These short takes are offered as a companion to the Georgia-Penn State game column, which can be found here. Georgia won 24-17.
1. Bryan McClendon helped himself, career-wise, with the way he handled a difficult assignment. Georgia’s receivers coach was so startled to be asked to serve as the Bulldogs’ interim coach that he asked Greg McGarity if the athletic director was sure he’d called the right guy. But McClendon sounded exactly the right tone, telling his fellow coaches to put the players first. The players responded by performing with the lightness of young men who’d been trusted to do the right thing. (McClendon had no curfew for this bowl.) They didn’t exactly dominate the game – they were outgained 401 yards to 327 – but they were the clear aggressor. McClendon even dialed up a trick play that worked for a touchdown: Receiver Terry Godwin took a reverse and threw long for Malcolm Mitchell, whose 44-yard reception gave the Bulldogs a lead they wouldn’t lose. McClendon is headed to South Carolina to join Will Muschamp’s staff, but we’ll be hearing more from him. He just became a coach to watch.
2. McClendon did, however, whiff on his biggest gamble. With 1:58 remaining and Georgia ahead 24-17, the Bulldogs faced fourth-and-1 at the Penn State 23. A 40-yard field goal would have clinched the game, but kicker Marshall Morgan had hurt his ankle. Punter Collin Barber had tried a 48-yarder earlier and missed. McClendon said he “probably” would have tried the field goal had Morgan been available, and then he said: “And by that I mean I would have kicked the field goal.” His decision to go for it on fourth down was defensible – a first down wins the game, too – but it didn’t work. Keith Marshall was stopped. Penn State got a last chance.
3. Georgia’s seniors exited having won 40 games over four years, which isn’t nothing. Still, only once over that span – in 2012 – did the Bulldogs win the SEC East. The past three seasons will be remembered as a bittersweet time: Georgia went 8-5, then 10-3, then 10-3 again. The best win of this season might well have been Victory No. 10, which came against an opponent that finished 7-6 and didn’t win after Halloween. But the wins weren’t why Mark Richt was dismissed; the losses were.