Nationals

Georgia upbeat after 45-31 win over Nebraska

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Georgia upbeat after 45-31 win over Nebraska

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) For each of its previous two bowl trips, Georgia left the field shrouded in the uncomfortable feelings of a season-ending loss.

While this offseason could certainly feature some big changes to its roster, it will at least begin on a high note.

A month removed from missing a berth in the BCS title game because of a narrow loss to Alabama, the sixth-ranked Bulldogs rode junior quarterback Aaron Murray's five touchdown passes to a 45-31 victory over No. 23 Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl on Tuesday.

Murray and fellow underclassman Jarvis Jones could certainly jump to the NFL this offseason, but for one more game Bulldogs' fans got to see a championship-caliber team intact.

``Last year we went 0-2 and win 10 in a row, but we can't finish that season out. And this year we had another really good season, win the East, and we didn't win the SEC championship, but we certainly performed a lot better,'' Bulldogs' coach Mark Richt said. ``So now we wanted to win this bowl, to just maybe prove to ourselves that we are one of the better teams in the country.''

Murray's five touchdowns, including two in the fourth quarter, set a Georgia bowl record.

He 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.''

He downplayed questions about his future.

``The future - I don't know what's going to happen,'' he said. ``I'm just enjoying the moment right now.''

Jones said any regrets about the Alabama loss are gone now.

``I think it speaks for itself,'' he said. ``The SEC game was a couple of weeks ago. We did what we can and we lost. We came up kind of short. And it was definitely a game that we had the opportunity to win. But you can't take away from the day. We came out here and we executed.

``We gave our seniors the opportunity to leave here with a win and a bowl game, and it's definitely something we look forward to and something we'll remember for a long time.''

Nebraska (10-4) lost its third consecutive bowl game, and finished the season with two straight woeful defensive performances, losing 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.

Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez had two interceptions and two touchdown passes and Rex Burkhead rushed for 140 yards in his final college game.

But Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said the efficiency of Murray and Georgia in converting 12 of 17 third-down opportunities 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.

Richt, trailed by questions about his team's focus following its loss to Alabama in the SEC championship game, thinks his team made a statement.

``We wanted to win this game to prove to ourselves that we are one of the better teams in the country,'' he 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 finished with 443 yards of total offense, 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 to finish with a record 14.5 for the season. Damian Swann had both of Georgia's interceptions.

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 over the middle and he outran the Cornhuskers defenders for an 87-yard score.

Conley also scored on a 49-yard touchdown catch that tied 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 on 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 on Murray interceptions as the nation's top-ranked passing defense crowded Georgia's receivers and disguised its coverage schemes.

Gurley helped open things up, though, rushing for 81 yards in the opening 30 minutes.

Nebraska also allowed Georgia three sacks, thwarting some promising drives.

Nebraska's defense didn't need long to force the game's first turnover, picking off Murray on Georgia's opening drive of the game.

The Cornhuskers went three-and-out on their first possession.

But Brett Maher's punt was blocked by the Bulldogs' Shawn Williams. There was a scramble for the ball in the end zone before 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 on Murray's 29-yard touchdown pass to tight end Arthur Lynch.

Nebraska's offense finally got going on its next possession, scoring on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Martinez to Jamal Turner.

The Cornhuskers' defense made it 14-9 when linebacker Will Compton came up with their second interception of 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.''

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Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter athttp://www.twitter.com/khightower .

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Fresh round of cuts helps Nationals Opening Day roster take shape

Fresh round of cuts helps Nationals Opening Day roster take shape

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The Opening Day roster became much clearer Saturday following a slew of player moves by the Nationals.

Right-handed pitcher Joe Ross was optioned to Triple-A Fresno. After consideration of using Ross in the bullpen, the organization decided to send him to Triple A and stretch him out there. Manager Davey Martinez said they view Ross as a starter now and in the future.

Catcher Spencer Kieboom and right-handed starter Erick Fedde will go to Double-A Harrisburg. This is the first instance of a decision based on the change in Triple-A affiliation. The Nationals switched from Syracuse to Fresno in the offseason -- a move they did not have complete control of. So, Kieboom and Fedde will go to Harrisburg in order to be readily available should something happen to a player on the 25-man roster during the opening homestand.

Prospect Carter Kieboom, right-handed starter Henderson Alvarez, right-handed reliever Aaron Barrett, right-handed reliever Scott Copeland and left-handed reliever Vidal Nuno have been reassigned to minor-league camp.

