By Lew Patton
Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Georgia Bulldogs
Saturday – January 2 – 11:00 AM CT
EverBank Field – Jacksonville Florida
Records Before the Game
Penn State Nittany Lions (7-5, 4-4 Big 10)
Georgia Bulldogs (9-3, 5-3 SEC)
How did they get here?
After a three-game skid to end the regular season, the Nittany Lions try to end the year on a high-note in the program’s second-ever game against the Georgia Bulldogs. The Bulldogs won four consecutive games to end the season, and they also have a chance to have a 10-win season. But the fact that they got blown out by Florida and Alabama did not sit well with Bulldog Nation, which led to Mark Richt being let go and Kirby Smart taking over. So it’s safe to say 2016 can’t get here any faster for the Bulldogs.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Penn State began the year with a loss against Temple in Philadelphia and came up short in Big Ten play against Ohio State, Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State.
But there is an opportunity for progress against a favored Georgia team that is in the midst of a coaching makeover. Mark Richt is out. Kirby Smart, the Alabama defensive coordinator, will take over when the Tide’s national championship run is over. Will the SEC school be organized and motivated for the bowl game?
Penn State is also embracing change on the offensive side of the ball. John Donovan is gone. Joe Moorhead, the ex-Fordham head coach, is the new OC and he is evaluating personnel while quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne calls the bowl game.
Can Penn State’s offense make enough plays against a Bulldogs team built around its linebacker group and its pass defense? That may be the biggest question for the Lions. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg, the junior who could be making his final appearance for Penn State, needs a big day. He got it done against Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl last year. Does No. 14 have one more clutch effort in him?
Georgia will want to win first down on both sides of the ball. Georgia’s offense struggled mightily the second half of the season. The best medicine for an offense that is having trouble moving the sticks is to gain good yardage on first down. It opens up second down for play-action opportunities. On the other side of the ball, The Bulldogs can’t afford to put Hackenberg in too many second and short situations where the rush can be slowed and Penn State can take shots down the field.
Prediction: They say defense wins games. Georgia 21, Penn State 16