Breaking Down The Bulldogs: Georgia Football Preview
Penn State will take on the Georgia Bulldogs for the first time in a very long time at the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida. That last matchup ended with a Penn State victory, then hoisting JoePa high into the air after the program’s first National Championship. This matchup certainly isn’t any championship, but it will be a win to remember for whoever comes out on top.
Georgia’s defense was the team’s shining light in what was regarded as an otherwise disappointing season. Despite injuries, the Bulldogs finished 9-3 (5-3 SEC), with losses only coming in a close game with Tennessee and two bad losses to ranked teams, Florida and Alabama. Georgia fans are much more accustomed to National Championship contention year in and year out, and so it booted defensive-minded head coach Mark Richt after the season.
The Bulldogs are one of the toughest opponents the Nittany Lions will have taken on this year, but are by no means unbeatable. Here’s an in-depth breakdown of the Georgia Bulldogs team:
Georgia not only has one of the nation’s best defenses, but also boasts an offense that is resilient despite its criticisms. With an offensive line that is quick with the first step off the line of scrimmage, the run attack was strong for the Bulldogs throughout the season despite losing star running back Nick Chubb. Despite Chubb going down, Georgia’s offense still managed to remain competent when sophomore running back Sony Michel stepped into the starting role and proved to be a solid replacement. In typical Georgia football fashion, Michel has been a bruising back in the short run game who can still burn defenders when he gets to the edge. At quarterback, Greyson Lambert leads the Bulldogs as an unsung hero. Lambert, a 6-foot-5 and 220-pound gunslinger, put together an impressive season that featured 11 touchdowns, two interceptions, 1,844 passing yards, and a solid completion percentage of 64.4. Lambert had the formidable line up front to partially thank for those stats, as he was sacked only nine times in 11 games. His game against South Carolina was one of the best performances in all of college football this year, as he completed 24 of his 25 passes for 330 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions.
Luckily for Penn State, what Lambert has in his pocket-passing ability, he doesn’t make up for with his feet. The Nittany Lions struggled against mobile quarterbacks all season, but Lambert only gained positive rushing yards in four games and none were impressive runs by any means. In terms of a receiving corps, the Georgia wideouts are not an explosive unit. Moderately consistent and lacking in electric performances, only two wideouts have had notable seasons. Fifth-year senior Malcolm Mitchell and true freshman Terry Godwin combined for more than 1,000 receiving yards, with 751 and 345 yards respectively. The stars of the Georgia offense have proven to be Michel and the offensive line, and they will need to perform well against one of the best defensive lines in the country as it plays its last game as a unit.
Like the last few opponents the Nittany Lions took on, Georgia has one of the best defenses in the nation. The back seven are largely the key to the Bulldogs’ success, and that secondary is headed by safety Dominick Sanders. He’s a versatile rising star in the SEC and has proven to be invaluable with his impressive tackling and ball skills that led to five interceptions this year. The linebacking corps is headed by UAB transfer Jake Ganus, who had 96 tackles and four tackles for losses in his first and last season as a Bulldog. A highlight for the Bulldogs is their physical outside rush. The outside linebacking corps consistently rushes quarterbacks by beating tackles out with their impressive instincts, strength, and speed.
The defense leads the nation in pass defense, allowing a stingy 146.1 yards per game through the air. The team is also eighth in total defense, only giving up 298 yards per game this season — numbers that will give any coach fits, let alone interim offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Ricky Rahne. The game will come down to putting points on the board, and the Nittany Lions will have another major test with the Georgia defense.
Georgia will be a tough opponent on the special teams side, as it features a solid kicking game, consistent punting, and a lethal return game. Kicker Marshall Morgan is solid on extra points but has proven to be a gamble on field goals, as he connected on only 17 out of his 24 field goals this year (8 for 14 from more than 30 yards out). The Bulldogs average a consistent 42.4 yards per punt. What caps off the solid Georgia special teams is the electric return game. The kick and punt returns are split between two shifty returners: Isaiah McKenzie (dubbed the “human joystick) and Reggie Davis. Davis primarily returns kicks and boasts a solid 23.2 yards per return. McKenzie on the other hand, has proven to be a potential human highlight reel with shifty moves and breakaway speed, and those moves have helped him on his way to returning two punts for touchdowns this season.
With the firing of Mark Richt (and subsequent hiring of Alabama’s Kirby Smart, who won’t coach in the TaxSlayer Bowl), the interim head coaching reins were handed to wide receivers coach Bryan McClendon. As a former wide receiver, he is suited best to his positional group which looks like one of the less productive units his team has. It’s hard to predict how he’ll perform in his first game as a head coach, but Georgia is known for its defense and rushing — you can draw your own conclusions from that.
To put it simply, Georgia is a good football team. The team is in a state of flux at head coach, but it is still comprised of talented athletes that can compete and win games against some of the country’s best teams. It will be an interesting showdown in Jacksonville as both teams are very talented on defense. The winner of the TaxSlayer Bowl will likely be who performs better between Georgia’s rushing attack and Penn State’s passing, as those units play into the opposing defenses’ strengths.
Tune into ESPN on Jan. 2 at noon to watch the matchup between the Bulldogs and Nittany Lions in a game that has potential to be a classic for years to come.