With kickoff for the Capital One Bowl just hours away, HuskersIllustrated.com checked in with Geogia play-by-play announcer Scott Howard to get a better sense of the Bulldogs.
There were high expectations for Mark Richt's Georgia Bulldogs this season. In your opinion, did they live up to those lofty expectations?
“Yes, I think they really did. They accomplished what their goal was initially. From Day One of the season, they were talking about two destinations - Atlanta (the site of the SEC Championship Game) and the other was Miami (the site of the BCS National Championship Game). They got to Atlanta for the SEC Championship and came up just short there so they didn't get to go to Miami and play for a national title. They were very close. Maybe the wound is a little fresh from the SEC Championship, but I think if you talk to these guys and ask them to review the season, they would look back on it and say it was a very good year for Georgia football."
How disappointing was it for the Bulldogs to be left out of the BCS when you consider how well Georgia played Alabama? Many believe Georgia deserved a better fate?
“I agree with that. The administration and coaches would probably give you a different answer in a public forum just because they're glad to be going to a bowl game. Georgia's ranking is anywhere from 5 to 7 and they're the only one in that group that didn't make it to a BCS game and I think they're the only team with 11 wins this year in the major conferences that didn't get a BCS invite. That's just the way the chips fell. There are already two SEC teams in the mix and the rules are you can't have more than two from a conference so Georgia was the odd man out after losing the SEC Championship Game. It's a shame to in a way be penalized for losing your conference championship game the way they did. It was one of the great ball games of all time and they came up short. It just happened to be their second loss and dropped them down on the rung a little bit and Florida passed them in the rankings so it's Alabama and Florida that go to the BCS and Georgia ends up in Orlando."
The big news lately coming out of Athens centers around star defensive tackle John Jenkins being ineligible for the Nebraska game. How big of blow is that?
“I think that's significant. John had a very good season. He's a force in the middle. He's kind of moved back and forth from nose tackle to defensive end because Georgia had an injury to Abry Jones, who missed about the last five or six games of the year. He (Jones) is available for this bowl game against Nebraska and practiced this week, but hadn't practiced before that since he had the surgery on his ankle so his conditioning is certainly a question mark. Losing Jenkins is I think enormous. He started every game and played most every snap. He had an NFL Draft type season and that's where he's going to be next, but Georgia is definitely going to miss him when they line up against the Huskers on Tuesday."
Is Georgia's run defense its No. 1 weakness?
“They've had some issues with the run. Although if you just look at numbers solely, I think they're skewed a little bit because the last two teams we played (in the regular season) are about 90 to 95 percent run offenses - Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern. Alabama had a great day running the football against Georgia with 350 yards and they have two terrific backs. One thing that was expected to be a weakness was the offensive line, but I think those guys have actually played pretty well so I don't know if you could point to that as a weakness. Run defense might be the one (weakness)."
Everywhere you look on this Georgia team there are playmakers and plenty of talent. Does this team just have strengths everywhere?
“Yes, I would agree with that. Georgia has playmakers just about at every position offensively. Even at tight end where we lost an NFL guy in Orson Charles and Aron White, who had been a four-year guy who was very productive. Georgia didn't really know what to expect at tight end with two guys who really hadn't had a lot of snaps in Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome. Towards the latter half of this season they even started becoming weapons for (quarterback) Aaron Murray. They lost two key receivers in Marlon Brown and Michael Bennett to injuries this year with ACL tears and really didn't skip a beat at wide receiver. Guys just moved up the ladder and started producing. One guys who has been there all season has been Tavarres King at wide receiver. He's been outstanding this year. You factor all those guys in with the two talented freshmen running backs in Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall and Gurley is a 1,200-yard runner this year and Marshall is a great compliment to him with his speed … yeah they have weapons all over the place offensively. Even defensively they have All-Americans in (linebacker) Jarvis Jones, an All-SEC guy in (linebacker) Alec Ogletree, who missed four games, and (Bacarri) Rambo missed four games at safety, but those guys had all-conference type seasons but they just missed too many games to qualify for a lot of the All-American honors or else they probably get those again this year."
Murray has just been off the charts statistically this season throwing for nearly 3,500 yards with 31 touchdown passes. Could you expect anything more from the quarterback position that what he's given Georgia?
