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TaxSlayer Bowl Preview and Prediction: Penn State vs. Georgia

Carl Nassib

Carl Nassib

The last and only time Penn State and Georgia played there was a national championship on the line. Clearly, the stakes are far less rewarding this time around as the two prepare to help kick off the Jan. 2 bowl action. Penn State and Georgia each struggled on offense this season, so fans tuning in should expect quite a good defensive battle between the Nittany Lions and Bulldogs. They also will witness one of the best uniform combinations on the field this bowl season, as Penn State and Georgia have some of the best ensembles in the game. Getting them on the same field will be quite a treat for the eyes, which is good, because the offenses may not be.

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TaxSlayer Bowl: Penn State vs. Georgia (Jacksonville, Fla.)

Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET (Saturday)


Spread: Georgia -6.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Can either team establish an offensive rhythm?

It would be unwise to expect much of an offensive showcase when Penn State and Georgia take the field in Jacksonville. Both the Nittany Lions and Bulldogs are strong on defense and neither team managed to have much to be proud about on offense this fall outside of a few exceptions (Penn State running back Saquon Barkley and Georgia running back Sony Michel for examples).

Penn State comes into this game ranked 106th in total offense, which is why head coach James Franklin has made the decision to cut loose offensive coordinator John Donovan and hire Fordham head coach Joe Moorhead to lead his attack in 2016 (Moorhead will not coach in the bowl game). Georgia was slightly better with the nation's 77th-ranked total offense, but the Bulldogs ranked 86th in scoring (Penn State ranked 101st). Given that Penn State and Georgia both rely heavily on their defenses, it looks like it could be tough for either team to generate a tremendous amount of offense.

2. How organized and prepared will Georgia be?

Georgia's coaching staff has been a bit shuffled since it last played a game. Mark Richt was let go as head coach and he has already accepted a new job at Miami. Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt left for the same position at Alabama. Linebackers coach Mike Ekeler is also out the door and even interim head coach Bryan McClendon will head to another SEC school (co-offensive coordinator for Will Muschamp at South Carolina) after this game. While this may not exactly affect the focus of Georgia's staff and players in preparing for their bowl game, it is something to keep in mind as coaches attempt to make up for the sudden losses and try to keep things rolling for one final game.

3. Can Christain Hackenberg give Penn State an advantage at quarterback?

The ups and downs (mostly downs) of Hackenberg have been well-documented at this point, and there is no question the offensive line will be tasked with trying to keep him on his two feet often enough against Georgia to make some plays. That has been a concern, but when Hackenberg has time to breath and process what is happening in front of him, he has shown the ability to make some nice plays for Penn State. The supporting cast around him at skill positions can step it up a bit and catch some more passes when the ball hits them in their hands, but Hackenberg has the potential to be a game-changer as Georgia's quarterback situation remains complicated.

Final Analysis

Defense will be the key in the TaxSlayer Bowl for Penn State and Georgia. With Penn State bringing a solid defensive front anchored with award-winning Carl Nassib, Penn State's defensive line will be in position to shut down some running lanes and passing opportunities. But Penn State's offensive line may be the weak link in this matchup, and an area where Georgia can create an advantage. Another question may be the motivation for the players. Will Georgia be negatively affected by the coaching changes going on? If so, will that cost the Bulldogs against Penn State? Don't expect that to be much of an issue, and look for Georgia to slug its way to a hard-fought victory.

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Prediction: Georgia 23, Penn State 20

— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.