With a pair of freshmen running backs both averaging more than 6-yards per carry, Nebraska has plenty to worry about on the ground against Georgia in next Tuesday’s Capital One Bowl. But the more interesting match-up might be when Georgia asks junior quarterback Aaron Murray to throw the ball.
Murray enters the game with the nation’s second-best passer rating at 172.37, less than a point behind Alabama’s A.J. McCarron. Over the Bulldogs’ past five games, Murray has thrown 14 touchdown passes against just one interception.
“When you look at his stats – 31 touchdowns, eight interceptions – he really does a good job of finding those guys,” secondary coach Terry Joseph said after Nebraska’s Friday practice in Orlando. “It’s really going to be a challenge for us. We’ve got to play with great discipline and technique and get some guys around the ball because they can expose you in a lot of different ways.”
Joseph should know. While coaching at Tennessee, he got an up-close look at Murray over the previous two seasons in the SEC.
“Playing against him the last few years at Tennessee, Murray’s been able to make some big-time throws,” he said. “You watch him on film, as you watch throughout the season, you really appreciate the ability he has. He’s always in control. He’s a veteran and he doesn’t get rattled a lot.”
But Nebraska isn’t without it’s own options when it comes to defending the pass. The Huskers have the nation’s best pass defense — both in terms of yards allowed per game and completion percentage — and that should make the match-up against Murray one worth watching next week.
“I think as you watch us play throughout the season, we want to be aggressive, we want to challenge some guys and we don’t want to give a wide window to throw the ball,” Joseph said. “We want to have tight coverage and we want to get bodies on bodies. The guys have really bought into the system and played well, but this is going to be a different challenge because they have so many guys who can work down the field. It will be interesting to see how we match up, because everybody has to be on their ‘Ps and Qs’. Anybody who lines up out there can go downtown on you.”
Joseph is plenty familiar with the talent on Georgia’s roster, not just from coaching in the SEC but also in his current job recruiting the southeastern states for Nebraska. The Bulldogs have a lot of it, but Joseph thinks that’s just what Nebraska needs coming off the embarrassing Big Ten championship game loss.
“Their roster is loaded,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge for us, but coming off our last game we needed a challenge like that.”