“No. He's been rock solid. His numbers are outstanding. He has 31 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He's going to go down in Georgia history as the most efficient passer that the Bulldogs have ever had and they've had some pretty good quarterbacks. The knock on him from people on the outside was he could never win the big game and Georgia didn't win championships with him. They got to the championship game the last two seasons with Aaron Murray at quarterback and won two division titles. That's not to be overlooked. It was certainly disappointing that they couldn't get to the championship game this year to play for the national title. That's where they thought they should be. But Aaron has had an outstanding year. What's next for him? We don't know yet. He's going to let us know as to whether or not he'll play one more season at Georgia and if he does, he will eclipse all the records provided he stays healthy."
How special a tandem is Gurley and Marshall at running back?
“If Todd Gurley sticks around and stays healthy I think he has a chance to put himself in the company of maybe even a guy like Herschel Walker, who certainly is legendary in the state of Georgia and in the SEC as a Heisman Trophy winner. Todd has played up to that capability this season with his performance. He runs for power. He runs for speed. He has done a little bit of everything. I don't know if you can say he's been more than what Georgia people expected because he had a good reputation, but Marshall kind of got more headlines than Gurley coming out of high school. Todd came in last summer and Keith came in last spring. In the first game of the year, Todd runs for 100 yards and has a 100-yard kickoff return and that opened a lot of eyes and he's never looked back and never slowed down."
Jones is quite a force at linebacker and one of the best defensive players in America. Talk about his talents.
“He's a terrific pass rusher. His last two years have been outstanding. He transferred from Southern Cal after having an injury out there. I don't think Southern Cal was really going to give him another shot because he had some sort of a spinal and neck situation going on, but he recovered from that and came back to his home state. He's been an All-American two years in a row and is one of the best pass rushers Georgia has ever had at outside linebacker in their 3-4 defense. He's done a little bit of everything this year. On the big stage, he really played his best games. He was national player of the week twice with his performance at Missouri and than in the Florida game. He's been a sack master. He's climbing up those record books, too, chasing down David Pollack's records from a decade ago. He's one of those guys who is just great to have on your team. He's a good teammate. He minds his business and does his work in class and on the field, which is extraordinary."
Is there a key matchup you'll be focused on in this game?
“I don't know about individual matchups, but maybe as units. Now with Jenkins out it might be the line of scrimmage. How does Georgia's defensive line do against Nebraska's offensive line? They have some big, beefy linemen who have had a good season opening up holes as Nebraska has been terrific at running the football."
Is Georgia's No. 1 concern when scouting the Cornhuskers their running attack and containing it?
“Yeah definitely. That's been Georgia's philosophy throughout with Mark Richt as head coach the last dozen years. Anytime you ask what's the key component defensively and it's always stopping the run first. That's what Georgia wants to do and sometimes that's been a challenge depending on the opponent. A key on Tuesday will definitely be trying to slow down Nebraska's running attack and especially Taylor Martinez, who is a dual threat and had an outstanding year. He can cause you fits. We played a quarterback similar to him in Connor Shaw at South Carolina earlier this year and the Dawgs got blitzed in Columbia, which was far and away the worst weekend the Dawgs had all season long. That's how it could turn out again if Georgia doesn't play up to its capability, mind its reads and do what it's suppose to do on defense as far as keeping Martinez contained. If he gets loose and is able to run for a lot of yards, it could be a long day."
Most of us believe this Georgia-Nebraska game could be a lopsided affair. Georgia is a double-digit favorite, but what kind of game do you expect?
“I didn't get to see a lot of Nebraska's games this year. Actually the only one I saw all the way through was the Big Ten Championship Game and that was just an eye-opener and a jaw dropper for me to watch the way Nebraska got beat in that ball game. That's not how I know Nebraska football. I was just astounding with the way they were beaten in that game. You jump to this bowl game and you have to ask yourself, here are two conference runners up so who actually wants this game more? Who wants to be here? Who's interested in playing one more football game that really doesn't carry a lot of meaning outside of individual interest, improving your record and taking home some hardware? Overall I think Georgia has a slight edge here. If the Dawgs want to be here and want to play, I think they should win the football game."