Pick your narrative: Nebraska beat an SEC team on New Year's Day. Or Nebraska lost four games again this season. It's a variant of the glass half-full/half-empty perspective. Both sides are correct of course; it's really whether you look at the situation as terminal or not.
And in my perspective, it's not a terminal situation. We went into this season knowing that the defense had to rebuild, with lots of new starters and a history of getting gashed. (/WisconsinScoresAgain) And the Huskers got gashed early on. Wyoming ran up 602 yards of offense. UCLA scored 38 unanswered points. Zach Zenner of South Dakota State rushed for 202 yards. But the defense stopped hemorrhaging in October, and in November, actually looked pretty good. Georgia tight end Arthur Lynch and running back Todd Gurley hurt Nebraska in the passing game today, but overall, it was a good performance. Most importantly, Nebraska kept Georgia out of the end zone on 6 out of 7 drives that reached the red zone.
Offensively, Nebraska didn't have a great game, but made enough plays when they were needed. Especially Quincy Enunwa, who went out in style with a memorable flourish. Ameer Abdullah was solid as well. Most of all, it's a victory and that means not only do we end the season on a positive note, but we're also spared a Husker-Festivus, where we spend the rest of the winter listening to the airing of grievances against Bo Pelini and his staff.
So here's our report card; as always, your comments and feedback are always welcome. And since I was watching the ESPN broadcast, I know I missed something. Hopefully not as much as Ed Cunningham.
QB: It wasn't a great game for Tommy Armstrong, but he made some key plays and more importantly, kept the ball secured for the most part on a rainy day. There was that ugly option in the first quarter where he inexplicably stopped and many of his passes were underthrown. But for every mistake (like bobbling the snap which nearly resulted in a safety), there was another play where he made up for it...like that 99.9 yard touchdown pass to Enunwa. My favorite play on the day, though, was that zone read where he handed the ball off to Abdullah, but executed the handoff so well that Georgia defensive end Garrison Smith thought he still had the ball...drawing a 15 yard personal foul penalty for tackling the guy who didn't have the ball. Grade: B-
RB: Ameer Abdullah had another fine day. Will he return? I don't know, though I suggest he should. Yes, running backs only have so many carries in their legs. But before longevity becomes a concern, getting the opportunity is more important. And while his ball security was improved this season, his five fumbles was only one fewer than the 1-A leader in fumbles for running backs (6 for Tulsa's Trey Watts). Another year of seasoning would be good. The rest of the backs only saw spot duty. Imani Cross probably could have had a couple more carries. Terrell Newby earned his spot back on the bench by dropping a inside screen that could have been a big gainer. Grade: B+
WR: Quincy Enunwa ended his Nebraska career with his finest performance. He made a tough catch of an underthrown pass for the first touchdown, then shattered Nebraska's records for longest play (95 yards for Eric Crouch against Missouri and Fred Duda to Freeman White in 1965) and touchdown receptions in a season (12) with that 99.9 yard catch. And somewhere in Athens, Georgia, Georgia safety Quincy Mauger is still trying to figure out how he whiffed on that tackle. (Hint: it takes more than one defensive back to knock Enunwa down.) It was nice to see Jamal Turner back on the field, but dang, it sure would have been nice to see him catch that touchdown pass. Likewise, Cethan Carter shook off an early penalty for a false start before making a nice catch in the second quarter. Grade: B+
OL: Nebraska's slow start might have been partially the result of starting with the wrong shoes, I suspect. Changing cleats allowed the offensive line to get a much better push, and as the game went on, the line was pushing Georgia around. Most importantly, Armstrong was able to be fairly comfortable in the pocket. That made that 99.9 pass possible because Armstrong had the time to make that play. Grade: A-
DL: Like Enunwa, Thad Randle went out with his best performance in his final game. Fellow senior Jason Ankrah also had a good game as well. More than once, I saw Vincent Valentine being held, though it wasn't flagged. All told, it was a decent performance. Grade: B
LB: David Santos caught my eye more than once with some big plays. Unfortunately, Michael Rose drew the short straw in trying to cover Todd Gurley in the passing game - that didn't go well at all. (That being said, the only Nebraska linebacker in recent memory who I think would have been up to that job is Lavonte David.) And before you get the wrong idea on Rose's performance, he did have nine tackles and two quarterback hurries. Grade: B
Secondary: Nebraska's safeties had a really good game. Corey Cooper had his usual solid game. More surprising was seeing Andrew Green make play after play; again, another senior going out with a great performance. Le Roy Alexander paid the price for leading with his head on that tackle. Fortunately, he wasn't ejected under the targeting rule. (That would have kept him out of the first half of next season's opener against Florida Atlantic.) Cornerback Josh Mitchell did come up with the interception and fumble recovery that were the keys for the victory. I just wish Stanley Jean-Baptiste would have come up with that interception in the second quarter; it might have prevented one of Georgia's field goals. Grade: B
Special Teams: Punt returns were non-existent once again, though Nebraska did try a double safety once. Please, Bo, spend some time this offseason looking for a new plan, if not reassigning this responsibility to somebody else. Kickoff coverage was lacking as well, as J.J. Green racked up 93 yards in the game. His 48 yard return was the longest of the season for Georgia this season. Punter Sam Foltz got off to a very slow start with his first two punts going 17 and 32 yards respectively. Grade: D+
Overall: B Seniors like Quincy Enunwa, Jason Ankrah Andrew Green, and Thad Randle really stepped up their game for their finale. They go out winners. Yes, it was only the Gator Bowl, but I have this feeling that they can say they were part of a turnaround at Nebraska.
Elsewhere in College Football
Michigan: F When Bill Snyder looks faster and more elusive in avoiding a Gatorade bath than any Michigan running back, it's clear that something is wrong in Ann Arbor.
Ed Cunningham: 0 Nebraska's favorite ESPN commentator was in his typical blathering mode. By the end of the Gator Bowl broadcast, he was trending on Twitter...and that means an announcer was making himself bigger than the game he was broadcasting.
Ed Cunningham instinctively zeroes in on the only possible way to suck the excitement out of a 99-yd touchdown pass. The man is a machine.— Matt Hinton (@MattRHinton) January 1, 2014
I'll let others debate his point on Le Roy Alexander targeting, then not targeting, whatever that was. My favorite point of his broadcast was his disbelief that Nebraska wasn't using their timeouts at the end of the first half. He thought that Nebraska should try to save some time to answer if Georgia scored. Like Nebraska was going to risk a turnover in the rain by throwing the ball all over the field in that situation. More importantly, using the timeouts would have given Georgia more time, especially if they had been able to get a first down inside the Nebraska red zone.
ESPN's Crew: F I like Mike Patrick, but obviously between getting up their in age and having to listen to Ed Cunningham every week, he's starting to lose his focus. (Who could blame him?) Even worse was the ESPN crew constantly missing plays in order to show us a replay. C'mon... are you hiring producers from FSN?