AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser

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

AP Photo/Al Goldis
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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.

No. 7 Georgia blasts South Carolina, 52-20

AP
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One is a legitimate SEC championship contender, with a two-headed rushing attack, a stable, efficient quarterback (for one night, at least) and a talented defense. The other is South Carolina.

No. 7 Georgia did everything it wanted in a 52-20 destruction of South Carolina in Athens Saturday evening. One week after briefly being pulled at Vanderbilt, senior quarterback Greyson Lambert set an FBS record for completion percentage, hitting an astounding 24-of-25 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Nick Chubb rushed 21 times for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Sony Michel added eight carries for 61 yards and a score. Keith Marshall chipped in with four carries for 19 yards and a score.

The Bulldogs’ defense, meanwhile, limited replacement quarterbacks Perry Orth and Lorenzo Nunez to a combined 3.81 yards per pass attempt and the entire Gamecocks’ offense to 4.46 yards per carry.

In short, Georgia looked every bit like a team that will play in Atlanta this December and a major bowl game in later that month or early January. South Carolina looked like a team that will once again struggle to make a bowl game.

After exchanging field goals in the first quarter, Chubb and Michel broke the game open with touchdown rushes. South Carolina briefly pulled within 17-10 after Orth rushed in from four yards out with 2:17 to go before halftime, but Lambert answered with a five-yard touchdown pass to Malcolm Mitchell with 17 seconds to go before halftime.

Georgia turned a comfortable win into a blowout in the third quarter, as Lambert hit Michel with two 11-yard touchdown passes, and Chubb added a seven-yard scoring dash with 4:13 to go in the third quarter. At that point Georgia led 45-13 and had scored touchdowns on six of its last seven possessions. The teams traded touchdowns in the fourth quarter to provide the final score.

Georgia doubled South Carolina’s first downs output, 32-16, and did the same in total yardage with 60 yards to spare – 576 to 258.

Playing for an injured Connor Mitch, Orth completed 6-of-17 passes for 66 yards and an interception, while Nunez hit 4-of-5 throws for 18 yards and led the club in rushing with 10 carries for 76 yards and a touchdown.

No. 7 Georgia handling South Carolina through one half

Associated Press
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No. 7 Georgia has used a two-pronged rushing attack and a controlled, efficient passing game to take a 24-13 lead over South Carolina into the break in Athens.

After the teams traded field goals in the first quarter, Nick Chubb put Georgia on top 10-3 with a two-yard scoring plunge at the 12:56 mark of the second quarter. Sony Michel added to the lead with a 21-yard sprint at the 7:37 mark; the two combined to rush 16 times for 115 yards. Greyson Lambert has played flawlessly, hitting 14-of-15 throws for 190 yards and a five-yard scoring strike to Malcolm Mitchell with just 17 ticks before the half.

Georgia’s three touchdown marches, all in the second quarter, covered a combined 248 yards on 24 plays; the Bulldogs take a 323-150 lead total yardage lead into the break.

South Carolina answered Georgia’s late touchdown drive with an even later score of its own, as a 51-yard Shon Carson kickoff return and a face mask penalty allowed Elliott Fry to bang in a 51-yard field goal as time expired.

South Carolina, playing without starting starter Conner Mitch, alternated between Perry Orth and Lorenzo Nunez throughout the first half. Orth saw most of the action and is the only Gamecock to toss a pass, completing 6-of-13 throws for 66 yards and rushing in from four yards out with 2:17 remaining to pull back within a score. Nunez has added another dimension to South Carolina’s attack, running point on a triple option attack and carrying twice for 19 yards. Do-it-all playmaker Pharoh Cooper stands as the Gamecocks’ leading rusher with five carries for 34 yards.

Georgia will receive to open the second half.