No. 16 Nebraska hung tough with No. 7 Georgia for three quarters, but a pair of Bulldog touchdown passes in the fourth quarter provided the margin in the Huskers' 45-31 loss in the Capital One Bowl.
Nebraska ended its 2012 campaign with a 10-4 overall record that included a 7-1 Big Ten mark and a Legends Division title. Georgia, the SEC runner-up, finished with a 12-2 overall mark.
Senior I-back Rex Burkhead led the Huskers with 140 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries, while adding four receptions for 39 yards and another score in his final game as a Husker.
Burkhead, who produced his 14th 100-yard rushing performance, closed his career with 3,329 yards at No. 5 on Nebraska's all-time rushing list. He also became the 10th player in NU history with 30 career rushing touchdowns. Burkhead's 357 rushing yards on 76 attempts in four bowl games are both Nebraska records.
Burkhead fueled a Nebraska running attack that rolled up 239 yards against Georgia's defense. Junior quarterback Taylor Martinez added 46 yards on the ground to push his season rushing total past 1,000 yards. He finished with 1,019 rushing yards in 2012 as just the fourth Husker quarterback to produce a 1,000-yard campaign.
Martinez also completed 16-of-27 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns, finishing his junior year with 2,871 passing yards for the third-best total in school history. His 3,890 total yards on the year set a Nebraska record.
The Huskers ended the day with 443 yards of total offense against the Bulldogs, but Georgia responded with 589 yards of its own, including 427 yards and five touchdown passes from quarterback Aaron Murray. Running back Todd Gurley added 119 yards and a score on the ground to lead a UGA attack that managed 160 rushing yards.
Murray's pass on the first play of the fourth quarter went for a 24-yard touchdown to Keith Marshall to give UGA a 38-31 lead with 14:52 left, after the two teams entered the final quarter tied at 31.
Georgia's defense then forced a three-and-out on the Huskers' first drive of the fourth quarter. UGA started the next drive at its own 15 and faced a 3rd-and-12 from the 13. But Murray hit Chris Conley on a short route across the middle and the speedster raced 87 yards untouched down the middle of the field for the game's final score with 11:03 left. The play was the longest from scrimmage by a Husker opponent in a bowl game, and the third-longest touchdown pass ever against Nebraska.
Nebraska had two more chances to answer in the final quarter, and drove into Georgia territory on both drives before being turned away.
Georgia's special teams opened the scoring with a safety on a blocked punt just 3:21 into the game. The Bulldogs added a 29-yard pass from Murray to Arthur Lynch on the ensuing drive to take a 9-0 lead with 7:54 left in the first quarter.
Martinez and the Huskers answered with a seven-play, 75-yard drive capped by Jamal Turner's 14-yard touchdown catch with 4:42 left. Turner finished with three receptions for 22 yards on the day.
The Huskers took their first lead of the game on Georgia's next drive, as senior linebacker Will Compton made an outstanding interception on a screen pass from Murray. Compton raced 24 yards to the end zone with his first career interception to put the Huskers up 14-9 with 4:15 left in the opening quarter. Compton added a team-high nine tackles for the Blackshirts on the day.
Georgia struck quickly to regain the lead on its next drive, as Murray heaved a 75-yard touchdown pass to Tavarres King on the first play of the ensuing drive. Husker defensive back Andrew Green was in perfect position to bat the ball away, but was unable to knock it down as it fell into King's hands. King closed the day with three catches for 104 yards for the Bulldogs as one of two UGA receivers to cross the century mark.
Georgia took a 16-14 lead to the second quarter and pushed the lead back to nine on Gurley's 24-yard touchdown run. Bulldog defender Damian Swann set up UGA with a short field after pulling down the first of his two interceptions of Martinez in the game.
The Huskers responded with a 39-yard field goal from Brett Maher to cut the Georgia lead to 23-17 with 8:48 left in the half. The field goal also gave Maher NU's single-season scoring record by a kicker. He added two more extra points in the game to finish his senior year with 119, eclipsing Kris Brown's previous school mark of 116 points in 1997.
The Blackshirts stopped the Bulldogs on the ensuing drive and Burkhead took over.
After Burkhead carried three straight times for a total of 13 yards to open the drive, Martinez found Kenny Bell for a 35-yard completion down the middle of the field.
After a one-yard dive by Ameer Abdullah and a tack-on 11-yard facemask penalty by the Bulldogs, Martinez found Burkhead wide open down the middle for the go-ahead touchdown. Maher's extra point sent the Huskers to halftime with a 24-23 lead.
Nebraska started the second half with the ball and immediately mounted the game's most sustained drive. Burkhead carried six times for 18 yards on the march, including a two-yard plunge for paydirt to give NU a 31-23 edge with 9:36 left in the third quarter. Martinez also carried three times for 16 yards on the drive, while completing two passes for 17 yards to Bell, who finished with four catches for 60 yards on the day.
Abdullah added the biggest play of the drive with his nifty 26-yard burst from the middle to the left side. The I-back finished the game with seven carries for 48 yards, and closed the season with 1,137 rushing yards - the sixth-most by a sophomore in Husker history.
But Nebraska's lead was short-lived, as Georgia answered with a five-play, 79-yard drive capped by Murray's 49-yard scoring strike to Conley. Conley finished with a game-high 136 receiving yards and two touchdowns on his two catches. Murray's two-point conversion pass to Rhett McGowan tied the game at 31 with 7:20 left in the quarter.
The two defenses took control for the remainder of the third quarter, before Georgia produced the game's two decisive touchdown passes in the final 15 minutes.