TaxSlayer Bowl: Penn State vs. Georgia
December flew by very quickly, with lots of non-football fun activities, and a new position with a club I belong to, and as my late uncle Groucho Marx used to say, “I’d never join a club that would have me as a member.” But I’m a chronic, habitual, and pathological joiner, as it were.
I missed the opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas. I hope it was indeed that for all of you. Now, let’s get to the business at hand.
On to the game…
On Saturday, the Penn State Nittany Lions (7-5) will face the Georgia Bulldogs (9-3) in the first rematch of their only other meeting, the 1983 Sugar Bowl, in which Penn State, coached by the legendary St. Joe and led by quarterback Todd Blackledge, prevailed to win the Mythical National Championship (MNC). Thirty-three years later, the stakes are different.
St. Joe and Vince Dooley are out of the picture, as are Todd Blackledge and Herschel Walker, and so is the MNC. Now, we have a playoff system to determine a so-called real national champion, from which this game is inconsequentially far removed. In fact, nothing is at stake here but pride, with two mediocre teams, one that finished fourth in its division while the other tied for second in its division, within their respective conferences.
Penn State is now coached by James Franklin, who has as yet not shown that he can win big games; Georgia is head coachless after kicking Mark Richt out the door. At first, Richt said he would coach the bowl game, but he later reneged after accepting the coaching stint at “the U.” Georgia will be coached by Bryan McClendon, the receivers coach under Richt. Penn State seemed to specialize in playing teams with strange coaching situations this year, and the upshot is that none of us quite know what to expect when they happen.
The Road to Mediocrity for the Dawgs
Georgia was heading for glory this year — or so they thought. After kicking Steve Spurrier’s ass 52-20 in South Carolina (and probably hastening his retirement), they were riding high. Their fifth game of the season was to be a big one against Alabama, and they went into the game as favorites. Nick Saban and company proved that the Bulldogs were mere bullpups, cruelly dispatching their season hopes in one fell 38-10 swoop.
The Pups did not recover from that disappointing performance, losing the following week at Tennessee 38-31. They lost even more than this rivalry game, though, as Nick Chubb, the starting Georgia running back and anointed successor to Todd Gurley, went down for the count — and for the season — against the Vols.
The following week, they managed to pull out an ugly 9-6 win over Missouri, and then all hell broke loose in the very stadium turf on which the Nittany Lions will square off against the Bulldogs, as Florida under new head coach Jim McElwain, kicked the crap out of the Dawgs, 27-3. That game, affectionately nicknamed “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” would prove to be Mark Richt’s swan song as Georgia head coach, even though they won out from there, beating Kentucky, Auburn, Georgia Southern, and Georgia Tech, all except Kentucky by a touchdown or less.
Georgia wound up with a 9-3 record, which was good enough for a second-place tie in the SEC East. That wouldn’t be indicative of a horrible team, but looking under the hood gives us a different clue. The Bulldogs’ only really decent win of the year was that Gamecocks game, against a team that would have its share of problems in 2015. Georgia was soundly clocked by the two ranked teams it played, and they lost to Tennessee, a team that struggled to an 8-4 record. So, no reason to fear this SEC powerhouse that ain’t!
But WE ARE! (Aren’t we?)
You all know the story of the Nittany Lions’ season, and how we got to 7-5, so let me not bore you with that. And you also know James Franklin’s poor record against ranked teams and Power Five teams in general. So, I won’t piss you off by regurgitating that. I think it is clear by now that we’re not facing a ranked team, and that should give us reasons for some appropriate optimism in this game.
You have to always come back to the offensive line when making any assessment of Penn State’s offense, which was flat-out abysmal in 2015. I believe that the Nittany Lions will sink or swim in this game based on the good or bad fortunes of the offensive line. However, once again, we’re dealing with the unknown, with John Donovan being fired as offensive coordinator. We know that they’re bad, but different coaching will bring different schemata, and this will be an interim situation. Donovan’s replacement, newly hired John Moorhead, late of Fordham, will not be coaching the game.
But still, how much can be done with such a crappy unit in the short time since Donovan’s dismissal? In fact, how much can ever be done when the personnel just aren’t present to do the job. The Five Traffic Cones improved very little during the year, so I don’t expect any quantum leaps for them in this game.
The vaunted defense has been known to let runners get outside and eat up yards in the process. Sony Michel, Georgia’s currently extant top running back is a very good one, ending the season with 1,076 on 199 carries with seven touchdowns, after replacing Nick Chubb as starter in mid-season. This former five-star recruit could start just about anywhere. He’s well armed with speed and should be considered dangerous.
Passing is a problem for Georgia. Greyson Lambert, who transferred from Virginia, looked for all the world like a legitimate SEC quarterback for the first three games of the 2015 campaign — and then the bottom fell out. The rest of the season he was crappy. The passing game has been nonexistent at times for Georgia. The Penn State pass rush against a relatively small Georgia offensive line will limit Lambert’s passing opportunities. Penn State would no doubt like to shut down the run to force the Bulldogs to use the pass, but that’s going to be a tall order against the likes of Michel.
Penn State has its own secret agent man in the form of freshman running back Saquon Barkley. He’ll have to make most of his yards on his own, as he can expect little help from the Traffic Cones. As for projected short-timer Christian Hackenberg, the passing opportunities will be scarce. Although Georgia has recorded only 11 sacks this year, they led the nation in passing yards allowed, with 146.1. They’re #8 in team pass efficiency defense. So, it will require the best effort of Barkley, Hackenberg, and the Traffic Cones to be able to generate any kind of offense at all. I think we’ll be seeing a lot of our motley kickers.
This is always a strange time in Florida. Having lived here in the Orlando area for the past 40 years, I have to say I still know not what to expect in January. Some years we get hard freezes and some years we get none. Recently, it’s been 85º every day — not typical Christmas season weather, even in North and Central Florida.
Given that background, a cold front is supposed to be whipping through the area on New Year’s Day. While the high in Jacksonville is projected at 82º on Thursday, Friday’s high is 70º and Saturday’s forecast high is a mere 58º, with some morning showers to boot.
Advantage? None, but the fans won’t be happy with their Florida trip ruined by a day that will look like it’s gonna snow.
Official Turkey Poop Prediction
Well, it’s that time, for the last time this year. Due to some itchiness, I took a double dose of the antihistamine Zyrtec, which has been known to make me drowsy. In fact, I can barely keep my eyes open as I write this. Accordingly, I better get my Official Turkey Poop Prediction done and on the street before I poop out completely.
As you well know, this is a noon kickoff, and those cause intense suckage for Penn State. Compounding the early start is the confounding notion that no one ever plays much defense in inconsequential bowl games. It’s all about the party. It’s also all about whether Christian Hackenberg want to make one final good showing to NFL scouts..
The line for this game hasn’t moved much, and I guess that is because of all the unknowns involved, especially with respect to who’s coaching what, which forces me to pull one straight out of my ass. The Bulldogs are favored by six points with an over/under of 42, which suggests a 24-18 win for the Dawgs. I’m thinking that we’ll see field goals for PSU but Georgia will be able to score TDs. As I say, straight out of my ass: Georgia 24, Penn State 16. Take the under.
This turkey would like to take this opportunity to thank all you readers for a great season of comments and camaraderie — lots of great opinions and analyses. Celebrate safely, and don’t destroy any livers in the process. Happy New Year to you and yours!
I’ll be back in 2016 with a post-game recap.