ATHENS — Georgia is indeed headed back to Jacksonville, for a game against a team it hasn’t faced in 32 years, but a coach it knows well.
Georgia and Penn State will match up in the Taxslayer (more commonly known as the Gator) Bowl on Jan. 2 at noon, as indicated Saturday night. The news was confirmed by the SEC and the bowls on Sunday night.
That means a coaching match-up between Georgia’s Bryan McClendon, who’s filling in on an interim basis, and Penn State’s James Franklin, in his second year after leaving Vanderbilt.
Franklin was only at Vanderbilt for three years, but he made his mark, particularly on Georgia. There was the memorable postgame shouting match with then-Georgia defensive coordinator in 2011. And two years later the Commodores came back to knock off the Bulldogs, in a game marked by two controversial targeting calls against the Bulldogs.
The Nittany Lions (7-5) enter on a three-game losing streak, though all to top 25 opponents: at Northwestern (23-21 final score), Michigan (28-16) and at Michigan State (55-16).
Penn State’s strongest suit is defense, ranked 14th nationally, with the passing defense 11th nationally.
But the offense was so bad (100th nationally in total yards) that offensive coordinator John Donovan was fired after the regular season ended.
Georgia (9-3) will be seeking its second straight 10-win season, and it’s fourth in five season. Though obviously it will be a team in major flux, with incoming coach Kirby Smart planning to coach Alabama’s defense through the end of its season. The Crimson Tide play in one national semifinal on Dec. 30, and if it wins that game moves on to the national title.
It’s unknown how many current Georgia coaches and staffers will still be around for the bowl. And there could be more player departures between now and then, with backup quarterback Faton Bauta already having left.
The only other time Georgia and Penn State met was the 1983 Sugar Bowl, that year’s national championship, when then-No. 2 Penn State, coached by Joe Paterno, pulled off the upset of top-ranked Vince Dooley’s team.
This will be Georgia second trip to Jacksonville this season, and its fourth in five years. It played in the Gator Bowl two years ago, falling to Nebraska.