JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The coaches on the Georgia sideline were hardly recognizable, but Bulldogs fans were familiar with the result.
Georgia's conservative offense allowed Penn State to hang around, and its defense was unable to stop a Nittany Lions offense directed by a backup quarterback. It took a Penn State failed Hail Mary attempt for Georgia to seal an uninspiring 24-17 win in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
The Bulldogs led 24-3 at the start of the fourth quarter.
Bryan McClendon served as interim coach on a one-game basis after Mark Richt’s firing and the departure of other assistants.
Georgia threw for 161 yards and totaled only 327, and with a final sluggish performance, the Bulldogs welcome the Kirby Smart era.
What the win means for Georgia: There aren’t many coaches left on the Georgia sideline, but the coaches who stuck around were able to experience a win in their final game for the Bulldogs. It was another offensive struggle for the most part, but the defense did enough to end a Penn State fourth-quarter rally. New coach Smart received a glimpse of the talent he’s inheriting as players such as Terry Godwin, Isaiah McKenzie and Sony Michel flashed on offense, but he also saw the same offensive stagnation that haunted Georgia all season. The defense stumbled late against a backup quarterback. The win will satisfy the Georgia faithful, but they will be ready to turn the page.
What the loss means for Penn State: It could be the final game of Christian Hackenberg’s career, as the junior is eligible for the draft. If that is the case, it’s a tough way to go out -- leaving the game in the second quarter with an injury. As it has done throughout its recent sanctions, Penn State played tough despite the chips stacked against it. It cut a 21-point lead to seven in the fourth quarter. Yet the Lions fell just short, ending a frustrating Year 2 under James Franklin. The offense didn’t do much before backup Trace McSorley led a fourth-quarter resurgence, and it has been the offense that has plagued Penn State all season. Changes have been made on the offensive staff, but patience seems to be thinning. McSorley (173 total yards) did show promise as the potential successor to Hackenberg.
Play of the game: Maybe Godwin caught a peek of Ole Miss receiver Laquon Treadwell throwing a dime in the Sugar Bowl and approached McClendon about doing the same. Midway through the second quarter of a game in which both offenses were being stymied, Godwin took a snap from the wildcat. He broke right before stopping and looking downfield to three receivers in the route. Malcolm Mitchell was streaking down the middle of the field, and Godwin threw it deep -- without the assistance of the laces -- to connect with Mitchell for a 44-yard touchdown.
How the game was won: Georgia was able to kill enough time on its final drive to force Penn State into a frantic two-minute drill. The Lions converted two fourth downs but were forced to try a Hail Mary with eight seconds left from the Georgia 39-yard line. Lorenzo Carter knocked the pass down to secure the win.