ATHENS, Ga. Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason didn't throw many interceptions during the regular season.
He didn't face Louisville's Gerod Holliman, either.
Mr. Efficient will meet Mr. Opportunistic on Dec. 30 when Mason's Bulldogs face Holliman's Cardinals at the Belk Bowl. Mason threw four interceptions during the 12-game regular season, while Holliman racked up 14 interceptions and will be looking for an NCAA record in Charlotte.
"That's a lot of interceptions," Mason said this week. "He's been decorated with a lot of postseason awards, and rightfully so. I'm trying to watch film on their defense and trying to figure him out and what they like to do in the secondary."
Holliman's interception haul ties an NCAA record set in 1968 by Washington's Al Worley, who amassed his total in a 10-game schedule. The 14th interception for the redshirt sophomore safety occurred in the 44-40 victory over state rival Kentucky on Nov. 29.
With 58 seconds remaining and the Wildcats approaching midfield, Holliman recorded a sack of Patrick Towles. On the ensuing play, Holliman intercepted Towles, returning the ball 65 yards to the 2-yard line.
"It's a great accomplishment," Holliman told the Louisville Courier-Journal after tying the 46-year mark, "and it's a goal I set before the season."
Holliman won the Jim Thorpe Award, but his rise to prominence was not without obstacles. The 6-foot-2, 213-pounder from Miami was rated by Rivals.com as the No. 4 safety and the No. 96 overall prospect in the 2011 signing class, but he failed to qualify academically and spent that year at Milford Academy in New York.
After enrolling at Louisville in 2012, Holliman was injured early in his freshman season and redshirted. Last season, he played in 11 games and made two starts, but he did not come away with any interceptions.
Todd Grantham became Holliman's new defensive coordinator in January, and Grantham started noticing something special in the spring.
"He did the best job of anyone of taking the things we told him from a football-technique standpoint and a preparation standpoint to heart," Grantham said. "He became a really good player for us, and you really saw the improvement when we got to August. He prepares. He studies, and that preparation has allowed him to tie an NCAA record and make a lot of plays."
Multiple media outlets reported this week that Holliman was forgoing his final two seasons of eligibility for the NFL draft. Reviews are mixed for Holliman at the next level, with one NFL scout telling the Milwaukee Sun Sentinel that he was "horrible" and that he "can't make a tackle to save his life."
Holliman has 37 tackles this season.
Mason threw just four interceptions in 262 attempts and nearly went his last seven games without one before getting intercepted in overtime against Georgia Tech. The fifth-year senior threw 20 touchdown passes, and his touchdown-to-interception ratio was the best in the Southeastern Conference.
Now it's on to Louisville and Holliman, who had more regular-season interceptions than 113 Bowl Subdivision teams, including Georgia (13).
"Fourteen interceptions is hard to do," Mason said. "You've got to be at the right place at the right time, and you've got to have great athleticism to where you can make a lot of great plays.
"I've made a lot of good decisions this year, so hopefully we'll be able to complete balls and execute to where we will have a good opportunity to win."
Odds and ends
Linebacker Jake Ganus, a linebacker who led UAB this season with 70 tackles and had six sacks, committed Friday to play his senior season at Georgia. The 6-2, 225-pounder from Chelsea, Ala., is eligible to play in 2015. ... Junior outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins announced Friday via Twitter that he will be back for his senior year. Coach Mark Richt said last weekend that the return of Jenkins was likely. ... The Bulldogs had another full-pads practice Friday and will hold their final on-campus workout today.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.