Georgia 24, Penn State 17
The TaxSlayer.com Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida came down to the wire, amazingly enough, as the mighty Penn State Nittany Lions (7-6, 4-4 Big Ten) didn’t show up in the first half and then lost their starting quarterback. The valiant comeback attempt, driven by seldom used backup quarterback Trace McSorley in conjunction with some great pass receivers, fell short as a final Hail Mary pass attempt was batted to the turf by victorious Georgia Bulldogs (10-3, 5-3 SEC) defenders.
The injury to Christian Hackenberg, who indeed announced immediately after the game that he would be entering the NFL Draft, was minor, diagnosed as a shoulder sprain. After testing his arm valiantly with a 51-yard completion to Chris Godwin, he got to enjoy the second half, smiling in civvies on the sideline while Trace McSorley got some sorley [sic – sorrey… ok, enough, already!] needed reps under real game conditions. In fact, he threw more than twice as many passes in this fractional game appearance than he had in the 12 preceding games.
Next year’s putative starter at quarterback made a good showing, eventually leading the “almost” comeback. His stat line was 14-27 for 142 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Before his departure, Hack had thrown 14 and completed 8 for 139 yards, with one interception and no touchdowns. Between them, they spread the ball around to six receivers, with the Lions’ share going to Chris Godwin, with six receptions, and DeSean Hamilton and Saquon Barkley, who each had five. Geno Lewis had three, including a magical touchdown pass from McSorley that threaded the needle between red-clad defenders.
But the Lions didn’t show up in the first half. Yeah, noon starts strike again. Georgia corralled the Penn State rushing game, although Saquon Barkley wound up with 75 yards on 17 carries, of which 29 yards occurred on one run. On the other side, Sony Michel was not exactly dominant, but dominant enough, rushing 20 times for 85 net yards and a touchdown. His long run was 28 yards. The Bulldogs took a 17-3 margin into the locker room.
Did the vaunted Penn State defense show up? Not particularly. They had a decent first quarter before Sony Michel started wearing them down. The vaunted Georgia offensive line proved to be the better vaunted unit of the two. So much for vaunts.
The usual third down woes plagued the Nittany Lions. As the second-worst third down conversion team in the nation, they didn’t improve their stats, converting a paltry four of eighteen. Oy vey!
The Five Traffic Cones weren’t absolutely awful, which is about the best that can be expected from this unit. Although they didn’t give up any sacks, they were redeemed in one case by a nifty, left-handed throw-away by Hack while he was on the verge of a sure take-down.
I guess I don’t need to say anything more about the game.
So, what happens to the Nittany Lions now? Christian Hackenberg, Austin Johnson, Carl Nassib, and Greg Zettel are pretty sure NFL Draft picks. The defensive front will have to be retooled, and there’ll be a competition for starting quarterback among the three candidates, although Trace McSorley surley [not again — stopp-pah!] has the inside track after his performance in this game.
A new offensive coordinator, Joe Moorhead, will be taking over from the deposed and exiled John Donovan, but the big question is, will quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne and offensive line coach Herb Hand be retained? How could Moorhead call the offense his own otherwise?
And how about Charles Huff? His special teams work seems to leave a lot of room for improvement. Is it time for James Franklin to clean house throughout? (Except, maybe, for vaunted defensive coordinator (Head Vaunt) Bob Shoop?)
Interestingly enough, Christian Hackenberg publicly thanked just about everybody but James Franklin, reports “my friend” David Jones of PennLive.com. That was certainly a conspicuous and deliberate omission, as Hack thanked Donovan, Rahne, and everybody else at Penn State except possibly the guy who melted down the Paterno statue.
Well, I’ll leave the speculation about next year and whether there is any potential for improvement to a later post.
Thanks to everybody for a great season. I’ll be a little sparse and off-topic until spring football cranks up. In the meanwhile, I wish you all the very best in 2016!