"I'm not going to use it as a crutch or say that's what was going on, but the outside conditions weren't the best, which we know they had to play in it as well so we can't say that," junior defensive end Ray Drew said.
Drew was referring to the weather, which consisted of a constant downpour of rain that wasn't too heavy, but didn't make playing a bowl game any easier either. The Dawgs' defense allowed 14 first downs, 144 rushing yards and a painful 163 passing yards. The Cornhuskers also converted on four of their 13 attempts on third down; an area that hasn't sat well with Georgia this season. The Dawgs have allowed opponents to convert on 73 of their 180 third down attempts in games prior to the Gator Bowl. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said it wasn't the third down situations that hurt his defense.
"I haven't seen the stats, but that's a pretty good running team. Their line is pretty good at run blocking, but I felt like we handled the run game for the most part," Grantham said. "Third downs, there was a couple they got out there, but for the most part I thought we were okay."
Instead, Grantham said Georgia just wasn't able to execute on the fly.
"At the end of the day we didn't play good on sudden change; you know on the dropped punt and the turnover," Grantham said. "In those situations there, you'd like to make them kick field goals; at least two out of three, but we didn't make them kick field goals on either one of them."
On top of those crucial in-game lapses, Georgia's defense was missing a few key players. Sophomore strong safety Josh Harvey-Clemons and sophomore cornerback Sheldon Dawson did not play in the Gator Bowl due to what Georgia head coach Mark Richt called a "violation of team regulations." The suspensions didn't help Georgia's secondary, but freshman free safety Quincy Mauger said the guys that needed to step up were ready to play coming into this game.
"Josh Harvey-Clemons is well-experienced at the star and the strong safety position," Mauger said. "We missed that a lot. At the same time, we play with the same 11 people. We get all the rotations in, so it's nothing new to all the players that come in and step up."
There was also freshman free safety Tray Matthews, who was on the sideline the entire game. The player who was once named Most Improved Defensive Player at the end of spring practice will have to focus on ending a lingering hamstring injury for good.
"Tray practiced all week, but he just hasn't been healthy," Grantham said. "The guys that played are the guys that have worked in practice, so you've got to go with your guys that are healthy and give you the best chance to win. He's obviously got to work to improve his health as far as getting healthy so he can go compete for the job."
Grantham didn't get down on his younger players following the loss. However, he did acknowledge the strides they'll have to make in order to be successful on a consistent basis.
"We've got some guys that have obviously got to grow and mature and understand that attention to details because every play matters, and if we do that there's probably going to be 14 less points on the board," Grantham said.
As far as competition goes, Drew says the Georgia defense that has been called young all season handled everything well. Regardless of the Gator Bowl loss, he's excited about what next season holds.
"As a whole, I'm encouraged for next season because of what I saw today. I believe we played tough," Drew said. "We have experience and these guys know what to expect. We've been through it all."