Carter Kieboom impressed at the plate throughout the spring. He continues to learn second base after sliding over from his traditional shortstop position. Barrett takes another step in his comeback following Tommy John surgery and a fractured elbow. Martinez said he thinks Barrett will help the parent club at some point this season.

Washington has three spring training games remaining. Patrick Corbin and Joe Ross pitch in split-squad games Sunday. Monday, the team is back in the District for its final game of the exhibition season. The season opener is Thursday, March 28.

This round of cuts drops the team’s options to 30 players. Koda Glover (forearm), Howie Kendrick (hamstring) and Michael A. Taylor (hip/knee) are unlikely to be ready for Opening Day. That trio appears heading for the injured list. Which leaves two bench spots among utility player Adrian Sanchez, outfielder Andrew Stevenson or first baseman, and out-of-nowhere minor-leaguer, Jake Noll until Taylor and Kendrick are ready. Two bullpen spots are available to Wander Suero, Justin Miller and Austen Williams in that alignment.

The Nationals could keep all three relievers for Opening Day. That would give them a bench of catcher Kurt Suzuki, utility player Wilmer Difo, first baseman Matt Adams, and likely Stevenson as the fourth outfielder.

Another wrinkle: reliever Kyle Barraclough, who has a 5.19 ERA and has allowed three home runs in 8 ⅔ innings, still has options. Sending him down would be a significant pivot after the organization often touted him as one of its featured relievers.

Last, multiple off-days to start the season play into this equation. If the Nationals choose a smaller bullpen group, it will have more time than usual to recover. What we know is these players are coming to play Thursday:

Starting pitchers:
Max Scherzer
Stephen Strasburg
Patrick Corbin (L)
Anibal Sanchez
Jeremy Hellickson

Relievers:
Tony Sipp (L)
Matt Grace (L)
Wander Suero
Trevor Rosenthal
Sean Doolittle (L)

Position players:
Yan Gomes (C)
Kurt Suzuki (C)
Ryan Zimmerman (1B)
Brian Dozier (2B)
Trea Turner (SS)
Anthony Rendon (3B)
Adam Eaton (RF)
Victor Robles (CF)
Juan Soto (LF)
Wilmer Difo (Utility)
Matt Adams (1B)

A few decisions remain to determine who will join them.

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Davey Martinez reveals the top -- and bottom -- of his lineup

Davey Martinez reveals the top -- and bottom -- of his lineup

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- We have a decision: Adam Eaton will leadoff, Trea Turner will hit second.

And, Victor Robles will reside at the bottom of the order in the ninth spot. Nationals manager Davey Martinez waffled during the spring about how to handle the top of the lineup. He recently made a decision, but declined to reveal it until asked again Saturday.

“After running all the numbers, I kind of like it,” Martinez said. “I like the fact he’s the first hitter they face. He’s a pest. I like the fact that he goes up there and sometimes gives 7-, 8-pitch at-bats, 9-pitch at-bats. And him hitting in front of Trea...Trea can hit and can drive in runs as well, so, having Robles hitting ninth, Eaton one, Trea two, that’s a pretty good combination.”

Both Eaton and Turner have led off the majority of their careers. Both would prefer to leadoff if given a straight choice. Here, Martinez decided for them.

A natural question is how such a structure would influence Turner’s opportunities to steal with either Juan Soto or Anthony Rendon right behind him. Martinez said it should have no bearing. Turner can just go.

“We want him to go,” Martinez said. “I think his biggest fear is maybe hitting in front of Anthony and Soto, but that shouldn’t deter what you do. We want him to steal bases.”

Robles is often going to hit ninth in order to align with Eaton and Turner. Martinez argues there is only one time when a player is the actual “leadoff” hitter. After that, the lineup churn begins.

So, here’s an Opening Day projection:


Eaton (L)
Turner
Soto (L)
Rendon
Zimmerman
Dozier
Gomes
Scherzer
Robles

One possible glitch is the catcher hitting in front of the pitcher. That could lead to situations where the pitcher is moving a runner, and the runner happens to be a catcher. Though, Gomes and Kurt Suzuki are above-average runners for their position.

Martinez said more information on the how and why of this decision is to come.

“Just what’s best as a whole lineup-wise, construction-wise,” Martinez said. “You’ll know more Opening Day why we want to do it, but I like Adam leading off.”

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