Terry Godwin

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Kirby Smart sends Alabama to SEC title game as Georgia upsets No. 9 Auburn

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Kirby Smart no longer coaches for Alabama, just as Maurice Smith no longer plays for them. But a former Tide coach and player did a major favor for their former team as Georgia upended No. 9 Auburn 13-7 in Athens. The loss dropped Auburn to 5-2 in SEC play, thereby clinching the SEC West championship for the undefeated Tide.

Of far more importance, of course, for Smart is what this means for his new team. The win sends Georgia (6-4, 4-4 SEC) to a bowl game, extending the program’s streak to 20 consecutive seasons. It’s Smart’s first win over a top-10 team, and the program’s first since beating a similarly-ranked No. 9 Auburn team in 2014. And it provides an image of what this program wants to become under Smart, an image for the new staff to point players, fans and recruits to and say “this is where we’re going, now hop aboard.”

It didn’t look that way through one half, though. Georgia’s offense was stuck in mud and the defense played well but still permitted 109 rushing yards and the game’s only score, a 3-yard Kerryon Johnson rush with 28 seconds left in the first quarter.

But Smart’s defense completely smothered Auburn in the second half.

The half started when, after two incomplete passes, Auburn quarterback Sean White fired an interception directly into Smith’s gut, who returned the ball 34 yards for a game-tying touchdown.

Every other Auburn possession ended after just three plays except the final one. And that one only lasted four because the Tigers ran out of time to punt. When accounting for Smith’s 34-yard return and the seven points it produced, Auburn’s second half produced a net of minus-2 yards and minus-7 points.

That’s not to say the Georgia offense found success against its Auburn counterparts, however. The Bulldogs never found the end zone, but two Rodrigo Blankenship field goals — a 45-yarder at the 13:44 mark of the fourth quarter and a 21-yard chip shot with 2:25 to play — on the heels of 13- and 14-play drives provided enough offense.

And, unlike Auburn, Georgia’s offense avoided the crucial mistake. Freshman Jacob Eason completed 2o-of-31 passes for 208 yards (and narrowly missed catching a reverse pass from Terry Godwin that would’ve provided a clinching touchdown before Blankenship’s final field goal) while Nick Chubb carried 23 times for 101 yards and Sony Michel added 55 yards on 10 attempts.

The Tigers’ offensive numbers finished as ugly as their drive chart. White completed 6-of-20 passes for 27 yards and that pick six, while six Auburn rushers managed only 14 rushing yards in the second half.

With a closing kick of Louisiana-Lafayette and Georgia Tech before the bowl game, Georgia can now reasonably point toward a possible 5-game winning streak to send Smart’s first season out with a bang.

Auburn, meanwhile, must regroup after this dud and use next week’s working vacation against Alabama A&M to prepare for Alabama without a possible SEC championship on the line.

No. 9 Auburn leading Georgia in low-scoring affair

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Auburn-Georgia fashions itself as an old fashioned rivalry, and that old fashioned rivalry has an old fashioned halftime score. The 9th-ranked Tigers claim a 7-0 edge over the Bulldogs at the break in Athens.

Playing without starting running back Kamryn Pettway (leg), Auburn has taken an offense-by-committee approach, letting six different players carry the ball, four Tigers take shotgun snaps from center and two of them throw passes. Most of the offense, though, has come from the legs of backup running back Kerryon Johnson, who’s carried 15 times for 74 yards to this point. Sean White has thrown only seven times, completing four for just 19 yards.

Johnson also has the only score of the day, a 3-yard plunge with 28 seconds left in the first quarter.

As a team, Auburn has run 23 times for 109 yards.

As indicative of the goose egg on the scoreboard, Georgia’s offense has struggled to get much going thus far. Nick Chubb has rushed nine times for 39 yards and Sony Michel has added 38 yards on four attempts. Jacob Eason has completed 8-of-16 passes for 102 yards. A number of deep shots have come up on the wrong end of coin-flip pass interference calls, and the Dawgs’ best scoring chance ended in a halfback pass that Terry Godwin tossed to a wide open Auburn defensive back in Tray Matthews.

Auburn will receive to open the second half.

Strong rushing attack propels Georgia to narrow SEC East win over South Carolina

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NFL fans tuning into get a glimpse of the exceedingly rare sight of college football on a Sunday afternoon were treated to plenty of highlights from some future pro running backs but didn’t see much of an aerial attack as Georgia escaped a pesky South Carolina team 28-14 in an SEC East matchup.

The game, moved a day later than normal as the result of Hurricane Matthew hitting the Carolinas, was mostly reminiscent of the games played along the East Coast yesterday in terms of being a bit of a slog — only this time under sunny skies and near perfect weather in Columbia. Neither team’s passing offense produced anything all that memorable as both quarterbacks struggled to throw the ball for most of the afternoon.

Bulldogs freshman Jacob Eason was just 5-of-17 for a paltry 29 yards but looked great turning around and handing it off to tailbacks Sony Michel (133 yards), Nick Chubb (121 yards, two scores) and Brian Herrien (82 yards).

South Carolina was equally suspect trying to throw the ball most of the afternoon but signal-caller Perry Orth did pick things up in the second half to finish with 288 yards. The Gamecocks just couldn’t run the ball at all however, winding up with just 30 yards on a paltry 1.2 yards a carry.

