The Penn State Nittany Lions will take on the Georgia Bulldogs in the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl at Everbank Field in Jacksonville, Florida early on Saturday, January 2. The matchup represents a pairing of two squads who had much lofty hopes heading into the 2015 season.
Penn State will come in at 7-5, and the Bulldogs come into the early-January bowl with a respectable mark of 9-3. Georgia started 2015 with a stacked fleet of talented running backs, only to lose Heisman Trophy-favorite Nick Chubb to a gruesome knee injury in a mid-October loss at Tennessee.
The squad rebounded admirably in the weeks since, going 5-1 to complete the season, highlighted by a historically embarrassing loss in The Swap against the Florida Gators on Halloween. The Bulldogs finished the year with the eighth-ranked defense overall and the first-ranked defense in all of college football against the pass.
These impressive statistics make it a bit more puzzling as to why longtime head coach Mark Richt was unceremoniously dismissed following the final game after a decade and a of solid service in Athens. He quickly landed in Miami, where he will be the head coach of the Hurricanes moving forward. The Bulldogs recently promoted Kirby Smart to the coveted position.
Penn State had a season to both forget and remember. The 2015 campaign featured a five-game winning streak and a very impressive 39-0 beat down of Illinois on Halloween, but they lost at Temple to begin the season and finished out the year 0-3 against Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State.
By the numbers, this game will match Penn State’s anemic 103rd-ranked overall offensive “attack” versus Georgia’s 74th-ranked offensive “assault.” For two squads known for stockpiling athletes on the advancing side of the football and churning out huge point totals against non-conference opponents, these marks are surprising on both fronts. A lot of points have been scored so far this bowl season, including a handful of games that eclipsed the Las Vegas total point prediction by a dozen or so. The smart money is on this one staying below 50.
How will this one unfold? Everything points towards the Georgia Bulldogs being able to control the time of possession and put Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg in a lot of third and long situations. If the Junior is indeed entertaining ideas of heading to the professional level next year, he will have to have a very strong game on Saturday order to give himself a chance of getting drafted in the top few rounds. Prediction: Penn State 18 Georgia 26