TaxSlayer Bowl Preview
For the second season in a row, Penn State did just enough to secure itself a bowl game matchup. The Nittany Lions are set to square off against the Georgia Bulldogs in the Taxslayer Bowl on Jan. 2. Penn State brings a 7-5 record to the table against the 9-3 Bulldogs. With former coach Mark Richt heading to Miami after being fired at the end of the regular season, Bryan McClendon will take the reins for Georgia. James Franklin has yet to record a signature win in his tenure at Penn State and a victory against a tough SEC foe may be just what he needs to jump start his campaign in Happy Valley. Here’s what to expect from both teams.
Offense: Georgia’s offense has struggled since the loss of Nick Chubb and the passing game has not found a groove all season long. Greyson Lambert doesn’t turn the ball over much -- only two interceptions on the season -- but he also doesn’t provide an explosive presence under center. The Bulldogs rely heavily on their run, and Sony Michel who has done well in the absence of Chubb. Georgia averages about 12 more yards on the ground per game than through the air.
Penn State has a better quarterback than the Bulldogs in Christian Hackenberg, but the offense and the passing game haven’t been what they should be with Hackenberg under center. Hackenberg, much like Lambert doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, but the Penn State offense doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence through the air either. On the ground the Nittany Lions are led by standout freshman Saquon Barkley who averages 6.1 yards per carry and just eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark in his last game. Both teams are inconsistent at best on offense and it will be interesting to see if any adjustments have been made with the extra time off.
Defense: As mediocre as these offenses are, these defenses are anything but mediocre. Penn State is one of the nation’s best at getting after the quarterback, recording 44 sacks on the season. A big reason for that is one of the nation’s best defensive players in Carl Nassib. Nassib has 15.5 sacks, 43 tackles and 19.5 tackles for loss this season. Nassib has been in and out of the lineup for the past couple games, but with the added time between games he should be fresh by January. Penn State defends very well against the run, giving up less than four yards per carry. Though the secondary has struggled at times for the Blue and White, overall they boast a very impressive defensive unit.
Speaking of the nation’s best, Georgia boasts the best pass defense in all of college football. Just how good is this Bulldog’s secondary? Well they have allowed only nine touchdown passes all season long and three over their last 10 games. It doesn’t seem to matter who they face, the Bulldog’s have proven they can shut down opposing quarterbacks. They aren’t slouches against the run either and as a total unit Georgia ranks eighth in the nation defensively. For both teams who have struggled offensively this season, the opposing defenses should provide strong challenges.
Coaching: James Franklin has yet to secure his signature win for Penn State and this could be just the game for him to do so. Though Georgia isn’t a ranked opponent, they are considered to be a premier team in the SEC and a win over them would be arguably the biggest win of Franklin’s tenure. On the other side, Georgia is just getting over the loss of head coach Mark Richt and quite honestly could still be feeling the effects of his loss during this game. The edge could go to Penn State here because of that, but due to the fact that the Franklin coached team has yet to win the big game, it should be very interesting to see what happens.
Prediction: Franklin needs a big win and so does Penn State, but in the end Georgia is a slightly better team and they have too much prowess on defense and will do just enough on offense to win this game. 24-14 Georgia.
Jack Milewski is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.