The biggest play of the day may have come in dramatic fashion after Orth pulled South Carolina within a score and just under two minutes remaining. The team lined up for an onside kick but Terry Godwin had other ideas, snatching the ball out of the air and returning it 43 yards for a touchdown to make the final score look a little more comfortable than it really was.

The result brings Georgia back to .500 in the SEC East and continues to keep their slim hopes of making it to Atlanta for the league title game alive. Kirby Smart’s team will return home to face Vanderbilt between the hedges on short rest this Saturday before turning their attention to rival Florida at the end of the month.

It wasn’t exactly a pretty game between the Bulldogs and  but the rare sight of some college football on Sunday was a nice treat to have amid all the NFL action.

Georgia holds off Penn State rally for TaxSlayer Bowl victory

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Georgia (10-3) once led Penn State (7-6) 24-3 in the TaxSlayer Bowl but a furious rally by the Nittany Lions with a backup quarterback fell just shy. Georgia’s 24-17 victory was made official when a Hail Mary attempt from Trace McSorely fell incomplete at the goal line.

Georgia’s defense knocked out Penn State starting quarterback Christian Hackenberg in the first half of the game. He returned on the sideline in the second half in street clothes, giving way to backup McSorely for his first serious playing time at Penn State. It was a rough adjustment once he entered the game but McSorely and Penn State eventually got in a groove and established some momentum through the air. McSorely passed for 142 yards and two touchdowns to lead the second half rally, but Georgia had done enough to grab the win.

Georgia running back Sony Michel and Keith Marshall played a key role on the ground for the Bulldogs. Neither had a big performance, but Michel’s 85 yards and touchdown and Marshall’s 62 rushing yards came at key moments to move the first down markers in the fourth quarter and keep the clock running. Georgia’s Greyson Lambert completed just 10 of his 20 pass attempts for 115 yards, but they also seemed to be picked up at key moments when needed. Malcolm Mitchell hauled in 114 receiving yards and a touchdown, but it was receiver Terry Godwin who caught Penn State’s defense off guard for the touchdown play to Mitchell in the first half.

Georgia’s defense did more than knock Hackenberg out of the game. The run defense was well prepared for Penn State freshman running back Saquon Barkley. Barkley was limited to 69 yards on 17 carries and the Georgia defense always seemed to have a presence in the backfield to shut down any play attempting to develop laterally. Penn State’s offense did gain some juice in the second half though, and the Nittany Lions rolled up 401 yards of offense to Georgia’s 327. Penalties proved costly for Penn State though, with six penalties totaling just 39 yards, but that included a crucial 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct call on Austin Johnson on Georgia’s final offensive possession of the game to move the ball into Penn State territory.

With the win by Georgia, the SEC improves to 7-2 in bowl games this bowl season. The SEC still has a handful of games to be played, including Alabama’s national championship appearance against Clemson. The Big Ten closes out the postseason with a 5-5 record in bowl games, including a 1-3 mark against the SEC. Georgia interim head coach Bryan McClendon earned his first career bowl victory as a result of the game as well. Penn State’s James Franklin dropped to 3-2 in bowl games in his first loss since his bowl debut in 2011 with Vanderbilt.

Georgia will now turn the page as a program by ushering in the Kirby Smart era, just as soon as Smart is done with Alabama’s championship run in Tuscaloosa. Smart was on hand for the game to check out his new program. Penn State may also be turning a page depending on what happens with Hackenberg. If Hackenberg is on the move, Penn State got a glimpse of what may come in 2016 by seeing McSorely get some playing time and find himself in the offense. The two-minute drill with no timeouts left plenty of room for improvement, but McSorely was thrown into the fire for the first time for any extending playing time. If Hackenberg turns pro, McSorely will likely be the starting quarterback in 2016 for the Nittany Lions.

Georgia will open the 2016 season in Atlanta against North Carolina from the ACC in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. Penn State’s 2016 season kicks off against Kent State at home in Beaver Stadium before taking to the road to renew an in-state rivalry with Pittsburgh.

Christian Hackenberg leaves TaxSlayer Bowl with possible shoulder injury

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Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg has been beaten up over the years, but he has finally been knocked out of a game by the Georgia Bulldogs. In a defensive TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Hackenberg was knocked out of the game in the second quarter and taken to the locker room for X-rays. His return is said to be doubtful for the Nittany Lions, as Georgia leads Penn State at halftime by a 17-3 score.

With Hackenberg out of the game, at least for now, Trace McSorely has taken over the Penn State offense. That should lead to a heavier work load for freshman running back Saquon Barkley, who has carried the football nine times for 18 yards for Penn State.

Georgia has scored the only touchdowns of the game thus far. On 2nd and 8 from the Penn State 44-yard line, Georgia’s Terry Godwin unloaded on a deep pass to Malcolm Mitchell for a touchdown after the Penn State defense bit on the wildcat. The 44-yard wildcat play has been the biggest offensive highlight of the game, with both teams playing well on defense, as expected going in. Georgia’s defense has also forced the only turnover with an interception off a tipped pass from Hackenberg off Barkley on the opening drive of the game. Georgia also added a late touchdown before halftime when Greyson Lambert connected with Godwin for a 17-yard touchdown.

The way this game is going, Georgia is lining up another win for the SEC, and unless Penn State can make anything happen with a backup quarterback in the second half, it could be another double-digit victory for the SEC.

UPDATE (1:58 PM): Hackenberg has now officially been ruled out for the rest of the game.