Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, December 18, 2015

When this matchup was announced, many folks who have been around awhile flashed back to 1983. That's when these programs met in the Sugar Bowl after the 1982 season for the national title. Penn State beat Herschel Walker and the Bulldogs to win the championship.

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Neither team is championship-caliber this season. The Bulldogs had high hopes in August, and the defense did its part. But a season-ending injury to RB Nick Chubb and inconsistent play at quarterback derailed the big plans. The Georgia brass had seen enough and opted to pull the plug on the Mark Richt era after 15 years. WR coach Bryan McClendon will be interim head coach before Alabama DC Kirby Smart takes over.

Penn State remains a work in progress in its second season under James Franklin. The defense was solid in 2015 but the offense struggled largely because of spotty line play. The Nittany Lions limp to Jacksonville losers of three in a row, looking to end the season on a high note.

Player on the spot:
QB Christian Hackenberg. He has had an up-and-down last two seasons, working behind an inconsistent line that often has him running for his life. But if ?Hack? has time to work and can throw passes to a nice collection of wideouts led by Chris Godwin, this Nittany Lion offense can be effective with star freshman back Saquon Barkley finding room to work. Hackenberg gives PSU a big edge under center, as the Bulldogs? QB Greyson Lambert struggles in the pass game and needs RB Sony Michel to have a big game to ease pressure.

Best individual matchup: named Penn State RB Saquon Barkley Big Ten Freshman of the Year. He had the best season for a true freshman back in school annals. If Barkley has his way, Georgia will be in trouble, as that will open room for Christian Hackenberg to pass. To slow Barkley, the Bulldogs will need all hands on deck led by star S Dominick Sanders, who is part of what is the No. 8 defense in the nation. LBs Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd also need to excel for UGA.

Best unit matchup: Penn State wideouts vs. Georgia secondary. The Bulldogs have the nation?s No. 1 pass defense (146.0 ypg). Penn State is just No. 83 in the nation in passing (209.0 ypg) but has weapons at wideout in Chris Godwin, DeAndre Thompson and DaeSean Hamilton. While Hackenberg has his critics, as he has been sacked 39 times and completes just 53 percent of his passes, he?s still a talented passer who is capable of making the big play.

Key number: 15.5. Sacks for Penn State DE Carl Nassib. That total led the nation, as the All-American notched myriad postseason honors, including Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors and the Lombardi and Hendricks awards. Nassib will be challenged by a good Bulldog line led by T John Theus and C Brandon Kublanow that has allowed only 13 sacks.


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