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Georgia holds off late Penn State rally, shows promise for 2016

That was weird.

Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

Both Georgia and Penn State had about a month to get ready for the TaxSlayer Bowl following their final games. The long layoff can do funny things to teams, and that's before you turn coaching tumult into the equation. And there was plenty of that here, as the Dawgs overcame a late Nittany Lion rally to win 24-17.

Georgia, of course, fired longtime head coach Mark Richt, and the staff for this game was winnowed down to the very bare bones after both coordinators left as well. Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt left to take the same position at Alabama, where he'll take over for Georgia's new coach, Kirby Smart. Smart, however, is still coaching for Alabama until their playoff run is over. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, well, he's not around anymore.

Penn State's had some turnover of their own. Offensive coordinator John Donovan was relieved of his duties, and has been replaced by former Fordham head coach Joe Moorhead. He's not there yet, though, and a game that looked like it could be a snooze of a blowout was looking like it would be just that. Until it wasn't.

Georgia built a 24-3 lead in the third quarter, and the game looked like it was beyond doubt. Christian Hackenberg left the game with a shoulder injury in the second quarter, and the Penn State offense was looking completely punchless. But Georgia wasn't able to keep building on their lead, and backup quarterback Trace McSorley lead the Nittany Lions on a pair of fourth quarter touchdown drives to make it 24-17 with six minutes left.

That would be as close as they could get, however. They were able to stop Georgia on fourth-and-2 with 1:52 remaining. Georgia was well inside field goal range, but an injury to kicker Marshall Morgan earlier in the game took the field goal out of the equation. On the ensuing drive, the Nittany Lions were able to manage a heave to the end zone as time expired, but it came up incomplete.

The difference for Georgia was the stretch from the middle of the second quarter to the middle of the third, where they scored three straight touchdowns to go from 3-3 to 24-3. Wide receiver Terry Godwin was in the middle of it for the Dawgs, throwing a 44-yard touchdown pass to Malcolm Mitchell and then catching a touchdown pass from Greyson Lambert. But Sony Michel was the one that kept things moving, carrying the ball 20 times for 85 yards and a touchdown. The raw numbers aren't terribly impressive, but between he and Keith Marshall, their 34 total carries kept things moving for the Dawgs, albeit very slowly.

McSorley finished 14-27 for 142 yards and two very pretty touchdowns to Geno Lewis and Daeshawn Hamilton. Freshman running back Saquon Barkley was held largely in check by the Georgia defense. Both defenses really had the better of their offensive counterparts, as the two teams combined for an unsightly 8-32 on third downs.

And now, both teams are free to move on to next year, something they probably wanted to do before this game anyway. Georgia is facing a new year with a new head coach for the first time in over a decade, and the Bulldogs are well positioned to win an SEC East that's there for the taking. We don't know if their attempt to hire a Nick Saban assistant will go as poorly as the previous attempts have at, say, Florida, but the Dawgs have loads of talent and a fresh start, and Kirby Smart could be primed to win big early in Athens.