ORLANDO, Fla. — Georgia coach Mark Richt wants the lasting memory his team has of this season to be a positive one.
Nothing will give the sixth-ranked Bulldogs a second chance to get back the 5 yards they came up short in their Southeastern Conference Championship Game loss to Alabama.
Still, Richt is hoping that today’s Capital One Bowl against equally redemption-minded Nebraska will be a huge initial step.
“There’s always a scene in the locker room after the game, and I’m going to be addressing seniors for the very last time,” Richt said. “You want that last memory to be a good one. That’s a big motivating factor for me and I think it probably is for anyone who’s thinking ‘Hey, this might be my last ball game.’”
On the other side of the field will be a Nebraska team that has been asked ad nauseam this week about how it could possibly get over its humiliating 70-31 loss to Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Like Georgia, Nebraska also enters the postseason with a two-game bowl losing streak. It’s why Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini hasn’t sugarcoated at all this week the reality of the disappointment his team carries with it into this game.
“No, matter what happens ... you’ll never wipe that taste out of your mouth,” Pelini said. “That isn’t going away, regardless of what happens (today). To me life is about opportunities. It’s about challenges. It’s what drives me and it’s why I’m in this profession. It’s why I do what I do and why the players play.
“When it was presented to me of which opportunity we were going to take, we took the one we thought was the biggest challenge for
Their previous shortcomings aside, both teams can also achieve program milestones with a win Tuesday.
Only two previous Georgia teams have recorded 12 victories in a season, and Nebraska is trying for its first 11-win season since 2001.
“Definitely looking forward to it. It’s been kind of an up and down year, but I am just excited to play against Georgia,” Nebraska senior running back Rex Burkhead said. “They have a great defense, great team and I’m just ready to get back out there with my team and have another chance to go out with a bang.”
Burkhead only appeared in seven games this season as he battled a left knee injury that kept him on the sidelines at different points this season.
It put the Cornhuskers primary rushing duties on junior quarterback Taylor Martinez and sophomore running back Ameer Abdullah, who led the team with 1,089 yards. Martinez had a team-high 10 rushing scores. Freshman Imani Cross also chipped in seven touchdowns.
“They have done a tremendous job,” Burkhead said. “You know they had a great off season just to prepare for this season. I think you see them playing a lot faster this year just seeing things quicker, and that’s probably the biggest strides they made from last year, and it’s awesome to watch. I didn’t play for a lot of games this year, so it was just kind of cool seeing them develop and mature throughout this year and showcasing their abilities and what they can do.”
Now Burkhead and company will combine to try to exploit a Georgia defense that had the eighth-ranked passing defense in the country (surrendering just 173.5 yards per game), but a rushing defense that gave up 177.8 yards on the ground.
Nebraska’s rushing defense was even worse, giving up 194.9 yards per game.
Georgia defensive end Garrison Smith thinks the key, though, will be keeping a throwing and running threat like Martinez off balance.
“It’s just going to be hard to contain him,” he said. “Everybody is just going to have to give our all and give hundred percent, give our best to get after them, which is hard when you are playing such a great player like him.”
That said, Bulldogs sophomore defensive end Ray Drew said he and his teammates welcome the opportunity to matchup up with the Cornhuskers’ multi-pronged attack.
“We respect Nebraska,” said Drew. “As usual, we fear no one but respect everyone. I think we know what we need to do down here to leave with a ‘W’.”
Taking a cue from his coach, Murray said like Richt, he wants Tuesday to be a celebration for the Bulldogs’ seniors.
That list includes junior linebacker Jarvis Jones, who could make the jump to the NFL this offseason.
“I know all the underclassmen really want to send them off the right way,” Murray said. “Like I said, I know me personally, I have yet to win or be part of a winning bowl game, so I really want to win. And I am going to do what I can to make sure this offense and this team are ready to go.”