ATHENS, Ga. - Georgia knows a lot more about redshirt junior quarterback Hutson Mason entering its New Year's Day matchup with Nebraska in the Gator Bowl.
Leading the Bulldogs from a 20-point deficit to a win at rival Georgia Tech has a way of doing that.
The Gator Bowl will be Mason's second career start after fifth-year senior Aaron Murray tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the 59-17 rout of Kentucky on Nov. 23. Mason came in just before halftime against the Wildcats and continued the onslaught, and he followed that the next week with a 22-of-36, 299-yard, two-touchdown performance in a 41-34 double-overtime triumph over the Yellow Jackets.
"That start on the road was huge," Mason said. "You can't get those types of environments in practice, no matter how long you've been here. You have to get them in games and learn on the fly."
His trip to Georgia Tech provided quite a cram session.
With less than two minutes remaining in the first half, the Bulldogs had run 20 plays for just 56 yards. Mason had 43 passing yards and had thrown an interception, and the Yellow Jackets were in command with a 20-0 lead.
Georgia began its final possession of the half at its 14-yard line, and Mason opened with a 13-yard pass to tailback Todd Gurley and 17- and 22-yard completions to receiver Chris Conley. The Bulldogs traveled 86 yards in seven plays, and Mason finished a 5-for-5 drive when he completed a 9-yard touchdown to Gurley to get the Bulldogs within 20-7 at halftime.
"After we scored that first touchdown, the momentum shifted," Mason said. "Being down 20-0 against Tech means you've got to do something quick. The offense that they run can kill a lot of clock, so your number of possessions can get cut in half. It puts a lot of pressure on you to do something right now, and after we scored that first touchdown, we calmed down.
"I think guys we're like, 'All right, this guy can play.' I felt like we got that first score and that it was time to roll."
The Bulldogs racked up a healthy 285 yards in the second half and the two overtime periods, with Gurley accounting for all 50 yards in the overtimes. It was Georgia's 12th win over Georgia Tech in Mark Richt's 13 seasons as head coach and definitely the most dramatic.
It also was Mason's coming-out moment, as he quickly gained the trust and respect of his teammates.
"He did a great job," senior right guard Chris Burnette said. "The way we started out wasn't what we had planned, and I think that not only showed his character but the character of the whole team this whole season. We go through adversity, and at the end of the day, guys never quit.
"Hutson does a great job, and I think that's the kind of stuff you can expect from him throughout next year."
Murray won only one bowl game as Georgia's starter but was convincing in that victory, shredding Nebraska for 427 yards in last season's 45-31 triumph at the Capital One Bowl. The Cornhuskers entered last season's matchup ranked No. 1 nationally in fewest passing yards allowed per game (148.3).
Mason has studied several Nebraska games on tape -- the Cornhuskers have yielded 199.5 passing yards per game this year -- and he is adjusting for a different atmosphere.
"We're not really playing a road game here," he said. "You can expect crowd noise to be a factor, but it won't be as much of a factor."
The Bulldogs are going through seven on-campus practices before taking a four-day break for Christmas. These workouts are allowing Mason to gain more experience at going through progressions, something he said he rushed early in the game in Atlanta, and are helping him develop more chemistry with his receivers.
"I would say Murray has a little stronger arm, but Hutson is very accurate and puts a little more touch on the ball," redshirt junior receiver Michael Bennett said. "He thought his first start was going to be against Clemson [next August], so this is huge for him to get some extra time this year.
"It's the same offense, and like you saw against Tech, we can still be very effective."
Odds and ends
The Bulldogs practiced Tuesday for two hours in full pads. ... Safety Shaquille Fluker, who signed in Feburary out of East Mississippi Community College but didn't play this season, has decided to transfer. ... Former Georgia cornerback Chris Sanders, a 2011 "Dream Team" signee who was dismissed from the program in the winter of 2012, has committed to Baylor after playing last season at Eastern Arizona Community College.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.