Battle of the Backs

Battle of the Backs

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A delegation of Georgia and Nebraska players, accompanied by coaches Mark Richt and Bo Pelini, met with the media for the final time before tomorrow's Gator Bowl.

Tomorrow's match-up will feature two of the nation's strongest tailbacks in Georgia's Todd Gurley and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah.

Gurley has churned out 903 rush yards and ten touchdowns (344 pass yards and five scores) despite missing all of October due to an ailing ankle. Abdullah, a junior, posted 1,859 all purpose yards and eight total touchdowns.

Cornhuskers defensive end Jason Ankrah said that he's seen noticeable growth in Gurley's physique since last year's Capital One Bowl, which featured a match-up between these two teams.

"Just how much he's grown from last year to this year," Ankrah said. "He's a true sophomore. We've seen a different gear in his game. He's a very talented back, smart, big and a physical runner. We'll have our hands full with him."

Georgia defensive end Garrison Smith added that Abdullah presents one of the most physical ground threats the Bulldogs have seen all year.

"A rock solid dude," Smith said of Nebraska's tailback. "He's a really physical runner. … The guy can really play football. He's a hard-nosed guy that gets after it. He has great vision and cutback. It's just going to be a challenge trying to face him."

Battle of the secondaries

Georgia will line up tomorrow without two of its reliable defensive backs in safety Josh Harvey-Clemons and cornerback Sheldon Dawson. The pair was suspended for a violation of team rules.

Richt said he's been pleased with how the defense has handled the adjustments in practice.

"I think the guys stepped up well," he said. "I think [defensive coordinator Todd] Grantham, knowing that the situation was going to happen, had time to plan for it, had time to get everybody in the right spots. … It's not time to panic, it's time to prepare and figure out who else fits."

Grantham said earlier this week that cornerbacks Brendan Langley, a freshman, and Devin Bowman, a redshirt sophomore, could see increased playing time.

Nebraska will dish out one of the most experienced secondaries Georgia has faced this year. Its four starters and nickel back are all seniors with the exception of junior safety Corey Cooper, who leads the team in tackles and interceptions.

Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason said it's one area of the Cornhuskers' defense that poses the strongest threat. "I think you just go back and watch the game from last year, it took us a little while to just kind of get going," Mason said. "We know it's going to be a challenge throwing the ball and being efficient throwing the ball."

Similar seasons for both teams

Pelini noted the match-up is interesting not only because the two teams played last year, but also because they've endured similar seasons in 2013.

Both squads had higher hopes for the year but come in 8-4 after battling a horde of injuries.

"This has been a crazy year," Pelini said. "Very similar when I talk to Coach Richt and the rest of those guys over at Georgia. … I think when you face things like that, tough times as the season goes on and gets crazy, winning eight games isn't easy. A lot of people don't realize that."

The two coaches agreed that a re-match made gameplanning more manageable, but downplayed any major advantages.

"Playing them this year and having a game against them last year, it's not a whole lot different than playing an [SEC] Eastern division foe again," Richt said.

The Georgia coach added then described some of his gameplanning techniques heading into tomorrow.

"You try to find some opponents that are as much like us as possible," Richt said of observing Nebraska on film. "In trying to look at their defense, we try to look at some offensive teams that line up in the same sets that we line up in, and just see how they react to that. Most teams aren't going to reinvent the wheel every week, and so that's what we were using as a guide."

Tomorrow's Gator Bowl kicks off at 12 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

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