After finishing the regular season with a record of 7-5, the Penn State Nittany Lions have officially accepted the invitation to travel to Jacksonville to take on the Georgia Bulldogs in the TaxSlayer Bowl (formerly named the Gator Bowl). It will be Penn State's fifth time appearing in the game, with its last appearance coming in 1976 (a 20-9 loss to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish).
The game will take place on Jan. 2, 2016 at noon on ESPN at EverBank Field. It will mark just the second time that the Bulldogs and Nittany Lions have met on the field, with Penn State owning a 1-0 record in the match-up. The only time that these two got together was the 1983 Sugar Bowl, which Penn State won by a final of 27-23 to capture the school's first-ever National Championship. Georgia finished the 2015 regular season with a record of 9-3 and a 5-3 record in the SEC.
The Bulldogs will be playing their first game since Mark Richt was fired. Longtime Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart has since been named the new head coach, but he will reportedly stick with the Crimson Tide through their playoff run. Georgia had a season that followed the same basic script as Penn State - it beat who it was supposed to beat, and lost to the teams it was supposed to lose to (mostly).
Georgia suffered a big loss when star running back Nick Chubb tore ligaments in his knee against Tennessee, and its offense wasn't quite the same as a result. Sony Michel has proven to be more than capable in his own right, but it's tough to replace a Heisman contender like Chubb. Over its final six games of the regular season, Georgia averaged 307.5 yards of total offense per game. With Chubb in the lineup through the first six weeks, the Bulldogs averaged 451.5 yards per game and looked like a legitimate contender in the SEC.
The Bulldogs spent the second half of the season winning several too close for comfort games against opponents they would typically run over. It should be interesting to see how they respond to going against what is statistically the best defense they have seen since facing Florida and Missouri in back-to-back weeks. It will also be intriguing to see if anything about the way the team plays changes in the time between the Richt era and the Smart era.
We will have a lot more on this game in the coming weeks, but needless to say, this should be a fun match-up.
Penn State vs. Georgia in TaxSlayer Bowl, source told @ESPN— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) December 6, 2015