ATLANTA — Georgia players are still talking about how close they came to playing in Monday night’s national championship game.
Sure, Tuesday’s 45-31 Capital One Bowl win over Nebraska was nice, but it wasn’t for the national title. The Bulldogs are still feeling the aftershocks from their 32-28 loss in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game to Alabama last month that ended with Georgia on the Crimson Tide’s 5-yard line.
Quarterback Aaron Murray said that loss won’t be forgotten.
“Obviously the loss was tough, to come that close to winning the SEC championship and then being able to play for the national championship,” Murray said. “I know it probably lingered in some of our minds but the best thing to do after a loss is to get back out there and play and to get a victory.”
Murray said No. 6 Georgia’s win over Nebraska “definitely eased the pain” from a game “everybody will remember forever just because it was so close and it came down to the last play.”
Coach Mark Richt said the loss to Alabama left the Bulldogs with something to prove against Nebraska.
“We wanted to win this game to prove, to ourselves really, that we are one of the better teams in the country,” Richt said.
Georgia (12-2) became only the third team in school history to reach 12 wins. Now some of the team’s biggest names must decide if they will enter the NFL Draft.
Bulldogs linebacker Alec Ogletree has already stated his intention to turn pro. Murray, who threw five TD passes against Nebraska, linebacker Jarvis Jones and other juniors must decide whether they will join him.
Jones is widely projected as a high first-round selection. He had two first-half sacks to give him a school record 14½ for the season, breaking David Pollack’s old mark of 14 in 2002.
Richt said he wanted the juniors to take their time and “make their heart be in their decision.”
“If these guys choose to stay, I’m thrilled obviously, but if they choose to go I’m their No. 1 fan ether way because I just want what’s best for them,” Richt said. “I can’t say what’s best for them. They have to figure out for themselves. They’re grown men now.”
Murray, a fourth-year junior, already has graduated and played this season as a graduate student. He said the bowl game would not play a role in his decision.
Georgia overcame injuries to receivers Michael Bennett and Marlon Brown to finish with the most points in school history. The win over Nebraska was Georgia’s eighth game with at least 40 points.
It scored a school-record 529 points and averaged 37.8 points, another school record.
A pair of freshman running backs, Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, surpassed the most optimistic expectations. Gurley led the Bulldogs with 1,385 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns, including 125 yards and one touchdown against Nebraska. Marshall had 759 yards rushing and eight touchdowns.
Murray’s 3,898 yards passing set another Georgia record, topping Eric Zeier’s 3,525 yards in 1993.
Murray regrouped after two early interceptions against Nebraska. He had 36 touchdown passes and only 10 interceptions for the season.
“I’m real proud of Aaron and the job he did,” Richt said. “He had a couple things go not exactly the way he wanted them to go. He had a couple picks early and just hung in there, very resilient, and finished.”
Georgia began the season with Ogletree and three other defensive starters suspended by Richt.
The defense regrouped for a 17-9 win over previously undefeated Florida. The game followed a challenge from senior safety Shawn Williams, who said the defense was playing soft.
Georgia held Nebraska to seven second-half points. Ogletree had 13 tackles, three for losses, and a sack. Williams had 11 tackles and a blocked punt.
Richt said more new stars will emerge after players graduate or leave early for the NFL.
“You just don’t know who’s ready to be the next guy to step up and make a play,” Richt said. “We have an outstanding recruiting class going right now. I can’t get into particulars but I think we’re going to have a big class and we’re going to have an exciting class when it comes to talent.”
Georgia’s only other 12-win seasons were in 1980 (12-0) when it won the national championship and 2002 (13-1) when it won the SEC championship.
There was no championship this season, but Murray savored his first bowl win. Georgia’s last bowl win came in 2009.
“The big thing was just getting the bowl win,” Murray said. “It’s special. Coach Richt said it, how good it feels to walk in after the bowl game and not see the seniors with their heads down. To walk in with people hugging and celebrating and jumping up and down is an unbelievable feeling.”