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December 23, 2012

Ask the expert

With Georgia's Capital One Bowl date against Nebraska right around the corner, UGASports asked HuskerOnline publisher Sean Callahan some pertinent questions about the Cornhuskers, including his prediction for the final score, plus much, much more.

For the best Nebraska coverage and to get the latest on the Cornhuskers leading up to the game, be sure to follow him on Twitter at Sean_Callahan.

What were the initial thoughts by Nebraska fans when they found out they were playing Georgia in the Capital One Bowl?

Callahan: "Initially there was some griping to have to return to Orlando for the second year in a row. That's never an ideal situation. I also think playing Georgia got a lot of people's attention because everyone knows how close they were to playing for it all. This is arguably as good of a team Nebraska has faced off against in Bo Pelini's five years at Nebraska. "However, when you look at the three possible teams the Huskers could've played between UGA, Texas A&M and LSU, I think most feel Georgia's pro-style offense is the best match-up for Nebraska's defense. Typically against teams with non-mobile quarterbacks Pelini's defense has their most success."

How stunning was it to give up 70 points to Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game?

Callahan: "It's really been a tough month around the entire state for everyone. Going into that game so many people were expecting a Husker win. It had been since 1999 when Nebraska last had won a conference championship and playing a 7-5 team is about is favorable of a match-up as you are going to get in a tile game.

"To not only lose, but to get embarrassed on national TV has kind of put everyone in a tailspin. There's so much pride with the football program here that when they lose in that type of fashion people have a hard time getting over it. I'm sure it's similar at place like Georgia. The hardest thing for a lot of Husker fans is they invest and spend so much money to travel to road games like the Big Ten title game and to get beat like that make the loss sting even more."

No doubt programs from the Big Ten have long grown weary of hearing about "SEC speed." That said, how much of concern is Georgia's team speed, particularly on the defensive side?

Callahan: "I think Nebraska always feels good if they can run the ball and control the tempo of the game that way. Last year against South Carolina they were about to jump up by two scores in the first half but fumbled going into the end zone. The Gamecocks were able to throw a deep ball down field on the next play or two after the fumble to score and then they threw a Hail Mary pass up right before halftime to take the lead when they were being completely outplayed by Nebraska. That game should've been 24-10 at half, but instead South Carolina was up 16-13. Their points came off two deep passes and a blocked extra point returned for a two point conversion.

"What really hurt Nebraska against an "SEC defense" is when they got behind by more than 10 points. Once they are forced to pass and keep Taylor Martinez in the pocket for long periods of time they have had a hard time matching up with the speed and athleticism of an elite SEC pass rush. If they are able to use the run to keep teams off-balanced then they can move the ball on anyone. If you get Nebraska down and force them to be a passing team this is when Martinez has a hard time."

Nebraska has a long history of having athletic, dual-threat QBs. From a pure talent standpoint, how does Taylor Martinez compare to some of those players?

Callahan: "The thing that makes Martinez unique is his great moments are some of the best plays you'll see in college football, but then his bad moments can some of the worst you'll see. There's not a lot of middle ground with Martinez, but he's gotten a lot better in being more consistent this year. Until he wins a conference title or gets Nebraska into a BCS type bowl game he'll never be really in the same category as Crouch, Frost or Frazier, even though his numbers are better than all of them.

"This season he's really gotten better at throwing and he does a much better job of keeping his feet set. He also doesn't run just to run. He'll hit the check down more, but when he sees 10 or 15 yards to take he'll run and get it and makes sure to get out of bounds. Against Michigan State he ran for over 200 yards, and they are considered the best defense in the Big Ten. It was the most rushing yards MSU had ever given up since 2005."

What's Nebraska's biggest motivation for winning the Capital One Bowl?

Callahan: "The biggest motivation if proving they can win a big game against an elite opponent. >There have been several good wins for Nebraska since Bo Pelini has been here. They beat a really good Oklahoma State team with Weeden and Blackman on the road in 2010, they beat Missouri a week after they beat No. 1 ranked Oklahoma in 2010, they beat Oklahoma in Lincoln in 2009, Clemson in the Gator Bowl in 2008, but nobody of the magnitude of Georgia.

"They have some nice wins the last five years, but this would be their first legitimate win over a team that you could consider a national championship contender at the end of the season. That in itself is motivation, especially after such a bad loss in the Big Ten title game."

When looking at Georgia's offense, what's the biggest concern for the Cornhusker defense?

Callahan: "Far and away the two biggest concerns for me are No. 1 can they match-up with their front four and No. 2 can they tackle in space.

"When I look at Nebraska's defensive tackle position I can't remember a time in program history where they've had this little depth. Their two starting defensive tackles are a converted undersized defensive end in Cameron Meredith and a guy in Chase Rome that actually quit the team for a few weeks this season and rejoined. The top back-up is Thad Randle, who will probably require more knee surgery this off-season. He's good for about 20 to 30 snaps a game at the most. It's just not a good situation at all.

"Their tackling has also been inconsistent at times this season. In all three of their losses the tackling was just atrocious. Guys were in position to make plays and just completely whiffed."

When looking at Georgia' defense, what's the biggest concern for the Cornhusker offense?

Callahan: "My biggest concern is can they run the ball effectively enough to keep Georgia off-balanced. If they can't run or get down I don't see any way Nebraska's offensive line can consistently hold up in pass protection against Georgia's front seven.

"There have been times this year where their tackles have been completely beat off the line and Martinez took some hard shots from the blind side that led to fumbles. I expect Nebraska to max protect a lot in passing situations and to use their tight ends and backs as extra protection."

Larry the Cable guy is a famous Nebraska fan. Samuel L. Jackson is a famous Georgia fan. Who would win a "cage match" between the two and why?

Callahan: "Lol! That's a good one. I've met Larry the Cable guy a few times, and his real name is actually Dan. I'd probably give Dan the edge because he's got some crazy in him.

"Another interesting tidbit is Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is from Georgia, but is a diehard Husker fan. I know this game has a lot of meaning to him as well. He became a Nebraska fan because his wife is originally from Omaha."

What has been the overall reaction from fans about moving to the Big Ten?

Callahan: "I think for the most part people have been very happy. The only thing people don't like are the longer road trips. In the Big 12 you could drive to most road games other than the ones in Texas. In the Big Ten Iowa is four hours away and Minnesota and Wisconsin are both six to seven hour drives. The rest of the games you almost all have to fly to.

"Going forward there's also a lot of interest about the future of the league and who they will end up adding if they go to 16. I don't think very many people were too thrilled at Nebraska with the addition of Rutgers and Maryland, mainly because of all the additional travel that will be required."

What are your keys to game and what do you think the final score will be?

Callahan: "Really the biggest key to this game I think will be if Nebraska can run for 200 yards or more. If they can get to around 250 yards on the ground they will be right in this game, but if they struggle to reach 200 yards rushing and are forced to pass their chances of winning go down considerably.

"The spread is 10 points going into this game, and right now it's hard for me to see Nebraska winning. I think the Huskers will come out strong and play Georgia tough, but their lack of depth on the defensive line will come back to hurt them. I'll take Georgia 37-30."


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