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January 1, 2013

Match-up watch: Georgia

NU Run Offense vs. Georgia Run Defense
The greatest aspect of the long layoff between games for Nebraska was it gave Rex Burkhead more time to heal. As good as Ameer Abdullah has been this season, Burkhead is a piece that simply makes NU's offense better. He played in both the Iowa game and the Big Ten championship with a knee brace (that he made clear he despised) and should be much healthier for this game.

The Huskers will need him to be too, because Georgia's defense might be the toughest they have faced this year. Nebraska hasn't seen a player of linebacker Jarvis Jones' (22.5 tackles for loss) caliber this year, and neither Alec Ogletree nor safety Shawn Williams is a slouch against the running game either. Georgia gave up just 115.9 rushing yards per game this year, fourth best in the SEC.

The Bulldogs will be hurt by the loss of massive defensive tackle Johnathan Jenkins, who has been suspended for academic reasons. The Huskers will still have their hands full with the Bulldogs up front, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Burkhead have a big day in his final game.

Edge: NEBRASKA

NU Pass Offense vs. Georgia Pass Defense
What happened to Kenny Bell down the stretch? The sophomore has had a tremendous season, but has two or fewer receptions in four of NU's past six games. There are plenty of weapons for Taylor Martinez to find in this offense, but Bell is the one that truly makes the passing game move. He and Martinez need to get back on the same page.

Georgia has a good, but not spectacular, passing defense. The Bulldogs give up 203.2 yards per game through the air and allow opponents to complete 58.2 percent of their passes. Their eight interceptions show they aren't really a ball-hawking crew, but cornerbacks Branden Smith and Sanders Commings supply sticky coverage.

As it always seems to, this match-up will come down to how carefully Martinez takes care of the ball. He threw an interception at the beginning of each half in the Big Ten title game, giving Wisconsin momentum and deflating the NU sideline. The offensive line is also facing a tough task trying to stay in front of Jones.

Edge: GEORGIA

Georgia Run Offense vs. NU Run Defense
The Huskers can't get the memory of their last outing of their minds quickly enough. The Badgers trio of running backs ran roughshod over the NU defense and the Blackshirts struggled to bring down Montee Ball and company. A repeat performance of that game would undoubtedly doom the Huskers again in this game and their improvement over the last month will have to be substantial.

Freshmen Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are both strong backs who excel at breaking tackles, something that could spell trouble for NU. Both averaged better than six yards per carry this year. Marshall had very little impact in the SEC title game, but UGA coach Mark Richt said the Bulldogs have a plan for him for the bowl game.

Georgia's backs are similar to Ball, whose power and tackle-breaking ability gave NU fits. This is a statement game for the Blackshirts, many of whom are seniors and don't want their final game to go anything like the one in Indianapolis did.

Edge: GEORGIA

Georgia Pass Offense vs. NU Pass Defense
The Huskers' secondary has been so good all season, so it's hard to know what to make of NU's last game. The Badgers completed eight of their 10 passes, but two came on trick plays and the Huskers were victimized by play action because of how well Wisconsin was running the ball. It wasn't the defensive backs' finest performance, but UW's passing wasn't the reason NU got blown out.

They'll need to be on their games this week, however, because Georgia's Aaron Murray is better than any passer Nebraska has seen so far. The junior has a cannon arm and a future in the NFL and is blessed with a stable of receivers who excel at going deep. Georgia's top five receivers all average more than 14 yards per catch.

Nebraska usually does a great job of taking away a quarterback's short options and forcing them to take tough shots down the field, but that's what Georgia does anyway. It will be up to Eric Martin to pressure Murray because if he has time, he could pick the secondary apart.

Edge: EVEN

Special Teams, What If's and The X-Factor
While Georgia doesn't have any punt returners that strike fear in opponents, it has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season. They don't give up much on kickoffs either - foes averaged just 62 yards per game, second lowest in the SEC.

Punter Collin Barber had a very solid season, averaging 41.6 yards per punt and planting 18 inside the 20-yard line. Kicker Marshall Morgan is far less consistent. He missed five of his 13 attempts this year and was just three for seven when attempting a kick of more than 40 yards.

Field goal kicking happens to be the one strong suit of NU's special teams. Brett Maher rebounded from some early-season woes to establish himself as one of the nation's most consistent kickers. But his punting has been on and off and the punt and kick return units have been underwhelming at best.

Edge: GEORGIA

Nebraska Will Win If:

It gets out to a quick start and avoids turnovers. Though the Huskers excelled at coming back from early deficits this year, Georgia is better than any of those teams and won't allow NU to rebound as easily.

Georgia Will Win If:

The Bulldogs find the proper motivation and keep Burkhead in check. There are questions about how focused UGA will be after narrowly missing out on a berth in the national title game, something that could play in Nebraska's favor.

X-Factor:

As mentioned above, it's the motivation factor. Although the Huskers played in this bowl last year, they should have plenty of incentive to erase the Big Ten championship from everyone's memory. Richt has said numerous times he doesn't think he'll have any trouble getting his team up for this match-up, but one could hardly blame the Bulldogs for being disappointed with their bowl.

Prediction: Georgia 35, Nebraska 20



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