TaxSlayer Bowl produces familiar feeling for Georgia and Penn State

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Georgia has another 10-win season. It adds another bowl trophy to its lavish case, too.

The Bulldogs beat Penn State in the TaxSlayer Bowl 24-17 to finish off the kind of season that eludes most major college football programs but has been the model for Georgia the past decade.

Interim coach Bryan McClendon and his players deserve credit for insulating the Georgia locker room and rallying for a win. A lot of teams might have folded given the circumstances surrounding the Bulldogs program -- a beloved coach's dismissal followed by an exodus of assistants to cap a regular season full of negativity.

"It's brought the team closer and all the coaching staff that's here closer," Georgia receiver Terry Godwin said. "We blocked all that out."

But even the Bulldogs' final win of 2015 was rife with frustrating moments that have plagued Georgia lately. The bowl win felt much like the past few years: a positive result with a sprinkle of exasperation littered throughout.

Midway through the third quarter, Georgia led 24-3 and was on the cusp of completing another SEC blowout. Of Penn State's first 10 drives, only one resulted in points. Georgia, meanwhile, had scored touchdowns on three of its past six possessions and attempted a field goal on another.

Then Georgia began to stumble. Penn State, with a backup quarterback, converted a fourth-and-12 for a touchdown to make the score 24-10 after the Bulldogs extended their lead to 17 and seemingly had the game in hand.

The Bulldogs' offense, which finished with 327 yards, was unable to respond. Georgia went three-and-out on its next possession. And the next possession, too, accumulating negative yardage and an untimely personal foul penalty over those two drives.

The Nittany Lions converted another fourth down to extend a drive that led to a touchdown. Georgia led 24-17, and after the Bulldogs failed to convert a fourth-and-2, Penn State had an opportunity to tie the game with a Hail Mary attempt from the Georgia 39.

Incoming coach Kirby Smart inherits a talented team, one that showed the requisite grit needed to compete with Smart's former employer, Alabama. Sony Michel and Godwin flashed brilliance on the much-maligned offense, and Isaiah McKenzie showed again he is one of college football's premier returners. The defense will experience significant attrition in the front seven, but Smart is one of the best defensive minds around.

Saturday's win was the Georgia model, which is what Smart was brought in to change and might require only tweaking.

Penn State is trying to break from its standard model of the past two seasons, which is what showed up in Jacksonville. The Nittany Lions play quality opponents tough but were unable to make the critical plays in the game's meaningful moments. In two seasons under coach James Franklin, the Lions have just one win against Power 5 teams that finished the season with a winning record.

Despite inheriting Big Ten freshman of the year Christian Hackenberg, who announced his intention to forgo his senior season, the offense has floundered under Franklin. A championship-level defense has been mostly unaided by the offense, and after the 2015 regular season ended, Franklin fired his offensive coordinator.

Saturday, the Penn State offense had two drives lasting more than 27 yards before 4:15 in the third quarter. By then, the Lions were already down 24-3.

No doubt Franklin has been limited by the NCAA sanctions, and not until next season will he have the full allotment of 85 scholarships. But patience among the fan base is thinning as the Lions finish back-to-back 7-6 seasons, their worst two-year record since 2003-04. Franklin hears the criticisms, but what he has seen from the 2015 team encourages him, he said.

"There's progress that's being made. Not as much as anybody wants -- the fans, no one more than the guys in the locker room, no more than the coaches and myself," Franklin said. "But there is progress being made."

The result and the mixed feelings that came with them Saturday were familiar for both fan bases. It led to change at one school and turned up the pressure a little more at the other.