Kentucky football is historically just an exciting time filler until basketball season starts. Head coach Mark Stoops has changed that culture by leading the Cats to their best season since 1977 with a. 9-3 record. Kentucky started out the year red-hot with a 5-0 record with dominant upset wins over Florida (first since 1986) and Mississippi St. The Wildcats stubbed their toe a few times in the second half of the season but finished strong with a 56-10 drubbing of rival Louisville. The season earned them a berth in the Citrus Bowl.
Penn St. finished their season 9-3 with a big win over Iowa. After back to back heartbreaking losses early to Ohio St. and Michigan St. the Nittany Lions won five of their final six. Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorley headlines a high octane attack that will test the Wildcats eighth-ranked scoring defense.
Players To Watch
Kentucky’s star running Benny Snell Jr. leads the Wildcats lethal rush attack against a Penn St. rush defense that has allowed 4.0 yards per carry this season. Snell has rushed 263 times for 1305 yards and 14 touchdowns, averaging 5.0 yards per carry. Against Mississippi State’s ninth-ranked rush defense Snell ran for 165 yards and four touchdowns. Snell will be a major headache for the Penn St. front seven.
Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson started out the season struggling to acclimate to SEC level football. Benched multiple times this season for back up Gunnar Hoak, Wilson displayed great resiliency and rapid improvement as the season progressed. Wilson completed 93 of 131 passes (71%) the last half of the season for an average of 209.4 yards. He also tacked on seven touchdown passes and only three interceptions after struggling with turnovers early. Wilson is also a dangerous runner with the football, rushing for 518 yards and four touchdowns.
Trace McSorley is a dangerous dual-threat quarterback and has lead Penn St. to back to back 10 win seasons for the first time since 1980-1982. McSorely has had a statistically down year compared to his normal standards. Still he has thrown for 2,284 yards and 16 touchdowns, albeit only completing 53.4% of his passes. McSorely is especially dangerous with his legs, rushing for a career-best 723 yards and 11 touchdowns. Kentucky’s surprising front seven will have their hands full with McSorely.
Kentucky’s front seven will also have to contend with Penn St. running back Miles Sanders. Sanders has had a breakout season behind the departure of former running back Saquon Barkley to the NFL. Sanders is averaging 5.9 yards per carry, rushing 207 times for 1,223 yards and nine touchdowns.
Future Pros In This Game
Sanders and Snell present an interesting running back showdown as the sixth and third rated draft prospects respectively. However, at the time, only Snell has officially declared for the NFL Draft. Kentucky’s outside linebacker/pass rusher Josh Allen won multiple national defensive player of the year honors. Allen appears to be a sure-fire first round pick and has the second-best odds at being the top overall pick in the draft. Allen’s impact on this game will be a key factor in whether or not the Cats win their first bowl game since 2008.
Penn St. comes in favored by 6.5 points with a projected total of 47 points. This game has the potential to blow the total out of the water. McSorely has a great game in his final game as a Nittany Lion. However, the emotional wave of such beloved players as Benny Snell and Josh Allen will prove too much. Wilson will move the ball efficiently and Snell breaks Kentucky’s all-time rush record in this one.
Kentucky 31 Penn St. 25