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Know Your Foe, Citrus Bowl Edition, 2018: Kentucky Wildcats

  • Location: Lexington, Kentucky
  • Enrollment: 30,720 (undergraduates and post graduates)
  • Home Stadium: Kroger Field (Capacity 61,000)
  • Head Coach: Mark Stoops, sixth season, 35-39
  • Conference: Southeastern Conference (SEC) (Eastern Division)
  • Overall Bowl Record: 8-9 (.471)
  • Conference Titles: 2
  • Claimed National Titles: 1
  • First Game: October 4, 1975 (Penn State won, 10-3)
  • Last Game: January 1, 1999 (Penn State won, 26-14)
  • Overall: Penn State leads, 3-2
  • Current Streak: Penn State, 2

Starting their season strong, the Wildcats won their first three games against Southern Mississippi, Eastern Kentucky and South Carolina, then lost to then No. 20 Florida. Kentucky went on to defeat Eastern Michigan and Missouri before losing to Mississippi State. The Wildcats then bounced back with a win against Tennessee, lost to Ole Miss, defeated Vanderbilt but ended the regular season with two losses against No. 7 Georgia and Louisville. Invited to the Music City Bowl against No. 23 Northwestern in a battle between two Wildcats teams, Kentucky lost 24-23, ending the season 7–6, 4–4 in a tie for third place in the Eastern Division of the SEC.

The Kentucky Wildcats’ 2018 class is the nation’s 36th recruiting class (11th in the SEC) as compared to Penn State’s 2018 class, at sixth in the nation and second in the Big Ten (per 247 Sports).

The 9-3 (5-3 SEC) no. 14 Kentucky Wildcats easily won their last game against the Louisville Cardinals 56-10. Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson, with 340 yards and four touchdowns, and Benny Snell Jr. with two rushing touchdowns were key in the win. Their nine wins for the season was the first time in 41 years for the Wildcats.

Wilson completed 17 of 23 passes for 261 yards and rushed for 79. A.J. Rose ran for 122 yards with a 75-yard touchdown. For the Kentucky defense, Kash Daniel had 8 tackles and 2 tackles for loss.

Ranked at 100th in total offense, 115th in passing offense, 84th in scoring offense and 38th in rushing offense, the Kentucky Wildcats are going to run the ball – with dual-threat sophomore quarterback Terry Wilson rushing the ball or handing it off to star running back Benny Snell.

Wilson, a JUCO transfer, was the No. 5 overall JUCO player. This season he’s claimed 518 rushing yards and four rushing scores, and threw for 1,768 yards with 11 touchdowns for 171 completions of 253 attempts (67.6%).

Junior running back Benny Snell, considered a top back in the NFL draft, leads the Wildcats in rushing, gaining 1,330 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns this season with an impressive 175 yards rushing against Florida alone. He’s also had 17 receptions for 105 yards.

Sophomore back Asim Rose (aka A.J. Rose), third in the team in rushing behind quarterback Terry Wilson, has 433 yards and five touchdowns.

In the very talented receiving corps, junior Lynn Bowden Jr. leads the team in receptions with 62 for 661 yards and five scores, with senior tight end C.J. Conrad second on the team this season with 29 receptions for 297 yards and 3 scores. Wide receivers David Bouvier (senior, 15 receptions, 205 yards, two scores), Tavin Richardson (junior, 11 receptions,102 yards), Dorian Baker (senior, 13 receptions, 133 yards) along with Josh Ali (sophomore, 10 receptions, 115 yards, one score) and Isaiah Epps (sophomore) round out a deep receiver unit.

The Wildcat offensive line is one of their strongest, tallest and biggest with plenty of experience up front. With three of the five at 6’5” or taller, and with three seniors, they’re going to be one of the more experienced units that Penn State will face this year. Senior left tackle E.J. Price and senior right tackle George Asafo-Adjei, senior right guard Bunchy Stallings lead the unit and are rounded out by sophomore center Drake Jackson and junior left guard Logan Stenberg.

Kentucky has a solid defense – ranked 22nd nationally in total defense, 17th in passing defense, 8th in scoring defense and 49th in rushing defense. The Wildcats will pose a challenge for Penn State’s offense, especially with star senior outside linebacker Josh Allen leading the mix.

Allen, who has racked up 84 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss and 14 sacks this year, is one of the best linebackers in the nation. He’s the winner of the 2018 Chuck Bednarik Award, 2018 Lott Trophy and 2018 Bronko Nagurski Trophy, and was named as the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-SEC player for 2018.

The Wildcats’ experienced linebacker unit, one of their best in recent memory, also includes sophomore Jamar “Boogie” Watson (22 tackles, five tackles for loss, five sacks), junior Kash Daniel (76 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss) and senior Jordan Jones (68 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks).

Kentucky is returning quite a few defensive backs including Mike Edwards, the senior standout safety and a key part of the Wildcats defense. He’s second in the team in tackles with 77 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions. The Wildcats are also returning senior cornerbacks JUCO transfer Lonnie Johnson (19 tackles) and Derrick Baity (35 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, one interceptions, seven passes defended), and round out with safety Darius West, third on the team in tackles with 76 tackles, one tackle for loss and three interceptions.

The defensive line key players are sophomore nose guard Quinton Bohanna (17 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, one sack) who had a stellar 2017 freshman season playing in most games and starting in five — along with senior defensive tackle Adrian Middleton (3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks) who’s been starting since his sophomore year.

Standout sophomore defensive end Josh Paschal had a strong 2017 with 18 tackles, but this former four-star prospect was out most of the year after being diagnosed with melanoma on his foot, and after a quick recovery, returned for a game against Middle Tennessee in November.

Listed at starter at defensive end for the Wildcats is junior T.J. Carter (13 tackles, two tackles for loss), so whether or not Paschal will start against Penn State in the bowl game remains to be seen.

The Kentucky special teams has some deep talent but they’ve struggled a little bit in their kicking game this year. Kicker Miles Butler, a senior, is perfect on extra points (37-of-37) but has hit just five of nine field goals (55.6%). Backup freshman Chance Poore, who was ranked the top kicker in the country by prokicker.com, is perfect on extra points but only 50% on fields goals (two out of four).

Some miscues aside, they’re talented and are joined by another top teammate, Max Duffy, the sophomore punter who is top ranked by prokicker.com, who has punted 51 times for 2,284 yards.

Senior David Bouvier has handled most punt returns with 10 returns for 52 yards this season, with junior Lynn Bowden Jr. handling kick returns with 23 returns for 518 yards (22.5 average).

Read more about Kentucky Wildcats football at their SB Nation blog A Sea of Blue.

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