The much-anticipated TaxSlayer Bowl did not go as planned for the Nittany Lions and their loyal traveling fanbase. Penn State entered the game after a middling 7-5 season, but wanted to make a statement with a signature win over a 9-3 Georgia team with interims scattered throughout its coaching staff. An early injury to Christian Hackenberg started a vicious cycle of short offensive drives and worn-out defensive players — eerily reminiscent to the team’s play under former offensive coordinator John Donovan. But redshirt freshman backup Trace McSorely refused to back down. Though his play was inspiring, it just wasn’t enough. A potential game-tying Hail Mary fell to the ground as time expired, and the Lions fell 24-17.
How it Happened
The first drive of the game was the highlight of the first quarter. Penn State marched down the field with the help of three consecutive first down passes to Godwin, Lewis, and Hamilton, but the drive was thwarted deep in Georgia territory. Unsuccessful plays and a false start brought up 3rd and 18, where Hackenberg was hit and threw a ball that Saquon Barkley tipped to a defender. Georgia turned the takeaway into points, as an efficient drive ended with a field goal.
From that point on, the first quarter was a lot of three-and-outs and a lot of punting. Each team’s defense looked as good as it had all season, especially going against struggling offenses. Also, each team punted from inside their opponents’ territory on 4th and short. The first quarter ended ingloriously with a 3-0 Georgia lead.
The second quarter was a little more of the same — each team traded three-and-outs, until Chris Godwin took over for Penn State. He broke the 1,000 yard mark for the season as a big gain brought his team into the redzone, but the team was forced to accept a field goal and tie the game. Also on that drive, Hackenberg left the game after taking a low hit. Trace McSorley came in in relief. It was announced at halftime that Hackenberg wouldn’t return, and his day and season came to an end.
— Onward State (@OnwardState) January 2, 2016
Georgia responded on its next drive with two key plays — a big rush from Isaiah McKenzie and a trick play for a touchdown. Receiver Terry Godwin took the snap in the Wildcat and instead of running, found a wide-open Malcolm Mitchell for a 44-yard score and a 10-3 lead.
With McSorley at the helm, Penn State’s offense struggled as the half ended. Georgia rode its defense’s momentum into a nice two-minute drill. A minute-and-a-half drive ended with a touchdown to the Bulldogs’ Godwin, as Penn State took over with 24 seconds left. It ended the half down 17-3.
The third quarter started less than ideally, as Georgia had a solid possession, then Penn State went three-and-out as McSorley continued to struggle, then Georgia had another solid possession that ended with no points. The theme continued for a while: Penn State didn’t look good, but not so bad that it couldn’t compete. Georgia looked like the much better team, but couldn’t finish drives once it passed midfield. That changed when it took the momentum of this fourth-down stop:
The seas parted for Georgia on that last fourth down. https://t.co/ehFVk9Fv53
— Onward State (@OnwardState) January 2, 2016
And let Michel carry his team (and literally carry Garrett Sickels) into the end zone. Georgia took a 24-3 lead towards the end of the third quarter. The first play of the fourth quarter was a bullet to Geno Lewis in the endzone, who got his toe down to make the score 24-10.
Georgia was stopped a few more times, and McSorely made it a ball game with another fourth-down conversion to Lewis followed by a touchdown strike to Hamilton. After starting off the fourth quarter down by 21 points, Penn State clawed back to only trail 24-17. After that drive, Georgia marched all the way to Penn State’s 25-yard line. Faced with a fourth and short situation, the Bulldogs kept the offense on the field to try and seal the game, but Marshall was met by Austin Johnson in the backfield, giving Penn State possession with no timeouts remaining. A questionable series of play calls forced McSorely to launch a Hail Mary with time expiring, but the heave would fall to the ground, ending the game.
Player Of The Game
Though his statistics weren’t eye-popping, backup quarterback Trace McSorely earns Player of the Game honors after stepping up and facing adversity with starter Christian Hackenberg relegated to the sideline with injury. He became comfortable as the game wore on, throwing his first and second career touchdown passes while bringing Penn State a touchdown short of Georgia’s lead. It speaks volumes about his character, and proves that the time spent learning behind Christian Hackenberg didn’t go wasted.
With the season coming to an end, fans can set their sights to the 2016 Blue-White Game at Beaver Stadium on April 16.