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.
Georgia linebacker Tim Kimbrough will not play in the Bulldogs’ bowl game next week. Georgia has suspended the team’s third-leading tackler for the TaxSlayer Bowl for a violation of team rules. The extent of the violations were not disclosed. It remains to be seen if the junior will face any further discipline by new Georgia head coach Kirby Smart.
“Right now it’s just this game,” Georgia interim head coach Bryan McClendon said after practice Monday, according to Athens Banner-Herald. “Kind of just how I told him, anything beyond this game is up for coach Smart.”
Kimbrough recorded 67 tackles this season for Georgia’s defense. He also had one sack and forced a fumble this season for Georgia’s typically solid defense. Kimbrough’s absence will lead to more snaps for freshman Natrez Patrick. Patrick appeared in 10 games this season, in which he recorded 18 tackles in backup duty. He recorded a season-high four tackles against Georgia Tech in the final game of the regular season, including three solo tackles.
Georgia will also be playing slightly shorthanded at running back. Backup running back Brendan Douglas will be out of action for the game against Penn State as he rehabs his wrist following surgery. The good news for Georgia is they have their top two running backs in the fold with Sony Michel and Keith Marshall ready to go.
Why have the NCAA’s asinine rules survived decade after decade and well beyond their usefulness? Perhaps because so many people outside the blue disc’s Indianapolis headquarters and compliance offices on campuses across the country are so interested in helping them.
Exhibit A: Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.
On Thursday, Deal signed into law a bill making the crime of enticing athletes into breaking NCAA rules in exchange for money punishable by up to a full year in the slammer. It’s known as House Bill 3, or the Todd Gurley bill.
Gurley, of course, was the fabulously talented running back who had the middle of his junior season detonated with a four-game suspension for accepting more than $3,000 for autographed memorabilia.
So, should an enterprising autograph dealer secure some signed Keith Marshall helmets next year, Marshall could be on the sidelines while Johnny Autograph sits in jail.
But wait, there’s more.
“We plugged it into a law about alumni being overzealous,” state Rep. Barry Fleming, the driving force behind the law, told the Associated Press. “Now it’s a misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature. It can be up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
“On the civil side, the university can sue the person who does this for any damages sustained, like losing a TV contract, not going to bowl games.”
Who, exactly, are we protecting here?
The Georgia Bulldogs gave rising star running back Nick Chubb just one carry before removing him from the game. The Bulldogs also held out Keith Marshall and Sony Michel for the game due to injuries. We all know Georgia is going to have a strong running game, so there was no real need to put anyone at risk in the spring game. That allowed for a good opportunity for the passing game to be put to the test.
Georgia has no Aaron Murray to count on this season, but that does not necessarily mean the Bulldogs have a problem at quarterback. Saturday afternoon’s spring game in Athens put all three options to work. Faton Bauta had a particularly solid afternoon with good timing with his receivers but did not show off much deep down field. Brice Ramsey showed off a solid arm but lacked consistency with his accuracy. Jacob Park was the third man in, which likely means he will be a backup in the fall, but he played well when given the opportunity.
So, where do things stand now?
“I think it’s still a race,” Georgia head coach Mark Richt said after the game, according to Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report via Twitter. “There’s no question it’ll go through summer and fall before we settle on one.”
Not a bad way to go about it when dealing with a full-fledged quarterback situation. It is also not unexpected for Richt to see the passing game sit where it currently does. This will sort itself out over the summer leading up to the start of the 2015 season.
“Has any [QB] mastered their craft yet? No, but that’s not expected.”
Wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie had some good highlights, but a hamstring injury brought an early end to his afternoon. The severity of the injury does not figure to have any long-term impact for the fall, but he should sit out the final two practices Georgia has scheduled in the coming week.
Injury-riddled for most of the past two seasons, Keith Marshall has seen his spring practice participation this year curtailed due to injury. That, though, changed for the positive yesterday.
During Georgia’s next-to-last practice prior to Saturday’s spring game, Marshall was a full participant for the first time in nearly two weeks. The running back had been slowed by a hamstring injury suffered late last month.
“I wouldn’t say (Marshall) is 100 percent, but he did get more reps,” head coach Mark Richt said in comments distributed by the school. “He got more work than I thought he would. He did get some reps, which is good for him and good for his fellow backs. It takes a little pressure off of them.”
Richt was non-committal as to whether Marshall will play in the upcoming spring game. The Bulldogs’ spring won’t end this weekend, though, as UGA has the final two of their first practice sessions next week, meaning Marshall could still get additional work even if he doesn’t play on G-Day.
With preseason Heisman contender Nick Chubb back as a true sophomore, Marshall has become an afterthought. If he could stay healthy, though, he’d be a solid backup to Chubb or as the backup to the backup. Therein lies the rub, however.
In 2012 as a true freshman, Marshall, a four-star Rivals.com recruit rated as the No. 2 all-purpose back in the country, ran for 759 yards and eight touchdowns in 14 games. The next two seasons, he played in a total of eight games — he was limited to five in five because of a torn ACL and just three in 2014 because of lower-leg issues.