Position-by-position edge: Georgia vs. Penn State
Taking a position-by-position look at Georgia vs. Penn State, here’s what to watch for in the Jan. 2 TaxSlayer Bowl between the Bulldogs and the Nittany Lions.
QUARTERBACK – Penn State: Accuracy issues prevented junior Christian Hackenberg from having the breakout year many expected that was supposed to make him a sure-bet NFL first-round pick. However, he still ranks first in school history in career 300-yard passing games (9), 200-yard passing games (21), passing yards (8,318), touchdowns (48), attempts (1,221), completions (685) and total offense (8,072).
Hackenberg completed just 53 percent of his passes for a career-low 2,386 yards to go with just 15 touchdown passes and five interceptions this season.
He was still better than Georgia’s Greyson Lambert, the Virginia graduate transfer at the helm for the Bulldogs most of the season. Lambert has struggled mightily in driving the ball downfield and getting Georgia’s passing game off the ground. The Dawgs enter the bowl game ranked a dismal 102nd nationally in passing offense.
RUNNING BACKS – Georgia: Sophomore tailback Sony Michel has responded well since being asked to shoulder the offensive load for the Dawgs in the wake of the season-ending knee injury to Nick Chubb in October. An impressive blend of speed and power, Michel has almost single-handedly fueled the Georgia offense in the weeks since, running with power on the inside while using his great speed and elusiveness in the open field. He’s totaled 1,076 yards and seven touchdowns on 199 carries despite an ineffective passing game that allowed defenses to key on him.
WIDE RECEIVERS, TIGHT END — Penn State: Chris Godwin was a second-team All-Big Ten selection after totaling 63 catches for 968 yards and five touchdowns. The sophomore receiver has recorded at least four receptions in 10 of 12 games this season. He is tops among the six Nittany Lions to have at least 13 catches this year and one of nine with at least one receiving touchdown.
Malcolm Mitchell led Georgia with 751 receiving yards and 4 TD receptions.
OFFENSIVE LINE — Georgia: Senior offensive tackle and first-team All-SEC pick John Theus heads up a Bulldogs line that has played better as of late. Sophomore guard/center Brandon Kublanow was a second-team all-conference pick after starting at center for the first 10 games and moving to guard for the past two. Injuries have limited Penn State up front as the Nittany Lions have been forced into six different combinations. Guard Brian Gaia is the only player who has started all 12 games along the line.
DEFENSIVE LINE – Penn State: Consensus All-American defensive end Carl Nassib headlines a ferocious Nittany Lions defensive front that rang up 44 sacks this year to tie Arizona for the national lead. Nassib, The Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, is a one-man wrecking crew who leads the nation in sacks (15.5) and forced fumbles (6) and ranks second in the FBS with 19.5 tackles for loss. He’s not alone in causing havoc as defensive tackles Austin Johnson and Anthony Zettel were second- and third-team All-Big Ten picks, respectively.
LINEBACKERS – Georgia: Senior outside linebacker Jordan Jenkins and junior inside linebacker Leonard Floyd figure to cause nightmares for a makeshift Penn State offensive line that hasn’t seen speed like those two boast. The Dawgs will be without the suspended Tim Kimbrough, but the talented Lorenzo Carter should fill in nicely and make things interesting for Hackenberg all afternoon.
SECONDARY – Georgia: Ball-hawking safeties Dominick Sanders and Quincy Mauger are big-time playmakers who have a way of always getting to the ball. Sanders, a sophomore free safety, has a team-high five interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. Mauger, a junior strong safety, ranks fifth with 53 tackles, including 36 solo stops, and has five pass breakups and six quarterback hurries.