JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — From five yards away to five losses.
Georgia’s stepback season ended with a dreary, rainy 24-19 loss to Nebraska on Wednesday in the Gator Bowl to send the No. 23 Bulldogs into the off-season in a downbeat fashion.
The Bulldogs didn’t find the end zone until Hutson Mason hit tailback Todd Gurley on a 25-yard touchdown pass with 14:49 to play at EverBank Field, but before then the Bulldogs red zone issues and a backbreaking 99-yard touchdown pass put them in a 12-point hole.
Georgia (8-5) had chances to win late.
It had a fourth-and-2 at the Nebraska 14, but a pass to Rantavious Wooten was dropped as he was hit by safety Andrew Green with 4:42 left.
Then on a fourth-and-3 from the Nebraska 16, Masons’ pass to senior tight end Arthur Lynch over the middle was dropped inside the 10-yard line with 25 seconds to play.
It might not have been the national title game or even a BCS bowl, but it was hard to know that by listening to an emotional Lynch afterwards.
The ending, he said, “will stick with him probably for the rest of my life. Whenever I think about my last game at Georgia, I’m not going to think about the plays I made, I’m going to think about the plays I didn’t make.”
Georgia came five yards away from playing for the BCS title last year when it lost in the SEC Championship Game to Alabama.
They followed that up with a 45-31 Capital One Bowl win against Nebraska, but the rematch went to the Cornhuskers as the Bulldogs lost their third bowl game in the past four.
“We had a really excellent chance of finishing the game on a high note,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “It just didn’t happen.”
Georgia couldn’t punch the ball in the end zone from the red zone and the defense couldn’t get the stops when given short fields at the Georgia 14 (after a Reggie Davis fumble on a punt return) and 38 (after a Mason interception on an overthrow).
The Bulldogs reached the Nebraska 10, 11, 21 and 10-yard lines but got its first 12 points off the foot from All-SEC kicker Marshall Morgan, who made field goals of 38, 28, 38 and 30 yards.
In six red zone trips, Georgia got three field goals, a touchdown and two fourth-down drops.
Nebraska (9-4) reached the nine-win mark for the sixth time in six seasons under coach Bo Pelini.
The Cornhuskers, who had beaten Big Ten teams that went combined 9-31 in conference play, made the play of the game on a third-and-14 from its own 1 in the third quarter.
Tommy Armstrong Jr. dropped back in the end zone and aired it out and the result was a 99-yard touchdown by Quincy Enunwa with 4:58 left in the third quarter when Georgia’s secondary was exposed again.
It was the longest pass play in Nebraska and Gator Bowl history.
When the final polls come out next week, Georgia will probably finish the season unranked for the first time since 2010 and just third time in Mark Richt’s 13 seasons.
The Bulldogs were hit hard this season by injuries and lost as many as five games for just the third time in 13 seasons for Richt.
“A lot of people who talk a lot of stuff about us should be shocked this year,” said cornerback ShaqWiggins. “We’re going to give the people what they want next year.”