Penn State Football

Penn State to face Georgia in TaxSlayer Bowl on Jan. 2

Penn State enters the field against Michigan State during a football game in East Lansing, Mich. on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015.
Penn State enters the field against Michigan State during a football game in East Lansing, Mich. on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. cweddle@centredaily.com

Finally, the announcement arrived.

After much speculation, the committee representing the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., confirmed that Penn State (7-5) will take on SEC opponent Georgia (9-3) on Jan. 2 at 12 p.m. on ESPN.

We are looking forward to this opportunity to keep our family together for another month and spend more time with this fantastic group of seniors. Jacksonville is a great destination for our fans and we would love to see Nittany Nation in full force in Florida on Jan. 2.

Head coach James Franklin

“We are excited to be heading to the TaxSlayer Bowl,” head coach James Franklin said. “We are looking forward to this opportunity to keep our family together for another month and spend more time with this fantastic group of seniors. Jacksonville is a great destination for our fans and we would love to see Nittany Nation in full force in Florida on Jan. 2.”

Georgia is No. 9 among FBS teams in points allowed per game, with 16.9, and averaged 26.5 points per game on offense. Penn State will face an interim head coach, as the Bulldogs announced the hiring of Kirby Smart on Sunday afternoon but will utilize assistant head/receivers coach Bryan McClendon throughout the bowl. This means McClendon will be the fourth interim head coach the team has faced this season, during which span they went 3-0.

“It’s been smooth, all things considered,” said McClendon of the transition. “The guys, they’ve had to put up and weave through a bunch of things that have gone on all season long. And this is kind of just another thing that has drawn those guys together... . Everybody’s been supportive, everybody’s bought in that the main thing is to send these seniors off right.”

Penn State will also be without former offensive coordinator John Donovan, who was fired last week.

Franklin confirmed on Sunday night that Penn State quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne will be calling plays for the bowl game, and that he hopes to have an offensive coordinator hired by that time, but the person will be evaluating players and the playbook during the bowl period.

“At this point, Ricky Rahne is fulfilling those (offensive coordinator) responsibilities,” said Franklin. “I hope to have the position filled in the next week and a half to two weeks or so. That person will probably come on and spend that time evaluating our players, evaluating our staff, and being able to have some input, but it’s not like we’re going to have a new system right before the bowl game.

“We’re going to try to keep things as normal as we possibly can, and it’ll be a great opportunity and a great experience for Ricky Rahne as well, to call a game and also to put in a game plan.”

Penn State had its first bowl practice at 9 a.m. on Sunday, and will emphasize fundamentals throughout the next few weeks, according to Franklin. The head coach also said he anticipates having prolific defensive ends Carl Nassib and Garrett Sickels back for the game, though admitted he’d have a better idea of the players’ health the week of the bowl.

The Nittany Lions last played the Bulldogs in 1983, and Penn State fans remember it well — it was the Sugar Bowl matchup, in which No. 2 Penn State knocked off the No. 1 Bulldogs 27-23 for the National Championship behind running back Curt Warner and quarterback Todd Blackledge.

Warner ran for a touchdown that game, and Blackledge threw a touchdown pass to receiver Gregg Garrity that would ultimately be the game-sealing score and be known after as “The Catch.”

Garrity’s son, Gregg Jr. (who goes by “Pook” among teammates), currently plays for the Nittany Lions.

Nittany Lion Club and Alumni Association members can purchase bowl tickets through Penn State Athletics immediately. Student tickets go on sale Dec. 11.

Jourdan Rodrigue: 814-231-4629, @JourdanRodrigue

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