Special to the Times
Jacksonville, Fla. —
Riddled by miscues, some of the same ones that have haunted Georgia throughout a roller coaster of a season, the Bulldogs fell short Wednesday in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl, losing 24-19 to Nebraska at a wet and soggy Everbank Field.
Georgia, which failed to score a touchdown on five trips inside the 25-yard line, saw a late comeback fall short with less than 30 seconds to go when quarterback Hutson Mason's fourth-down pass across the middle to tight end Arthur Lynch bounced off of the fifth-year senior's hands.
"My apologies to teammates, I feel bad that it came down to me and I couldn't deliver," Lynch said. "We still had a chance to come back and win it. Unfortunately for myself, I couldn't help pull out the victory."
Georgia, which endured multiple injuries throughout the season, ends the year with an 8-5 record.
"Obviously when you lose the game, you can't be excited about anything," Lynch said. "Down the stretch, I felt like there were two plays I could of made."
The Bulldogs dug themselves in hole thanks to multiple miscues.
Nebraska got its first two touchdowns off of Georgia turnovers and a third on a 99-yard pass from Tommy Armstrong, Jr., to Quincy Enumwa. The score came in a familiar and frustrating setting this season for Georgia's defense. The Cornhuskers score, which gave them a 24-12 lead, occurred on a third down play with 12 yards go, joining the list of multiple third-down conversions by opposing offenses when facing third-and-long against the Bulldogs.
Enumwa got past Georgia cornerback Shaq Wiggins on the play.
"That's been what we've been trying to fix all season. I can't wait until next season so we can fix everything," Wiggins said of the long score. "We know what everybody is capable of. So next season, we shouldn't have as many mistakes."
Special teams mistakes, which have plagued Georgia on multiple times this season, returned in the second quarter when Reggie Davis' fumbled punt was recovered by Nebraska. The Cornhuskers scored two plays later on a five-yard pass to Enunwa and Nebraska led 7-3. Nebraska's second touchdown came on the heels of an interception by Georgia quarterback by Hutson Mason on the first possession of the third quarter, and a 38-yard scoring drive was capped by a one-yard Ameer Abdullah touchdown run.
The score came after Georgia had cut the Nebraska lead to 17-12 on one of three Marshall Morgan field goals.
Behind 24-12 with 4:58 left in the third quarter, the Bulldogs battled back. A seven-play, 39-yard drive got the Bulldogs into the end zone for the first time with 14:49 left in the fourth quarter when Mason connected with Todd Gurley on a 25-yard touchdown on a screen pass.
Georgia had a pair of chances to take the lead late, coming up short each time. After a 48-yard pass from Mason to Michael Bennett advanced Georgia downfield, the Bulldogs were in the red zone again. But a fourth-down pass over the middle was unable to be hauled by by Rantavious Wooten, turning the ball over.
A field goal attempt by Marshall Morgan, who converted four field goals against Nebraska, was not considered, according to Georgia head coach Mark Richt.
"I didn't really think about kicking the field goal. I knew if we made it on fourth down, we kept the drive going, we could make the touchdown, take the lead. I knew if we didn't make it, they were backed up pretty far, and we had another shot at scoring a touchdown," Richt said.
After Georgia's defense forced a three-and-out, the Bulldogs had one final chance to win the game, starting from their own 38-yard line. The drive started with a 29-yard pass from Mason to Chris Conley, getting the ball to the Nebraska 33. A fourth-down quarterback keeper by Mason set Georgia up with a first down at the Cornhuskers 23. After a five-yard false start penalty, runs by Gurley of five and seven yards placed the ball at the 16-yard line with Georgia facing a fourth down play.
Mason looked for an open Lynch over the middle. The pass, however, bounced off of Lynch's hands, and the Cornhuskers took over to run out the clock with 25 seconds to play.
Although he did not have the multiple touchdowns to show for it, Mason had a solid day. With Nebraska placing nine-to-ten players in the box to key on Gurley, Georgia's passing game was relied on more. Mason was 21-of-39 for 320 yards. And while Georgia did move ball against the Cornhuskers, racking up 416 offensive yards, its struggles in the red zone proved to be its undoing with the Bulldogs failing to score on all three trips inside the 20-yard line.
Gurley rushed for 86 yards and had 97 yards receiving.
"I thought Hutson, as time went on and got used to the elements, did a really good job. Hutson's a great football player, a great person, a great leader for our team," Richt said. "I've got a lot of faith how he'll do in the future as well. Games like this are hard-fought. I don't know how many plays were made down the stretch to put us in position to win the game. I know at crunch time, from what I saw, Hutson played very well."