Jeff Dantzler takes look at what the Bulldogs need to do in order to get the W versus the Nitanny Lions in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl in The Big Five – Georgia.
1. Want It
James Franklin certainly has his history against Georgia. As the coach at Vanderbilt, he led the Commodores to an upset win over the Bulldogs in Nashville in 2013. Two years prior, when Drew Butler saved the day – and likely Mark Richt’s job at the time – the Dogs escaped with victory. The real fireworks then started as Franklin and then Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham got into a heated shouting match. Franklin is looking for a signature SEC scalp at Penn State, and the Nittany Lions face a Georgia team in transition. New head coach Kirby Smart pointed out in his introductory press conference, that this is the “first impression” opportunity. A lackluster effort two years ago, just a few hours after an impromptu New Year’s Eve celebration was captured in the hallway of the team hotel on film, led to a loss to Nebraska. It also ended a three game winning streak in that stadium and started a three game losing skid. That needs to end. A focused, confident – not cocky – and sound Georgia team will be taking the field under Smart. It would be great for the Bulldogs to display that emotion and motivation required for the road to sustained greatness against Penn State.
2. Pressure the Passer
Get to Blackledge! Contain Curt Warner and Kenny Jackson. And for God’s sake, double up Gregg Garrity! His son Gregg Garrity Jr. is currently on the Penn State roster. Christian Hackenberg had a good regular season for the Nittany Lions, highlighted by 16 touchdown passes against five interceptions. His completion percentage of 53.3 and 6.92 yards per attempt aren’t great, but if he has time to throw, Hackenberg will have success. Georgia must dial up the pressure. The front seven that was so strong against Tech will have to bring it and get penetration against Penn State.
Not only could Georgia disrupt the Lions offensive attack, QB pressure could mean one of those precious Non Offensive Touchdowns. N.O.T.’s win games.
3. Michel, Mitchell and Godwin
Had Sony Michel signed elsewhere, Georgia wouldn’t have beaten Auburn, Georgia Southern and Tech. He has had a month to get rested and refreshed and certainly wants to carry the load against Penn State, showing Kirby Smart what a special back he is inheriting. When the ball is in Sony’s hands, something special can happen. The same goes for the magnificent Malcolm Mitchell. One of the best receivers and great stories in Georgia annals, Mitchell wants to go out a winner – and doing it in the stadium where his signature 2012 touchdown against the Gators would make it extra special. Terry Godwin is the heir apparent. These are the bona fide play-makers who Penn State will have circled.
4. That Stadium, Those STD’s
A constant struggle in the Mark Richt era, consistent special teams malfunctions cost Georgia championships and Saturday’s of glory. All too many of those special teams disasters came in Jacksonville at the old Gator Bowl. So often in postseason games, after the long layoff, the kicking game makes the difference. That could certainly be the case against Penn State. A fumbled punt against Nebraska two years ago turned the tide the way of the Cornhuskers. This is another opportunity to set the tone with the kicking game. The future plan with special teams isn’t survival but excellence.
5. Set a New Tone
No matter who the coach at Georgia is, the path to the Southeastern Conference Championship Game and greater glory runs through Jacksonville and the Gators. The poor performance in a loss to Nebraska two years ago killed Georgia’s mojo in the stadium and a dark cloud followed in Jacksonville. It is a huge part of why Kirby Smart is the enthusiastically applauded new head coach of the Bulldogs. Georgia’s outgoing players can close their careers with a nice feather in their cap, while the returnees can make that first impression and know the taste of victory on that turf which will be tread upon by the Bulldogs and Gators with major stakes in 10 months. Go out with a win in Jacksonville and plant the Georgia flag in a city the Bulldogs plan to reclaim.