published Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

Georgia's 99-yard breakdown sours defensive efforts

Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah (8) scores a touch down against Georgia during the Gator Bowl, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, in Jacksonville, Fla.
Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah (8) scores a touch down against Georgia during the Gator Bowl, Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, in Jacksonville, Fla.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

JACKSONVILLE, Ala. — Georgia's defense did some impressive things but suffered some major gaffes in Wednesday's Gator Bowl, and in the end the good things weren't enough.

Which was pretty much the theme of the Bulldogs' defense all season.

"We've just had a lot of things go wrong and a lot of things go wrong at the worst time imaginable," sophomore outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins said after the 24-19 loss to Nebraska. "I feel like sometimes we just shoot ourselves in the foot. If we do the minor things right, things like a muffed punt or mismatch coverages don't happen."

Georgia defenders, who had pointed en masse to Wednesday's showdown as a potential springboard to next season, held the Cornhuskers scoreless through their first four possessions. After that fourth possession, however, Reggie Davis fumbled a punt and Nebraska recovered at the Georgia 14.

Huskers tailback Ameer Abdullah rushed for 9 yards on the ensuing play, and quarterback Tommy Armstrong followed with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Quincy Enunwa to give Nebraska a lead it never relinquished.

The backbreaker, however, occurred with five minutes remaining in the third quarter, when the Bulldogs had Nebraska at its 1-yard line before busting an assignment that resulted in Armstrong and Enunwa connecting for a 99-yard touchdown. Aside from that play, Georgia held Nebraska to 208 total yards.

"You can play your [tail] off in the run game all you want," Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said, "but on sudden-change situations, you've got to make them kick field goals at least 67 percent of the time, and you can't give up 99-yard touchdowns in Cover 2. There should be two guys there. It's pretty simple. There was a two-man route, and you give up 99-yard pass plays in a game like this, you're not going to win, so we've got to get it corrected.

"Our guys kept battling after their big play, but we've got guys who obviously have to grow and mature and understand the finer details, because every play matters."

On the longest pass play in Nebraska history, Enunwa raced past freshman cornerback Shaq Wiggins and was not covered near midfield by freshman safety Quincy Mauger. After Enunwa made the catch, a desperate Mauger failed to wrap him up, thus freeing him for the score.

"I'm not going to blame it on anybody, but the safety had the half field and I had somebody else coming out," Wiggins said. "There was a little confusion, and it's what we've been trying to fix all season. I really can't wait until next season so we can fix everything.

"We know what everybody's capable of, so next season we shouldn't have as many mistakes as we did this year."

Freshman outside linebacker Leonard Floyd tied his career high with eight tackles, and Jenkins and Mauger each tallied six. Junior inside linebacker Ramik Wilson had five tackles to finish the season with 133.

The Bulldogs secondary was without sophomore safety Josh Harvey-Clemons and sophomore cornerback Sheldon Dawson, who were suspended, and freshman safety Tray Matthews, who was injured.

"Tray practiced all week, but he just hasn't been healthy," Grantham said. "The guys who played are the guys who have worked in practice and were full speed, and you've got to go with the guys who are healthy to give you the best chance to win. Hopefully, Tray can work hard this offseason to correct his hamstring issue, because it's been an issue all year.

"We've still got high hopes for him, but he's obviously got to work to improve his health."

There was a lot of talk about next season in the minutes after the game, not surprisingly. For Bulldogs defenders, it sure beats revisiting the past 13 games.

"We've got to get in the mindset of what we want to prove this offseason," Jenkins said. "We need to get prepared to prove the nation wrong and prove to everybody that we can be a great defense and just prove the world wrong."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

about David Paschall...

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 ...

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