JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — On a wet and miserable day at the Gator Bowl, the throws were there by Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason in the late going.
The receptions were not.
Tight end Arthur Lynch and receiver Rantavious Wooten, a pair of fifth-year seniors, failed to corral Mason passes down the stretch Wednesday afternoon as the No. 23 Bulldogs ended their season with a 24-19 loss to a Nebraska team that's mediocre by program standards. Georgia, which was ranked No. 5 in August and was No. 6 following wins over South Carolina and LSU, finished Mark Richt's 13th season with an 8-5 record and could be unranked in the final polls for the third time in five years.
"There were two plays down the stretch that I could have made to help this team and obviously the senior class go out with a winning note," a dejected Lynch said. "My apologies to my teammates. I feel badly that it came down to me and that I couldn't deliver."
Gator Bowl officials announced that 60,712 tickets were "distributed" to the game, though the crowd was considerably less than that.
The biggest drop occurred with 25 seconds remaining, when Georgia faced a fourth-and-3 from the Nebraska 16-yard line. Lynch got his hands on the ball inside the 10 but couldn't hold it, leaving the Bulldogs with a feeling that cannot be remedied until the 2014 opener against visiting Clemson.
"It was the same play we ran against Kentucky when I scored those two touchdowns," Lynch said. "It's one of our bread-and-butter plays in the red zone. In man coverage, it's either coming to me or the outside receiver, and he came to me. I didn't hang on to it and probably just turned my head a little bit too much looking up the field.
"You can put any factor you want on it, whether it was the heat of the Clemson game or anything else, but at the end of the day, we're Division I athletes who are on scholarship, and we need to make plays no matter the situation."
Georgia's offense gained a respectable 416 yards given the conditions. Mason completed 21 of 39 passes for 320 yards, but early in the third quarter he threw an interception that Nebraska turned into a touchdown for a 17-9 lead.
Lynch had 69 of Georgia's yards on six receptions.
"It's tough, because he's a senior who has poured his life into this program for five years and has played his tail off," Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "He wanted to go out with a win and play well, and he played well. I know he had a couple of drops, but he made a ton of big third-down catches to keep drives alive.
"I would take an Artie Lynch every year, and he's got nothing to hang his head about. He's going to be a remembered Bulldog for a long time and will have a special place in our hearts."
The Bulldogs drove to Nebraska's 14-yard line with 4:42 remaining, when Wooten couldn't hang on to Mason's fourth-and-2 pass. Had Georgia opted for a Marshall Morgan field goal there and pulled within 24-22, the Bulldogs would have needed just a field goal on their final possession for the win.
Morgan made all four of his field-goal tries Wednesday.
"I think you had to go for it, because it's one of those situations where you don't know if you're going to get the ball back," Bobo said. "It was fourth-and-2, and we had run a play similar to that earlier and thought we had a matchup. We just didn't hang on to the ball."
Nebraska was outgained 416 to 307 but got an effective performance from junior tailback Ameer Abdullah, who rushed 27 times for 122 yards. The Cornhuskers finished 9-4 and are among just three Bowl Subdivision teams -- joining Alabama and Oregon -- with nine or more wins each of the last six seasons.
Georgia ran 40 plays for 197 yards in the first half, compared to 29 plays for 130 yards by the Cornhuskers, but Nebraska led 10-9 at intermission on the strength of a 5-yard touchdown pass from Tommy Armstrong to Quincy Enunwa with 9:05 to go in the second quarter. The touchdown capped a two-play, 14-yard drive following a punt fumbled by Georgia's Reggie Davis.
"It's difficult when you think about the opportunities we had," Bulldogs junior receiver Chris Conley said. "We've just got to capitalize on them. There are no pointing fingers, because there were so many plays we could have made in every phase of the game that would have put this one away for us.
"It's going to come down to the little things this offseason, and all of us are going to have to take those things seriously, because it's evident that those little things matter in games."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com or 423-757-6524.
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 ...