ORLANDO, Fla. — Happy New Year, Chris Conley.
Happy new memory, too.
Georgia's sophomore receiver took a short pass from Aaron Murray early in the fourth quarter and raced 87 yards for the backbreaking touchdown as the Bulldogs capped a 12-2 season with a 45-31 win over Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl.
Before Tuesday, the lasting image of Conley was of him instinctively catching a tipped pass at the Alabama 5-yard line as time ran out on the Bulldogs in their 32-28 loss to the Crimson Tide in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
"I will never forget that game against Alabama," Conley said. "It's going to be something that pushes me and drives me to be better, but today was a great game, and I'm ready to go into the offseason. This is a little relieving, and it feels great when your coaches keep trusting you enough to call plays for you."
Conley also had a 49-yard touchdown reception midway through the third quarter and was the biggest beneficiary of Murray's 427-yard, five-touchdown aerial performance. There were four lead changes before an announced paid attendance of 59,712, with Conley's 87-yarder capping a run of 22 unanswered points by the Bulldogs.
"From the snap, they were pretty much bringing a full-house blitz," Murray said. "We had a little jailbreak screen, and it was either going to be a huge play or a bust."
Said Conley: "All I had to do was catch it and run."
The Bulldogs won 12 games for just the third time in program history, joining the 1980 national champions who went 12-0 and the 2002 SEC champions who went 13-1. Georgia improved to 8-4 in bowl games under coach Mark Richt, having lost the previous two seasons in the Liberty and Outback bowls.
There were 1,032 yards of combined offense, with 589 for Georgia and 443 for the Cornhuskers. The Bulldogs had surrendered 321 yards through Nebraska's first possession of the second half, but they forced two turnovers and held the Big Ten runners-up scoreless the rest of the way.
Bulldogs linebacker Alec Ogletree caused and recovered a Ameer Abdullah fumble at Georgia's 39-yard line with 5:30 left in the third quarter and the game tied at 31.
"Their pace caught us a little off guard, and they caught us a couple of times when we weren't lined up," said Georgia cornerback Damian Swann, who had two interceptions. "They gashed us a couple of times, but we were able to keep them from scoring the last quarter and a half. We kept giving the ball back to Aaron and letting him do what he does.
"Once we got that fumble, I think they went into panic mode, and we kept it going."
Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham wasn't thrilled with how the Big 12 officials allowed the game to flow.
"I really appreciate the SEC officials, because when you start looking at the way the game was going -- you talk about player safety and tempo, and it's really a credit to how the SEC does it," Grantham said. "There were a handful of plays that were the result of a lack of getting lined up or a lack of communication, and it allowed them to make some plays. To me, that's not what football is all about, but at the end of the day we showed more mental and physical toughness.
"The bottom line is that we won the game in the fourth quarter, and we've done that quite a bit. We've won 12 games, so I think we've done pretty good."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...