Georgia Bulldogs (9-3 SU, 5-7 ATS) vs. Penn State Nittany Lions (7-5 SU, 4-8 ATS)
TaxSlayer Gator Bowl Preview
Date/Time: Saturday January 2nd, 2016. 12:00PM EST
Where: EverBank Stadium Jacksonville, F.L.
by Jay, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: UGA -6.5/PSU +6.5
Over/Under Total: 42.5
For the first time in 15 years, the Georgia Bulldogs will take the field without former Head Coach Mark Richt at the helm when the Bulldogs meet the Penn State Nittany Lions in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl inside Everbank Stadium this Saturday. Richt was let go following the regular season after a 9-3 campaign. Obviously the Bulldogs did not have a bad season, but the failure to compete with the upper echelon of the SEC has been a theme for Georgia in recent years under Richt. While Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will take over the team in 2016 and look to get the Bulldogs to that next level, this Saturday interim coach Bryan McClendon will look to lead the Bulldogs to their 10th win of the season.
On the other side of the field, Penn State Head Coach James Franklin is looking to better his 2014 debut that featured a 7-6 SU record. The Nittany Lions are currently 7-5 and a win in the Gator Bowl would mark their best record since 2011. Everyone realizes that it has been a tough road for the Nittany Lions after the program was nearly wiped off the map several years ago when the Paterno era came crashing down. However, Franklin has done a great job over the last two years recruiting talent to Penn State and getting the Nittany Lions back to relevance. Obviously good things are coming for Penn State if you look at how well Franklins staff has been recruiting, but a win over Georgia in the Gator Bowl could be a huge indicator that this team has truly turned the corner.
However, I do not believe people are ready to give the Nittany Lions too much credit until they prove they can score a quality victory over a quality opponent. Penn State was 0-4 SU against ranked teams this season and the majority of their victories come against teams that were way down the college football ranks. This Saturdays matchup with Georgia should be a good indicator of where this football team currently stands especially after closing out the year with 3 straight losses.
The first area that coach Franklin will have to coach up is the Penn State defense. The Nittany Lions were gashed down the stretch on the defensive side of the ball. Northwestern racked up 227 yards on the ground and the Nittany Lions also relinquished nearly another 200 on the ground to Michigan State in a blowout loss. This Saturday a tough Georgia rushing attack will test their ability to stop the run yet again. The Bulldogs suffered a big setback midway through the year when star running back Nick Chubb went down with an injury but backup Sony Michel has done a great job since taking over. Michel racked up more than 500 yards and 3 touchdowns in the Bulldogs last 4 games. Michel will be a focal point for the offense as they look to attack Penn States run defense.
Georgia quarterback Greyson Lambert has been solid this year on paper completing 64% passing for 1,844 yards with 11 scores and just 2 picks. However, it is pretty obvious that Georgia rarely throws the football just by the yardage total seen in Lamberts stats. This Georgia offense is designed to run the football and that is where their success will be determined this Saturday. On the other side of the football, Georgias defense has also had some issues at times this year a lot like Penn States defense which should make this quite the intriguing matchup.
Coach Franklin remains committed to a balance approach on offense. Despite quarterback Christian Hackenberg hitting just 53% passing, the Nittany Lions will throw the football just as often as they will run the football. WR Chris Godwin presents big play opportunity on the outside in the passing game and that demands called passing plays. However, the Nittany Lions are most efficient on the ground running the football. Freshman tailback Saquon Barkley eclipsed the 1,000 yard barrier this season with the majority of that yardage coming during the 2nd half of the season. The emergence in the running game should be a positive for a Penn State offense that will look to keep Georgias offense on the sideline by moving the chains. The question will be can Penn State capitalize on scoring opportunities and create enough big plays that results in points to beat the Bulldogs?
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I am worried about the motivation factor in this game with Georgia as they await the official start of the Kirby Smart era. I believe Georgia is clearly the better team in this matchup but that will only be proven if they come out with some intensity. Consider this a small play on Georgia -6.5!
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