Georgia upbeat after 45-31 win over Nebraska
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — For each of its previous two bowl trips, Georgia left the field shrouded in the uncomfortable feelings of a season-ending loss.
While this offseason could certainly feature some big changes to its roster, it will at least begin on a high note.
A month removed from missing a berth in the BCS title game because of a narrow loss to Alabama, the sixth-ranked Bulldogs rode junior quarterback Aaron Murray's five touchdown passes to a 45-31 victory over No. 23 Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl on Tuesday.
Murray and fellow underclassman Jarvis Jones could certainly jump to the NFL this offseason, but for one more game Bulldogs' fans got to see a championship-caliber team intact.
"Last year we went 0-2 and win 10 in a row, but we can't finish that season out. And this year we had another really good season, win the East, and we didn't win the SEC championship, but we certainly performed a lot better," Bulldogs' coach Mark Richt said. "So now we wanted to win this bowl, to just maybe prove to ourselves that we are one of the better teams in the country."
Murray's five touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter, set a Georgia bowl record.
He shook off a pair of first-half interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, and passed for 427 yards — also a Bulldogs' bowl record — against the nation's top-ranked passing defense. He was the game's most valuable player on the way to earning his first bowl victory at Georgia.
Georgia (12-2) also reached 12 wins for the third time in school history.
"I don't know what it's like to head into an offseason with a win," Murray said. "It's a great feeling to get a win. It's great for the seniors, who have meant so much to this team. They've done a great job of leading this team the whole season.
"To get 12 wins. ... That's something special."
He downplayed questions about his future.
"The future — I don't know what's going to happen," he said. "I'm just enjoying the moment right now."
Jones said any regrets about the Alabama loss are gone now.
"I think it speaks for itself," he said. "The SEC game was a couple of weeks ago. We did what we can and we lost. We came up kind of short. And it was definitely a game that we had the opportunity to win. But you can't take away from the day. We came out here and we executed.
"We gave our seniors the opportunity to leave here with a win and a bowl game, and it's definitely something we look forward to and something we'll remember for a long time."
Nebraska (10-4) lost its third consecutive bowl game, and finished the season with two straight woeful defensive performances, losing the Big Ten championship game 70-31.
The Cornhuskers led 24-23 at the half, but committed two of their three turnovers in the final 30 minutes.
Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez had two interceptions and two touchdown passes and Rex Burkhead rushed for 140 yards in his final college game.
But Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said the efficiency of Murray and Georgia in converting 12 of 17 third-down opportunities was too much to overcome.
"I thought the plan was good," Pelini said of his team's defensive scheme. "Third down hurt us, obviously. When were in position, it was man-on-man down the field. We needed to make some of those plays and we didn't. And, you know, again, that cost us a football game."
Nebraska drops to 12-7 against SEC opponents in bowl games.
Richt, trailed by questions about his team's focus following its loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game, thinks his team made a statement.
"We wanted to win this game to prove to ourselves that we are one of the better teams in the country," he said. "I think our guys did a good job of sucking it up when they were tired. ... But when you make a big play here and there, it gives you a little more energy as well. ... We made enough big plays at the right moment."
Nebraska finished with 443 yards of total offense, but the Bulldogs' defense was stingy when it needed to be.
They sacked Martinez five times, with junior All-American linebacker Jarvis Jones notching two to finish with a record 14.5 for the season. Damian Swann had both of Georgia's interceptions.
Murray found Keith Marshall free near the sideline for a 24-yard touchdown pass that gave Georgia a 38-31 lead with 14:52 to play in the game.
Following a Nebraska punt, Murray then hit Chris Conley for a short pass over the middle and he outran the Cornhuskers defenders for an 87-yard score.
Conley also scored on a 49-yard touchdown catch that tied the game in the third quarter.
Nebraska clung to a 24-23 lead at the half, taking back the advantage late in the second quarter on a 16-yard strike from Martinez to Burkhead.
After a pair of early turnovers, Murray seemed to be getting Georgia's offense back on track, as the Bulldogs punctuated a four-play, 38-yard drive with a 24-yard touchdown run by Todd Gurley to make it 23-17.
Both Bulldogs' turnovers came on Murray interceptions as the nation's top-ranked passing defense crowded Georgia's receivers and disguised its coverage schemes.
Gurley helped open things up, though, rushing for 81 yards in the opening 30 minutes.
Nebraska also allowed Georgia three sacks, thwarting some promising drives.
Nebraska's defense didn't need long to force the game's first turnover, picking off Murray on Georgia's opening drive of the game.
The Cornhuskers went three-and-out on their first possession.
But Brett Maher's punt was blocked by the Bulldogs' Shawn Williams. There was a scramble for the ball in the end zone before it trickled out of the back for a safety.
The Bulldogs then went up 9-0 their ensuing possession following the free kick, capping an 80-yard drive on Murray's 29-yard touchdown pass to tight end Arthur Lynch.
Nebraska's offense finally got going on its next possession, scoring on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Martinez to Jamal Turner.
The Cornhuskers' defense made it 14-9 when linebacker Will Compton came up with their second interception of Murray and returned it 24 yards for the score.
"I'm real proud of Aaron and job he did," Richt said. "(He) had a couple of things go not exactly the way he wanted them to go. Had a couple of picks early. Just hung in there, very resilient and finished."
Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower .