Here it is, the time of the year college football fans have been patiently waiting for. Bowl season. On Jan. 2, 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida, the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Georgia Bulldogs will face off in the TaxSlayer Bowl. That game will be the last that the highly awarded seniors of the Penn State team will play together. Senior defensive end Carl Nassib will use the game as one to further show his talents to NFL scouts. Nassib was the recipient of the Big Ten Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year award, the Ted Hendricks Award and the Burlsworth Award (given to the nation’s best player who started his college career as a walk-on). It’s incredibly difficult to imagine Nassib beginning his career as a walk-on by simply analyzing and witnessing his incredible career, especially his senior season.
The Nittany Lions will also be looking to star freshman running back, Saquon Barkley for production. He has broken the Penn State record for most yards recorded by a freshman and has seemed to fit into the offense seamlessly. His efforts did not go unnoticed on a national level and BTN.com named him the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. To say that Happy Valley and Nittany Lion Nation have been excited to see the development of his skill set would be an understatement. However, the Georgia Bulldog offense will counter with their own ground game, thanks to sophomore running back Sonny Michel.
The 2015-2016 season brought difficulties to the Georgie football program. In the first offensive play in the game against Tennessee, starting sophomore tailback Nick Chubb suffered multiple injuries to his knee, including the tearing of his posterior cruciate ligament. Although the Bulldogs only recorded three losses, including the 27-3 loss to Florida, fans appeared to want head coach Mark Richt out of Athens. They ended up getting their wish and Richt is now the head coach of the Miami Hurricanes. However, even with the program’s difficulties, the Bulldogs managed to easily reach bowl eligibility, since they finished the season with a 9-3 record.
The TaxSlayer Bowl will be an opportunity for the Penn State defense to shine, as the Nittany Lions and Bulldogs offenses statistically reflect equal efficiency and numbers. Both teams’ average points per game differ by only 2.8, with the Bulldogs averaging 26.5 points per game on offense, and the Nittany Lions averaging 23.7. Although Georgia recorded more yards per rush attempt than did Penn State this season, the Nittany Lions defense only allowed 3.8 yards per rush, compared to Georgia’s defense which allowed 4.0 yards per rush attempt. Sure, the difference of 0.2 yards per rush may seem insignificant to the average person, but those 0.2 yards may be the difference between a win and a loss on Jan. 2. Penn State’s ability to sack quarterbacks will present one of the biggest obstacles for Georgia; the defensive leadership recorded 44 sacks for a loss of 326 yards. Alternatively, Georgia’s passing game will present a great challenge for Penn State’s defense; Georgia averaged 12.0 yards per catch (recorded a total of 2,245 yards), while Penn State allowed 10.4 yards per catch (allowed a total of 2,094 yards).
The TaxSlayer Bowl will allow fans to view two evenly matched teams, offensively, to go head to head. Additionally, the SEC will be looking to prove that it is still the premiere college football powerhouse while the Big Ten will strive to take down that titan.