I don’t know,” he said. “I think it’s become a good rivalry. Of course, you know my background with Nebraska as far as growing up a Nebraska fan and being born in Omaha. And I know my mom and dad, we just grew up loving Nebraska, loving the Big Red and with Oklahoma people, we had quite the rivalry back in the day, just over the fence. So we’re looking forward to playing Nebraska. They’re obviously a very good team and we think we’re pretty good, too. It was a great battle last year and we’ll see what happens this year.”
The Georgia coach said he knows the Bulldogs’ defense will be encountering a Nebraska team that brings an outstanding run-pass balance to the table.
“Well, obviously, you know I haven’t looked at any film yet of this year but I know their great back (Ameer Abdullah) got close to 1,600 yards rushing and I know they’ve always thrown the ball extremely well,” Richt said. “Certainly, they have the same type of balance as a year ago. And of course their defense is outstanding as well so we know we’ve got our work cut out for us and I’m sure our graduate assistants are starting to break down the film as we speak. So we’ll get as prepared as we can to do battle and I know Nebraska will do the same.”
Despite some early unhappiness among members of the Bulldog Nation over Georgia playing the Cornhuskers again, rather than a hoped-for match-up with Michigan, Richt said he has faith the Georgia fans will flock to Jacksonville to support their team.
“I know the Georgia people love Jacksonville, there’s no doubt about that,” he stated. “We’ve been playing in Jacksonville for about 80 years and I think everybody enjoys that and understands the area and is looking forward to spending more time there.”
Richt, speaking of senior quarterback Aaron Murray’s season-ending ACL injury, expressed utmost confidence in the ability of new junior starting signal-caller Hutson Mason. (Nebraska also lost its senior quarterback, Taylor Martinez, to injury after just four games).
“It’s never good when anybody gets injured,” Richt said. “It’s a sad time for that player and it’s a sad time for his teammates to see that. And it also affects the team, obviously, but that’s part of football. We understand that and we’re not complaining, we’re not crying about it. We just find out who’s next in line and make sure they know what to do and give them an opportunity for them to have their day. And Hutson has been preparing a long time for this opportunity and we think he’s ready to play well,” he added. “We know he’s going to make mistakes along the way being a first-time starter but, you know, he’s been working for this moment as have a few other guys who have a chance to play because of some injuries.
“He’s been practicing a lot and we think Hutson is going to be a heck of a ballplayer, and it’s good he got a little experience against Georgia Tech.”
Nebraska coach Pelini did comment on the match-up in a released statement: “The Gator Bowl gives our football team the opportunity to play in a New Year’s Day bowl for a third straight season, and we look forward to the trip to Jacksonville,” he said. “We had a great experience at the Gator Bowl when we played there in my first year here (2009, 26-21 win over Clemson). We have some familiarity with Georgia having played them last year in the bowl game, but these are two different football teams. This will be a great challenge for our football team, and we look forward to the opportunity.”
Both teams will enter the 12 noon game (ESPN2) with identical 8-4 season records and 5-3 conference worksheets.
The Bulldogs have made three previous trips to the Gator Bowl. Georgia and Maryland tied, 20-20, in the Jan. 1, 1948 game; The ‘Dogs defeated North Carolina, 7-3, in the Dec. 31, 1971 Gator Bowl; and Georgia, as mentioned, defeated Michigan State, 34-27, in the Jan. 1, 1989 game. This will mark the third time Georgia and Nebraska have met. The Cornhuskers defeated the Bulldogs, 45-6, in the 1969 Sun Bowl Game in El Paso, Tex. and of course Georgia downed Nebraska, 45-31, in last year’s Capital One Bowl.
“We are delighted with the selection of our team to represent the Southeastern Conference in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl,” said UGA Director of Athletics Greg McGarity in a statement. “It’s hard to believe we have not played there since Vince Dooley’s last game following the 1988 season. While we do play in Jacksonville every year during the regular season, this will be a completely new experience and environment for most of our fans and certainly all our players. Jacksonville is blessed with good
weather, outstanding attractions, a first class stadium and we look forward to competing against an outstanding Nebraska team. Our fans have been a big part of our success, and I’m confident they will support the team with their attendance in this bowl game.
“The bottom line is the goal is to win the game,” McGarity said. “We win the game, we’ve got a great chance of finishing in the top 20. Whether that’s against School A in another bowl or what have you, at the end of the day this is the way it worked out.”
This will be Georgia’s 49th bowl game―sixth most of any team in the country. The Bulldogs’ all-time bowl record is 27-18-3.
Photo: Rob Saye/Bulldawg Illustrated