James Franklin Talks Georgia, Tradition Ahead Of TaxSlayer Bowl
James Franklin was part of a short press conference on Thursday morning with a representative from the TaxSlayer Bowl and interim Georgia head coach Bryan McClendon. The coaches started by praising each others’ programs, as they tend to do, before getting into a discussion about the bowl and taking questions.
The mediator started off declaring that the bowl, at its most basic, made the most attractive selections for its opponents. “We think we’ve got the best two uniforms in college football, for sure,” he said, claiming that Georgia has the best helmet in the nation too — a claim that Franklin refuted later in the conference.
Before the coaches got into the meat of the content, they both expressed what a berth in the TaxSlayer Bowl (and its rich history as the Gator Bowl) means to their respective fanbases.
“I think our fans are very excited,” Frankin said, before McClenden added, “When you look at bowls and you try to figure out which one is gonna be exciting, there’s no doubt that this one is.”
Georgia’s interim coach went on to praise the coaching career that Franklin has enjoyed, especially citing his experience at Vanderbilt. McClenden has spent his entire coaching career at Georgia, from 2007-2015. Franklin entered the SEC in 2011 as Vanderbilt’s head coach, and remained there through the 2013 season. That meant three opportunities to take on the Bulldogs, and Franklin’s Commodores came away with a 1-2 record (losing 33-28 and 48-3, then winning in the last matchup 31-27).
Members of the media asked Franklin about his team’s future, noting its recent struggles and the reasons for them.
“It’s very bright,” Franklin said. “I want to thank our seniors, they’re a special group of guys that’ll be remembered at Penn State forever. I was their fifth coach in 27 months.”
“They’ve flourished academically, they’ve made an impact on the community, and we’re going to a bowl game two years in a row,” he added. A good win in the bowl game could propel the team to a good offseason and start to next year.
After Franklin talked about his expectations, the coaches took turns talking about what they expect to see, and what they think of when they hear about the other’s program, starting with McClenden:
“[Penn State has] tradition, very hard-nosed guys that are always gonna keep playing if they’re down 50 or up 50. Teams that are mentally tough are hard to beat. That’s the first thing that strikes us when we think about Penn State.”
“[Georgia has] a tradition of excellence, and Herschel Walker — I’m glad he won’t be playing in the game,” Franklin joked. “Although it seems like Georgia signs the best running back in the country year after year…consistency. You see that ‘G’ you know what it is. You see that stripe on the helmet, and you know what it is.”
“They’ve got a Lombardi winner on defense, a first-round quarterback, and a freshman running back that’s dynamite,” McClenden said. When Franklin brought up that Nassib essentially missed the last three games, McClendenden joked, “He doesn’t need to play this one either.”
Eventually, the conversation moved into the keys of the game.
”Defense is never important at all,” Franklin sarcastically remarked to laughs from the room. “Yeah if you look at our defensive numbers and what we’ve been able to do, I think you’ll take for granted that the defense will play well, so it’ll be special teams and offense finding ways to make plays.”
The press conference came to a close as the mediator noted the bowl schedule in Florida this year, highlighting Penn State versus Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl, Michigan and Florida in the Citrus Bowl, and Northwestern versus Tennessee in the Outback Bowl. For the first time in a long time, the state of Florida will host three Big Ten versus SEC matchups, so each team’s game represents more than itself — they’re playing for their conference.
Penn State and Georgia will kick off at noon on January 2 in Jacksonville, Florida.