ORLANDO, Fla. – Aaron Murray wanted nothing more this week than to send Georgia’s senior class out with a game to remember.
The junior quarterback provided a record-setting performance to make it a reality.
Murray threw five touchdown passes to set a Georgia bowl record, including two in the fourth quarter, as the sixth-ranked Bulldogs beat No. 23 Nebraska 45-31 in the Capital One Bowl on Tuesday.
Murray shook off a pair of first-half interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, and passed for 427 yards – also a Bulldogs’ bowl record – against the nation’s top-ranked passing defense. He was the game’s most valuable player on the way to earning his first bowl victory at Georgia.
Georgia (12-2) also reached 12 wins for the third time in school history.
“I don’t know what it’s like to head into an offseason with a win,” Murray said. “It’s a great feeling to get a win. It’s great for the seniors, who have meant so much to this team. They’ve done a great job of leading this team the whole season.
“To get 12 wins...That’s something special.”
Nebraska (10-4) lost its third consecutive bowl game, and finished the season with two straight woeful defensive performances. The Cornhuskers lost the Big Ten championship game 70-31.
The Cornhuskers led 24-23 at the half, but committed two of their three turnovers in the final 30 minutes.
Taylor Martinez had two interceptions and two touchdown passes for Nebraska and Rex Burkhead rushed 140 yards in his final college game.
But Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said the efficiency of Murray and Georgia on third down (finished 12 for 17) was too much to overcome.
“I thought the plan was good,” Pelini said of his team’s defensive scheme. “Third down hurt us, obviously. When were in position, it was man on man down the field. We needed to make some of those plays and we didn’t. And, you know, again, that cost us a football game.”
Nebraska drops to 12-7 against SEC opponents in bowl games.
Trailed by questions about his team’s focus following its narrow loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game, Georgia coach Mark Richt said Tuesday was also about a team that finished 5 yards shy of a BCS title game-berth finding closure.
“We wanted to win this game to prove to ourselves that we are one of the better teams in the country,” Richt said. “I think our guys did a good job of sucking it up when they were tired...But when you make a big play here and there, it gives you a little more energy as well … We made enough big plays at the right moment.”
Nebraska’s offense finished with 443 total yards, but the Bulldogs defense was stingy when it needed to be.
They sacked Martinez five times, with junior All-American linebacker Jarvis Jones notching two. Damian Swann had both Georgia interceptions.
With his two sacks Jones set a single-season record for with 14.5 sacks for the season. He will now decide in the coming days whether or not to enter the NFL draft.
“I think our coaches did a great job of halftime adjustments and got us out there adjusting to what they were calling and got us players honed in,” Jones said. “Like coach Richt says, it’s a 60-minute game and you’ve got to fight all 60 minutes.”
Murray found Keith Marshall free near the sideline for a 24-yard touchdown pass that gave Georgia a 38-31 lead with 14:52 to play in the game.
Following a Nebraska punt, Murray then hit Chris Conley for a short pass in space over the middle. Conley outran the Cornhuskers defenders for an 87-yard score.
That play came after a 49-yard touchdown catch by Conley that helped Georgia tie the game in the third quarter.
Nebraska clung to a 24-23 lead at the half, taking back the advantage late in the second quarter via a 16-yard strike from Martinez to Burkhead.
After a pair of early turnovers, Murray seemed to be getting Georgia’s offense back on track, as the Bulldogs punctuated a four-play, 38-yard drive with a 24-yard touchdown run by Todd Gurley to make it 23-17.
Both Bulldogs’ turnovers came via Murray interceptions as the nation’s top-ranked passing defense crowded Georgia’s receivers and disguised their coverage schemes.
Gurley helped open things up, though, rushing for 81 yards in the opening 30 minutes.
Nebraska also allowed Georgia’s defense three sacks, which thwarted some promising Cornhuskers drives.
“Their guys just made plays on stuff,” Nebraska senior linebacker Will Compton said. “Our guys were there but, yeah, I mean they made more plays than we did at the end of the day.”
Nebraska’s defense didn’t need long to force the game’s first turnover, picking off a Murray pass on Georgia’s opening drive of the game.
The Cornhuskers went three-and-out on their first offensive touch, and were forced to punt.
But that attempt by punter Brett Maher was blocked by the Bulldogs’ Shawn Williams. There was a scramble for the ball in the end zone, but it trickled out of the back for a safety.
The Bulldogs then went up 9-0 their ensuing possession following the free kick, capping an 80-yard drive with a 29-yard touchdown pass by Murray to Arthur Lynch.
Nebraska’s offense finally got going on its next touch, responding with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Martinez to Jamal Turner.
The Cornhuskers’ defense then made with 14-9 when Compton came up with their second interception in the half on Murray and returned it 24 yards for the score.
“I’m real proud of Aaron and job he did,” Richt said. “(He) had a couple of things go not exactly the way he wanted them to go. Had a couple of picks early. Just hung in there, very resilient and finished.”